Afrika Bambaataa needs no introduction. As one of the forefathers of hip-hop, Bambaataa not only was responsible for crafting the four elements that make up the core of the culture, but he also added a 5th element—knowledge. Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation movement was responsible for stopping the violence and empowering the residents of the South Bronx.
Last week I was among a select group of people selected to participate in a question and answer session with Bambaataa during the Red Bull Subsession at XM Satellite radio in DC.
Bambaataa, who has known to be reclusive in the past, was very straightforward and open, taking questions from the audience and went through a few tracks that influenced his career.
On The Beginnings in Hip-Hop
Bambaataa talked about the origins of DJing, where kids from the Bronx would take their parents soundsystems out to the block party and spin records. Before the mixer was invented, b-boys had to find more creative ways of getting the party started. At one point, Bambaataa recalls even having Djs on opposite ends on the club shining flashlights at each other at the end of a track to signal the next song.
Keep in mind, this was before the term hip-hop was ever coined. 77 was still the disco era, but the genre was at its downfall, especially in the Black community. “We loved disco,” Bambaataa said, but the industry tried to change it, and fake the funk.”
“DJs Had Secret Spies”
With everyone trying to jump in on this new culture called hip-hop, competition became intense. “DJs had secret spies,” Bambaataa recalls, of the people hired by DJs to follow him into record stores to see what he was copping for the next party. The game got to the point where people would know what record was playing by the color of the label, leading Bambaata and crew had to peel off the labels with hot water. The level of hustle in this time period was insane.
On Thinking Outside The Box
The first hip-hop rock collabo was not done with Aerosmith and RUN DMC. Matter of fact, it was Afrika Bambaataa and the Sex Pistols. “MTV didn’t want to play the video.”
Time Zone (Bambaataa vs Johnny Lydon) – World Destruction
“Ive always tried to break music to a hardcore audience,” Bambaataa remarks as he talks about dropping tracks from such bands as Foghat and Credence into his sets. “Everybody knew I was crazy anyway,” he says. “Most Djs were too scared to step outside the box.”
On The Younger Generation
Bambaatas fiercest words were on the state of hip-hop today. “The radio stations are fakin’ the funk,” he says. “program directors play a game of mind control. Reality TV ain’t even dealing with reality.” He urges radio stations to “play the old with the new,”
Bambaataa urges the younger generation to go to the Internet for music discovery and laments the trend of gangsta rap in todays music. “Thank God for the Internet and YouTube. We need to show [them] that Hip-Hop has brought more people together than many politicians.” He argues that there is too much hate on the airwaves. “If you’re gonna play something about hate, how about you play something else about love?”
On Today’s Hip-Hop
Usually hip-hop pioneers don’t have kind words to say about modern hip-hop, but Bambaataa takes a much more conciliatory tone. “I like Lil Wayne,” he says, while also giving a nod to Common and “brother Pharrell” for their interpretation of “Searching for the Perfect Beat” in Coms track, Universal Mind Control, which most people mistake for the more popular “Planet Rock.”
Looking for the Perfect Beat
On The Zulu Nation
Bambaataa is one of the few rappers who address environmental issues. He urges us to raise up and clean up the planet. “The disrespect of Planet Earth is so down and dirty.” He also stresses that our need to bring back music education in schools.
Much thanks to Red Bull and XM for putting on yet another enlightening Subsession. The few select people in the room were up close and personal with a legend in the game, a true pioneer.