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June is Black Music Month and WERS at Night will recognize black musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters who have made enormous contributions to the music industry. Today, June 5th, 889@night is highlighting Afrika Bambaataa.
Afrika Bambaataa is one of the three main originators of break-beat deejaying and is respectfully known as the “Grandfather” and “Godfather” of Hip-Hop Culture as well as The Father of The Electro Funk Sound. Due to his early use of drum machines and computer sounds, Bam (as he is affectionately known) was instrumental in changing the way R&B and other forms of Black music were recorded. His creation of Electro Funk, beginning with his album Planet Rock, helped fuel the development of other musical genres such as Freestyle or Latin Freestyle, Miami Bass, Electronica, House, Hip House, and early Techno.
In 1970, he started deejaying at house parties. Bam became even more interested in deejaying around 1973, when he heard Bronx DJs Kool DJ Dee and Kool DJ Herc. Bambaataa decided to use his leadership skills to turn those involved in the gang life into something more positive to the community. This decision began the development of what later became known as the Universal Zulu Nation, a group of socially and politically aware rappers, B-boys (break dancers), graffiti artists, and other people involved in hip hop culture (inspired by his wide studies on African history at the time). The Zulu Nation was the first hip-hop organization, with an official birth date of November 12, 1973. Bam’s plan with the Universal Zulu Nation was to build a youth movement out of the creativity of a new generation of outcast youths with an authentic, liberating worldview. Five B-boys joined him who he called the Shaka ZULU Kings, a.k.a. ZULU Kings; there were also the Shaka Zulu Queens. As Bam continued deejaying, more DJs, rappers, break dancers, graffiti writers, and artists followed his parties, and he took them under his wing and made them members of his Zulu Nation.
In 1982 Bam had an idea for a record revolving around Kraftwerk’s piece “Trans-Europe Express.” Bam soon met John Robie, who brought Bam a techno-pop oriented record titled Vena Carva that he was trying to release. Bam then introduced Robie to Arthur Baker, and the three of them, along with the Soul Sonic Force (#2), worked on the “Trans-Europe Express” idea, resulting in the piece Planet Rock - one of the most influential records in music. Bam called the sound of the record “Electro Funk, or the ‘Electro-Sound’,” and he cited James Brown, Parliament, and Sly and the Family Stone as the building blocks of its composition. By September of that year, Planet Rock went gold, and it continued to sell internationally throughout the 1980s into the next millennium and still sells today with the many remixes. Planet Rock is the most sampled record ever in Hip Hop.
Around 1982 Hip-Hop artist Fab 5 Freddy was putting together music packages in the largely white downtown Manhattan New-Wave clubs, and invited Bam to perform at one of them, called the Mudd Club. It was the first time Bam had performed before a predominantly white crowd, making it the first time Hip Hop fused with White culture. Bam killed it and soon attendance for Bam’s parties’ downtown became so large that he had to move to larger venues.
Bam has contributed to at least 22 albums in his career. In 1990, Bam made Life magazine’s “Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” issue. He was also involved in the anti-apartheid work “Hip Hop Artists Against Apartheid” for Warlock Records. He teamed with the Jungle Brothers to record the album Return to Planet Rock (The Second Coming).
By 1992 Bam had his own Planet Rock Records label, releasing Time Zone’s Thy Will “By” Funk LP. In 1993, Bam’s Time Zone recorded the single “What’s The Name of this Nation? . . . Zulu!” for Profile Records. Toward 1994, Bam regrouped his SoulSonic Force for the album Lost Generations. In that same year, he began deejaying on radio station Hot 97 FM in New York City on Fridays, hosting the show “Old School at Noon” which Bam eventually changed to “True School at Noon”. Bam has released other records throughout the world from many different countries and has always stayed on top of his deejaying throughout the world from the 90s to this current day. He is truly one of the hardest working men in Hip Hop.
Afrika Bambaataa is responsible for inspiring almost every Hip-Hop artist today especially artists like KRS-ONE, Talib Kweli, and Mos Def. On the fifth day of African-American Music Appreciation month, let us honor Bam like the true pioneer and revolutionary that he is.