Over the years I've gotten to interview Africa Bambaatta on several occassions.. Its always insightful and a priviledge.. He, after all is one of the key people responsible for this 9 billion dollar a year industry.. Sadly he doesn't make a dime... But way back in the days.. 76-79...Bam was the man.. He was respected and feared.. Respected.. cause he was the Master Of Records.. He had beats for days.. He was innovative.. He preached pro-Blackness.. He was the first person I heard.. run a Malcolm X speech over a hip hop beat.. He was the first to provide a forum for break dancers.. He brought to the world... hip hop culture..
Back in the days Bam was also feared.. His Zulu Nation... weren't the peace loving organization they are now.. Back then... they were a gang.. Zulus did not mess around.. And no one messed around at a Bambaataa party...The history of Zulu Nation shows that they were originally members of the notorious Black Spades...which was one of NYC's largest and most feared gangs. Nowadays.. Zulu Nation is world wide.. and all about peace... although they still don't mess around..
Currently Bam spins on Hot 97 in NY.. and is getting ready to drop a cut with 95 South.. a Miami bass group... Its supposed to be a remake of his classic Planet Rock. As for this interview which was conducted in Dec of '91.. Please pay close attention to Bam's definition of hip hop.. He's best qualified.. A lot of people like to spread misinformation.. Bam doesn't.. But then again how could the inventor of hip hop... be off the mark?
Bam also spoke about the inherent politicalness in hip hop. He told how the Nation Of Islam had influenced him and others during the 'old school' [1975-1980]. He also spoke about his activism. Bam had been one of the leaders in the Free James Brown movement. He was also the first hip hopper to do a song with Brown, "Peace Love & Unity' , hence acknowledging the Godfather of Soul's major influence. Bam was also heavily involved in the anti-apartheid struggle. In fact he did a number of songs and concerts over the years to help raise money and show support. Nowadays Bam travels all over the world spreading the good word of hip hop and trying to school young people the proper way to view and interpret this music and culture. Here are some highlights from our recent conversation.
What has Bambaataa been doing as of late?
We just released an album, "The Decade Of Darkness 1990-2000". We released a track from the album called 'Get Up And Dance' which is a hip house -hi energy type of record... I've been traveling around the world for many years. Last year I had the Hip Hop Artists Against Apartheid record to help the ANC [African National Congress] raise some money. We gave a big concert in England and I brought Willie Mandella and a lot of the ANC members on stage to a large hip hop audience in London. I also did "Return To Planet Rock" which was a quick type record to raise money for the Ansar [Muslim sect] community...I've been traveling and opening up new ground for hip hop and funk in other countries...
With the release of the hip house style jam 'Get Up And Dance', a lot of folks would argue that what you did isn't really 'hip hop'. As a pioneer and Godfather of this genre of music how do you define hip hop?
Bam: Well hip hop is basically the whole culture of the movement. There's the rap which is a form of hip hop culture. It could be breakdancing, freestyle dancing or whatever type of dancing that's happening now in the Black, Hispanic and White community. It's also the djs and rappers and their dress codes. That is hip hop, meaning the whole culture. Now if you're talking rap music..in rap the music itself is colorless. You can take music from any type of field like soul, funk, heavy metal, jazz, calypso and reggae. As long as it's funky and has that heavy beat and groove. You can take any part of it to make hip hop. Hip hop can deal with the past, the present and it can deal with the future. Now it's what a rapper puts on top of it that will make it a black thing or a white thing or a human thing or a universal thing...The music itself comes from all types of sound. When people are digging for that beat or groove they take from all fields of music. People will say hip hop just comes from soul or rock. It comes from all type of music, but it's based mainly around the toasting element of reggae. That's how rap came about.
What would not make a hip hop record? Do acts like Vanilla Ice, New Kids On The Block or Bell Biv Devoe qualify as hip hop?
Bam: They can be hip hop oriented. Vanilla Ice is still hip hop. He's a white rapper doing a form of rap music. His grooves and beats that he's using is still hip hop music. It's a hard bass or funky drum beat or a groove that he's playing. Like he did 'Ice Ice Baby' which was taken from Queen. The bassline and the beats are still a form of hip hop. Bell Biv Devoe is a form of singing style hip hop. They use hip hop grooves and beats to get their R&B stuff over. It's not a straight hip hop type of group. You have different brands of hip hop. You have hardcore, commercial type of hip hop, you have the electro sound like the 'Planet Rock' sound... A lot of the fans get mixed up because they think of hip hop as being just hardcore or certain beats per minute which it's not. You have high tempo in hip hop and you have low tempo hip hop. You have soft, mellow,and love type hip hop...Hip hop has gone through different stages as it's progressed throughout the years. Some people get across messages. Other people talk about love. Some people talk about what's happening in the Black or Hispanic community. or world problems. Rap is incorporated into songs. For example Gladys Knight might have a little rap section. As would groups like Starpoint or Midnight Star.
As an ambassador of hip hop, you've traveled all over the world. How is hip hop being received in other places?
There's hip hop all over..in France, England, Germany, and the south and western part of Africa. There's also hip hop in little parts of Northern Africa. I was recently in Morocco where I heard hip hop. I feel there's a plot to destroy it. world wide.. That's why they're trying to push house music in a lot of clubs or make it look like hip hop is not selling on a mass appeal...The music is directed to a hardcore audience and it is saying something. That's the main thing that makes everyone scared. A lot of rap artists are the most vocal people who'll speak whatever is on their mind, from any angle or culture that they want to speak upon...Other people from other countries hear this and although they might not know English, they take the time to study it. You'll be surprised at how many people have just learned how to speak English from just listening to rap records. They start repeating the words and then they start to get the feeling of what you're talking about. They start putting it to how they're living from country to country and the problems that they're going through. This is music for the young adults and the youth. that's speaking upon the government, the community, whites or blacks. Hip hop can deal with all types of subjects, in addition to peace, unity or 'love you baby-I wanna get down tonight'. It's the fact that the message in rap telling it like it is what's really grabbing hold of young adults throughout the world.
As a youth growing up in the Bronx, I first noticed the emergence of hip hop culture in 1975. What was the climate like back then that inspired people to move in that direction?
It was motivating. It was something new and people were tired of disco at the time. The hip hop at that time came on strong because at that time they [music industry] were trying to shove disco down our throats. Everybody was into it for the first year or two and then they got tired of it. Also New York itself was losing the funk. Back in the early 70s there existed a heavy funk sound. Parliament would come to town and pack Madison Square Garden. Sly & the Family Stone would come in and pack the Garden as did James Brown. Some of the NY radio stations weren't into Sly and James anymore. You stop hearing those hard beats on those records coming through the radio. You stop hearing the soul music of James Brown. All you heard was disco, disco and disco. Hip hop was a rebellious answer to disco.
Also at that time with rock music and heavy metal came the punk rock and new wave which was a rebellious answer to what was supposed to be pop. With both musical styles starting to come up they played a significant role. That's how come so many whites started getting into hip hop. Everybody thinks this is a new thing with Vanilla Ice and the Beastie Boys. It was the punk rockers and new wavers that were the first of all white people to accept this music. They were bringing me down to the punk rock clubs to mix. You used to see punk rockers come up to jam at the hardcore black and Hispanic neighborhoods.