“Our generation is a different breed, intellectually,” says Jeff Chang, author of “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” a political history of hip-hop due out from St. Martin’s Press in 2004. “We’ve grown up with multiculturalism, grown up in a world where pop culture has always mediated how we analyze the world. We’re not afraid of the media anymore; there’s a constant dialogue in hip-hop about the gaps between our reality and the ways we’re represented. We’re naturally interdisciplinary; we mix signifiers, we break everything down to bits and bytes and rebuild something new.”
Collage, as Chang suggests, is fundamental to hip-hop, and has been since the beginning. The DJ was the central figure in the culture’s early days; his job (at least early on, DJs were all male) was to rock the crowd with whatever worked, which meant digging for sonic snippets anywhere and everywhere and recontextualizing them with seamless spontaneity into a danceable mix. The very sound system on which he played was a pastiche of homemade, self-modified and repurposed equipment. The DJ was a circuit board, receiving, reviewing and cataloging information and retransmitting only the best of the best.