Bronx DJ-turned-hip-hop-godfather Bambaataa not only created the record that thrust beatbox electro-funk into the '80s and brought Kraftwerk onto the dancefloor, he has made pioneering sides with numerous performers and established himself as a major figure in contemporary music. Working mainly in the 12-inch format, Bam's ascent began with a routine boast rap, "Jazzy Sensation," but got into gear with "Planet Rock," the Arthur Baker-produced (and co-written, with the band and John Robie) explosion of scratch cuts, electronic gimmickry, processed vocals and solid-state rhythms. (Both tracks were later compiled on the Tommy Boy label retrospective, Greatest Beats). "Looking for the Perfect Beat" is even better, with Baker mostly soft-pedaling the monolithic pounding in favor of a skittish electronic metronome and tacking on fancier effects, vocals and mix tricks to create an ultra-busy urban symphony. The mega-rhythmic "Renegades of Funk" adds social / historical / political lyrics to the dance-floor dynamism and delivers a really bizarre blend of rap, synthesizers and oppressive electronic percussion. |
As a precursor to a long-promised album (which ultimately included it), Bambaataa released "Funk You!," a corny rap idea stretched out over a 12-inch in four very different mixes, with borrowings from James Brown and Queen. When it finally appeared, Beware proved that the LP format presents no obstacle to the imposing Overseer: variety and invention make it an exciting electro-beat vision of a freewheeling stylistic future. "Funk Jam Party" is exactly that; "Tension" sounds like Bowie comes to Harlem; "Rock America" incorporates howling electric guitars, a munchkin chorus and chintzy organ without ever losing the funk. Easily the highlight, and another amazing cross-cultural accomplishment by Bambaataa, is Bill Laswell's earthy, energized production of the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams." Awesome.
Afrika Bambaataa (born Kevin Donovan on April 17, 1957) is a DJ and community leader from the South Bronx, who was instrumental in the early development of hip hop throughout the 1970s.
During Bambaataa's early years, he was a founding member of the Bronxdale Projects-area street gang, The Savage Seven. Due to the explosive growth of the gang, it later became known as the Black Spades, and Bambaataa rose to the position of Division Leader. After a life-changing visit to Africa, he changed his name to Afrika Bambaataa Aasim. Bambaataa was influenced by the depiction of the Zulu warriors attacking British troops at Rorke's Drift in the Michael Caine film Zulu.
After the visit, Bambaataa decided to use his leadership to turn those involved in the gang life into something more positive to the community. This began the development of The Organization, which soon later became known as the Zulu Nation, a group of racially and politically aware rappers, B-boys, graffiti artists and other people involved in hip hop culture that gained fame in the early eighties to mid nineties. By 1977, inspired by DJ Kool Herc, Bambaataa had begun organizing block parties all around the South Bronx, and he was soon renowned as one of the best DJs in the business. In 1980, he produced Soul Sonic Force's landmark single, "Zulu Nation Throwdown". In 2000 Rage Against The Machine covered Afrika's song "Renegades of Funk" for their album Renegades.
In 1982, Bambaataa organized the very first European hip hop tour. Along with himself were rapper and graffiti artist Rammellzee, Zulu Nation DJ Grand Mixer DXT (formerly Grand Mixer D.St), B-boy and B-girl crews the Rock Steady Crew, and the Double Dutch Girls, as well as legendary graffiti artists Fab 5 Freddy, Phase 2, Futura 2000, and Dondi.
Also in 1982, Bambaataa became a solo artist (having produced several other singles) and released "Jazzy Sensation" on Tommy Boy Records in that year. "Planet Rock", a popular single, came out that June under the name Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force. The song melded electronic hip hop beats with the main melody from Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express", as well as portions from records by Ennio Morricone and Captain Sky - thus creating a new style of music altogether, electro funk. It influenced many styles of electronic and dance music, e.g. freestyle music, house music and techno music. In 1984, Bambaataa recorded "Unity" with James Brown and released "World Destruction" under the name Time Zone (with John Lydon). Shango Funk Theology, a full length album, came out under the name Shango. This was followed by "Funk You" in 1985 and then his formal full album debut, Beware (The Funk Is Everywhere).
Bambaataa then left Tommy Boy and signed with Capitol Records, released The Light (as Afrika Bambaataa & the Family), which included aid from George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Boy George and UB40. 1990-2000: Decade of Darkness was released in 1991. It included both hip house tracks that were produced by the Italian team De Point (most of those have been collected on ZYX record's The 12" Mixes compilation) as well as hip hop and electro funk tracks. On Warlocks and Witches, Bam (as his name is often abbreviated) focused on hip hop. From the mid-1990s, Bam returned to his electro roots, collaborating with Westbam (who was named after him) and culminating in 2004's album Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light which featured Gary Numan and many others.
In a fascinating cross-generational culture mix, Bambaataa teamed with the Godfather of Soul to record "Unity," a positive political message released in six alternate versions (connected by studio patter) on one disc. Hitting a funky compromise between classic soul and modern hip-hop, the record works on a number of levels and is certainly a significant milestone in rap. Taking another startling detour, Bambaataa wrote and recorded "World Destruction" with Bill Laswell, sharing the vocals with John Lydon, jump-cutting the Englishman's no-wave keen into an intense, ominous funk-rock maelstrom for one of the most remarkable dance singles in recent memory.
Bambaataa also records as a member of Shango, a vocal trio that is supported by Material (for this purpose, Laswell and Michael Beinhorn). The album-length Funk Theology offers five sophisticated party creations that also feature guitarist Nicky Skopelitis. The originals get no heavier, lyrically, than "Let's Party Down"; a version of Sly Stone's "Thank You" is utterly appropriate. Good for dancing but a bit dull for listening.
Extending the Family way out there, The Light features UB40, Nona Hendryx, Boy George, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Yellowman and others. At times, the appealing and diverse pan-ethnic album involves Bam only tangentially, like a brief rap on UB40's "Reckless" track, or a few interjections on the Hendryx/George rendition of Curtis Mayfield's "Something He Can Feel." The only credit he takes on "Shout It Out" is as co-publisher of the composition. The individual tracks are fine, but the lack of focus leaves this plainly commercial effort more a various artists sampler than a cohesive Bambaataa creation.