Afrika Bambaataa The Godfather of Hip-Hop By Christina HicksOriginal graffiti by Noir-1 TBB Texas
Planet Rock: Where the story begins… “In April of 1982, Afrika Bambaataa unleashed a grand statement for what he was now calling the hip-hop movement. It was called ‘Planet Rock’. ’Planet Rock’…was the record that initiated that [Hip Hop] wasn’t just an urban thing, it was inclusive. It was okay for rockers, new wavers, uptown coming downtown…that’s when hip-hop became global.” (Chang 89-173)
Something Old, Something New‘Planet Rock’ was a mishmash, influenced by Afrika Bambaataa’seclectic musical taste. The original idea married some of Bambaataa’sfavorite records: Babe Ruth’s ‘The Mexican’, Captain Sky’s ‘SuperSperm’, Kraftwerk’s ‘Numbers’ and ‘Trans-Europe Express’, B.T. Express’‘Do You Like It’ and Rick James’ ‘Give It to Me.’“The final version only included Kraftwerk and Babe Ruth. Thisstripped-down result somehow perfectly captured Bambaataa’smystery…’Planet Rock’ was hip-hop’s universal invitation, a hypnoticvision of one world under a groove, beyond race, poverty, sociologyand geography.” (Chang 89-173) “Trans-Europe Express” “The Mexican”
Long before April 1982 in the Bronx…As a young man growing up in the Bronx inone of the many towers in the projects,Bambaataa seemed to know that he wasdestined for greater things far beyond theborough. A child of the late 60’s, he waskeenly aware of the struggles faced insegregation and liberation.“…through his mother’s record collection – aneclectic shelf that included Miriam Makeba,Mighty Sparrow, Joe Cuba, and ArethaFranklin – Bambaataa developed a differentkind of perspective. (Chang 89-173)
The Bronx in the 70’sOutside, the projects were a different place, lines were drawnand gangs were a way of life. Young Bambaataa joined up with agang called the Black Spades.
The Black Spades “This was the baddest and biggest black street gang around in NYC in those times. They had divisions all over the place and were known as a strong gang not to be ****ed with. Originally they were known as "The Savage Seven" then they became "The Black Spades". The Spades were also very violent and ran the Bronx like no other gang could.” (TBB)
The 1971 MiracleThen in 1971 something miraculous happened. Some of the gangleaders came together and signed a peace treaty. As racialtensions exploded elsewhere in the city, the gangs of SouthBronx were able to find peace that most would have thoughtimpossible. “The peace treaty, particularly the Spades’ presidentBam Bam’s personal commitment to it, had a profound impacton the young warlord. Bambaataa began to search for a wayout, and he found his skills in mobilizing for war could be just aseasily be turned to peace.” (Chang 89-173)
A new sound, a new focus…And as Bambaataa began to search for something more, “hefound something that was powerful, creative, something thatsignaled life.” (Chang 89-173) A noise was hitting the streets,spreading like wildfire.A man by the name of DJKool Herc’s new sound wasbringing people togetherto party. Communitycenters, basements, streetcorners were filling withpeople partying instead offighting.
Afrika Bambaataa the DJ is born“Herc’s New Cool offered Bambaataa a way forward. Bambaataaapprenticed with two former Black Spades that had also becomeDJs – Kool DJ D…and Disco King Mario…and began throwing hisown parties in the community center just steps from his frontdoor…Each weekend Bambaataa would preside over a ritual ofmotion and fun…’Block parties was a way to do your thing,plugging into the lamppost…And we had the support of thewhole community. It’s like, we’d rather see them doing that,doing something constructive than to be down the block beatingeach other upside the head like they used to do in the gangdays.” (Chang 89-173)
Rocking becomes Breaking…With the music came the dancing, at this time it was known onlyas rocking. A form of dance born from the vivid gang war historythat the originators came from, was about to get a new style. “On a hot summer in July 1975, while Rocking with some members of The Bronx Boys, a simple move turned into a falling mistake by a kid named TE- TE Rock who fell to the ground and made a swift move that changed the Rocking dance art throughout the world. This dance art became known as bboying or breaking...” (TBB)
Graffiti becomes Art…Graffiti was also undergoing a change. Formerly used by gangsto mark territory, it was transforming into an art, a way forpeople to leave a new kind of mark. “During those old schooldays Rocking and Graffiti were the two best things for the youngpeople growing up in the Bronx, and tagging up was whatmotivated us the most since it contained the substance of fame”(TBB) than just a new music genre.And so Hip-Hop was beginningto grow into something greaterthan just a new music genre. Original graffiti by Ederton Sole - TBB Texas
The Elements begin to unite…“In 1977 TBB Rocking Crew had spread largely throughout theBronx which had caught the eye of Africa Bambaataa.” (TBB)Bambaataa had gathered a following during this time and hadtransformed them into an organization devoted to peace calledthe Zulu Nation. He wanted The Bronx Boys Rocking Crew tocome alongside him in his mission of peace. “We met withhim…and we discussed issues that pertained to the safety of allthe young people who used to attend Jams, DJ Parties, andSchool Yard Jams etc. The agreement was settled with respectand great concern and consideration for the sake of the youngpeople ….The Zulu Nation and TBB became together after thatmeeting.” (TBB) The elements were uniting. Hip-Hop wasbecoming a culture.
The Four Elements of Hip-HopUnited by Bambaataa’s message of “Peace, Love, Unity andHaving Fun” – the MCs, the DJs, the graffiti writers, the b-boysand b-girls, the crews they brought and the crowds theymoved...were becoming Bambaataa’s Army.” (Chang 89-173)The movement was growing. While it may be hard for us to imagine at this point, “most of the youthful energy that became known as hip-hop could be contained in a tiny seven-mile circle.” (Chang 89-173) This was about to change.
In October 1979……the very first hip-hop recording “Rapper’s Delight” was madeand released. In that fifteen minute recording, the whole worldsat up and heard something new. “’Rapper’s Delight’ crossedover from New York’s insular hip-hop scene to Black radio, thencharged up the American Top 40, and swept around theglobe….It became the best-selling twelve-inch single everpressed.” (Chang 89-173) To many of the original artists in theBronx, this recording was bogus. A group of no-names usingstolen lyrics, to them it was a joke!But this opened the door, record execs saw dollar signs…
Back to April 1982…The number of rap crews exploded…for the next decade and ahalf, hip-hop music moved away from the parks and thecommunity centers and the clubs and into the lab.” (Chang 89-173)But it wasn’t until April of 1982 that the world was officiallyintroduced to what Afrika Bambaataa had named “the hip-hopmovement”. “After his hit sensation "Planet Rock" in 1982,Bambaataa organized the first international Hip Hop tour of B-Boys, Graffiti Artists, DJs and Emcees (MCs) providing the worldwith the first glimpse of the Cultural Revolution called Hip Hop.”(Universal Zulu Nation)
Changing the way music is made…In the song “Planet Rock”, hip-hop was even changing the waymusic was made. “Bambaataa’s goal to find the perfect beat for“Planet Rock” pioneered the use of drum machines in hip-hop,and spawned the genres of music that would come to be knownas Electro, Freestyle, House, Miami Bass and even earlyTechno…As sample based hip-hop came to the forefront of thelate 80s, and a generation of hip-hop producer’s raided theirparents dusty attic shelves for James Brown records…” (Foat)
Uniting the Past and Present…“Bam was the first to pay homage to the Godfather of Funk byreleasing a record with him called “Unity” in1984….[Bambaataa’s] vast knowledge of music and diverse tastein beats inspired the hip-hop generation to dig deep in the pastfor musical inspiration for the present.” (Foat) It was a fittingunion between the Godfather of Funk and the man who hascome to be known as the Godfather of Hip-Hop. The funkygrooves, call/response and rhythmic syncopations of Sly and theFamily Stone, George Clinton/Parliament Funkadelic, and JamesBrown found new life, resurrected by hip-hop DJs. “Unity” by James Brown & Afrika Bambaataa
Creating the Future…Bambaataa also brought newsounds to the hip-hop crowd inthe form of Salsa, Reggae, Rock,Jazz, and African music. “He hasconsistently made recordsnationally and internationally,every one to two years, spanningthe 1980’s into the nextMillennium 2000.” (Universal ZuluNation) His full discography isextensive.
Discography(Screenshots taken from Wikipedia.org)
Beyond a DJ…Afrika Bambaataa’s contributions reach far beyond hiscontributions as a break-beat DJ. He is also responsible forlaunching many musical careers. “Bam was instrumental inlaunching the R&B group New Edition, Maurice Starr and theJonzun Crew, Tashan and Bernard Fowler of the Peech Boys, toname a few.” (Universal Zulu Nation)
An Influential Force…While it’s impossible to know all of the people who have beeninfluenced in some way by Afrika Bambaataa, some of the morenotable are “A Tribe Called Quest”, “The Beastie Boys”, “De LaSoul”, “DJ Shadow” “Boogie Down Productions”, and “LL Cool J”among others. (Bush)There may be some that come as a surprise. A song released asa single by Afrika Bambaataa and the group he formed, “TheSoul Sonic Force” in 1984 “Renegades of Funk” was covered bythe group “Rage Against the Machine” in 2000.Link to full music video if you’re interested!
Planet Rock lives on…Of all his influential music, “Planet Rock” most likely takes thetitle. In just two examples - Jazz and neosoul vocalist DwightTrible released a track in 2005 called "I Was Born on Planet Rock"featuring rapper Scienz of Life. It was meant to be a tribute to"Planet Rock" and its legacy on hip hop culture and music. MCCommon created a whole album based on the influence thissong had on him called “Universal Mind Control”, the title songbears a musical resemblance to “Planet Rock” in many ways.The 1st minute of “Planet “Universal Mind Control”Rock for comparison by Common
The Mystery that is Bambaataa…One of the most interesting mysteries surrounding AfrikaBambaataa is what exactly was his “real” or given name at birth.While journalists and online hip-hop history sites, even good’olWikipedia, will claim that his birth name was Kevin Donovan thisis actually the name of “another man who happened to be theleader of record-label owner Paul Winley’s house band, theHarlem Underground Band.” (Chang 89-173) Whatever his nameactually is, Bambaataa chose to take on the title of “AfrikaBambaataa” the later part meaning “Affectionate Leader” in Zuluwhich truly epitomizes who he has become to the manygenerations who are part of the hip-hop culture.
Fun FactsMy family has met Lord Yoda, one of the members of AfrikaBambaataa’s Soul Sonic Force, through being part of the TheBronx Boys who still work closely with Zulu Nation to this day.He is a very humble and sweet man! I’m hoping to get to meetAfrika Bambaataa at some point as well.Even more random…I had the opportunity to dance on stagewith the Soul Sonic Force during a show they played inPhiladelphia back in 2007.
The Future of Hip-HopBeing a part of this culture isinspiring. Even though sadly whatmost people know of hip-hop todayis commercialized nonsense, truehip-hop that holds to the originalideals as preached by the Godfatherof hip-hop is still alive and growing.While much of this new generationhas grown up underground, they arebeginning to again influence theircommunities in positive ways andteach the next generation to holdtrue to: Peace, Love, Unity andHaving Fun!
Works CitedBush, John. "Afrika Bambaataa." Rovi Corp (2012): n.pag. AllMusic.com. Web. 12Nov 2012. <http://www.allmusic.com/artist/afrika-bambaataa-mn0000929862>.Chang, Jeff. Cant Stop Wont Stop. New York, New York: St. Martins Press, 2005.89-173. Print.Foat, Jason. "The Music World of Afrika Bambaataa." Universal Zulu Nation. N.p.,n.d. Web. 24 Nov 2012. <http://www.zulunation.com/afrika.html>.TBB, Aby. Internet Chat Interview. November 20 2012."The Music World of Afrika Bambaataa." Universal Zulu Nation. PRIMEDIA BusinessMagazine & Media Inc., n.d. Web. 24 Nov 2012.<http://www.zulunation.com/afrika.html>.Much love and thanks to my TBB family for allowing me to use their photos!