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. Through his co-opting of the street gang the Black Spades into the music and culture-oriented Zulu Nation, he is responsible for spreading rap and hip-hop culture throughout the world. He has consistently made records nationally and internationally, every one to two years, spanning the 1980's into the next Millennium 2000.
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 piece "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.
Bam is responsible for initiating many careers in the music industry, and his early association with Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records helped propel the label to its success. Bam was instrumental in launching the R&B group New Edition, Maurice Starr and the Jonzun Crew, Tashan, and Bernard Fowler of the Peech Boys, to name a few. Bam is also recognized as a Humanitarian and a man of peace, who has applied elements of Afrocentric, spiritual, and health-conscious teachings to his philosophy. He is also a historian on Hip-Hop roots, who traces the culture back to the times of the African Griots.
At a time when DJs-Hip Hop or otherwise-were recognized for the distinctive records they played, Bam was called the "Master of Records," and was acclaimed for the wide variety of music and break records he presented to the Hip-Hop crowd, which included Go-Go, Soca, Salsa Reggae, Rock, Jazz,Funk and African music. He is responsible for premiering the following records and songs to Hip Hoppers, which are now staples in rap andHip-Hop culture: "Jam on the Groove" and "Calypso Breakdown" by Ralph McDonald; "Dance to the Drummer's Beat" by Herman Kelly; "Champ" by the Mohawks; themes from The Andy Griffith Show and The Pink Panther, and "Trans-Europe Express, by Kraftwerk and hundreds of others .
Bam joined the Bronx River Projects division of the Black Spades street gang in the southeast Bronx in Act, where he soon became warlord. Always a music enthusiast (taking up trumpet and piano for a short time at Adlai E. Stevenson High School), Bam was also a serious record collector, who collected everything from R&B to Rock. By 1970 he was already 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. Kool DJ Dee had one of the first coffins (a rectangular case that contains two turntables and a mixer) in the Bronx area circa 1972. West Bronx DJ Kool DJ Herc was playing funk records by James Brown, and later just playing the instrumental breaks of those records. noticing that he had many of the same records Herc was playing, Bam began to play them, but expanded his repertoire to include other types of music as well.
As the Black Spades gang began to die out toward 1973, Bam began forming a Performing group at Stevenson High School, first calling it the Bronx River organization, then Later the Organization. Bam had deejayed with his own sound system at the Bronx River Community Center, with Mr. Biggs, Queen Kenya, and Cowboy, who accompanied him in performances in the community. Because of his prior status in the Black Spades, Bam already had an established party crowd drawn from former members of the gang.
About a year later he reformed a group, calling it the Zulu Nation (inspired by his wide studies on African history at the time). Five b-boys (break dancers) 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.
By 1976, because of the proliferation of DJs, many sound system battles would occur to determine which DJ had the best music and sound. Although the amount of people gathered around a DJ was supposed to be the deciding factor, the best DJ was mostly determined by whose system was the loudest. Held in parks and community centers, DJs would set up their gear on opposite sides, playing their records at the same time at maximum volume. However, Bam decided that all challenges to him would follow an hour-by-hour rule, where he would play for an hour, and the opposing DJ would play for an hour.
Bam's first official battle was against Disco King Mario at Junior High School 123 (a.k.a. the Funky 3). A few other important battles Bam had later on were against Grandmaster Caz (known as Casanova Fly at that time and who later was one of the Cold Crush Brothers) at the P.A.L. (Police Athletic League) circa 1978, and a team battle against Grandmaster Flash and an army of sound systems, with Bam teaming systems with Disco King Mario and Tex DJ Hollywood. Bam formed additional systems for battling as well, like the Earthquake Systems with DJ Superman and DJ Jazzy Jay. There were also many MC battles, where rappers from Bam's Zulu Nation would go against other outside rappers. Later, Bam also jointly promoted Shows with Kool Herc under the name Nubian Productions.
Many cassette tapes were made of Bam's parties and MC battles, which were sometimes sold for $20 to $40 apiece. During long music segments when Bam was deejaying, he would sometimes mix in recorded speeches from Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and, later, Louis Farrakhan.
Influenced by Jame Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, George Clinton, and the many separate-but-same Groups that he created, Bam formed the SoulSonic Force, which in its original makeup consisted of approximately twenty Zulu Nation members. The personnel for the Soul Sonic Force were groups within groups that Bam would perform and make records with, including: SoulSonic Force (1)-Mr. Biggs, Queen Kenya, DJ Cowboy SoulSonic Force (#2)-Mr. Biggs, Pow Wow, G.L.0.B.E. (creator of the "MC popping" rap style), DJ Jazzy Jay Cosmic Force-Queen Lisa Lee, Prince Ikey C, Ice Ice (#1), Chubby Chub; Jazzy Five-DJ Jazzy Jay, Mr. Freeze, Master D.E.E., Kool DJ Red Alert, Sundance, Ice Ice (#2), CharlieChew, Master Bee; Busy Bee Starski, Akbar (Lil, Starski), Raheim.
Around ~1980, Bam and his groups made their first recordings with Paul Winley Records, who recorded Bam's "Death Mix" piece. Winley also released Cosmic Forcers "ZULU Nation Throwdown," after which Bam (disappointed with the results) left the company.
Bam's parties had now spread to places like the Audubon Ballroom and the T-Connection. In the early 1980s, news about Bam and other DJs', parties-and the type of music Bam played-started traveling to the downtown sections of Manhattan. Tom Silverman visited Bam at one of his parties and did an article on him and the Zulu Nation for his own Dance Music Report magazine. The two became friends, and Silverman later recorded Bam and his SoulSonic Force with a group of female singers called Cotton Candy. The first song Silverman recorded around 1981 with both groups (without Bam's name listed) was a work titled "Let's Vote," after which a second song was recorded and released, titled "Having Fun."
Thereafter, Silverman met producer Arthur Baker, and together with then-KISS-FM radio mastermix DJ Shep Pettibone, Silverman recorded Bam and the Jazzy Fives "Jazzy Sensation" on Silverman's own Tommy Boy Records label. The record had three mixes, one with Bam and the Jazzy Five, and the other with a group called the Kryptic Krew. The third mix was an instrumental. The record was a hit with Hip Hoppers.
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. Attendance for Bam's parties downtown became so large that he had to move to larger venues, first to the Ritz, with Malcolm McLaren's group, Bow Wow Wow (and where the Rock Steady Crew b-boys became part of the Zulu Nation), then to the Peppermint Lounge, The Jefferson, Negril, Danceteria, and the Roxy.
In 1982 Bam had an idea for a record revolving around Kraftwerk's piece "Trans-Europe Express." Bam brought the idea to Silverman and both tried working on it in Silverman's apartment. 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 Silverman and 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 2000 and still sells today with the many remixes. Planet Rock is the most sample record ever in Hip Hop.
In the autumn of 1982 Bam and other members of the Zulu Nation (which included Grand mixer D.ST, Fab 5 Freddy, Phase 2, Mr. Freeze, Dondi, Futura 2000, and Crazy Legs, to name a few) made one of their first of many trips to Europe. Visiting Le Batclan theater in Paris, Bam and the other Hip Hoppers made a considerable impression on the young people there, something that would continue throughout his travels as he began to spread Hip-Hop culture told around the world.
Bam's second release around 1983 was "Looking for the Perfect Beat," then later, "Renegades of Funk," both with the same SoulSonic Force. Bam began working with producer Bill Laswell at Jean Karakos's Celluloid Records, where he developed and placed two groups on the label Time Zone and Shango. He did "Wildstyle" with Time Zone, and in 1984 he did a duet with punk-rocker John Lydon and Time Zone, titled "World Destruction" which was the first time ever that Hip Hop was mix with Rock predating RunDmc's duet with Areosmith "Walk This Way". Shango's album Shango Funk Theology was also released by the label in 1984. That same year Bam and other Hip Hop celebrities appeared in the movie Beat Street. Bam also made a landmark recording with James Brown, titled "Unity." It was admirably billed in music industry circles as "the Godfather of Soul meets the Godfather of Hip Hop."
Around October 1985 Bam and other music stars worked on the antiapartheid album Sun City with Little Steven Van Zandt, Run-D.M.C., and Lou Reed and numerous others. During 1988 Bam recorded another landmark piece as Afrika Bambaatea and Family. The work featured Nona Hendryx, UB40, Boy George, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and yellowman, and it was titled The Light. Bam had recorded a few other works with Family three years earlier, one titled "Funk you" in 85, and the other titled Beware (The Funk Is Everywhere) in 1986.
In 1990 Bam made Life magazine's "Most Important Americans of the 20th Century" issue. He was also involved in the antiapartheid 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).
Around this same period, Greenstreet Records, John Baker, and Bam organized a concert at Wembley Stadium in London for the A.N.C. (African National Congress), in honor of Nelson Mandela's release from prison. The concert brought together performances by British and American rappers, and also introduced both Nelson and Winnie Mandela and the A.N.C. to Hip-Hop audiences. In relation to the event, the recording Ndodemnyama (Free South Africa) helped raise approximately $30,000 for the A.N.C. Bam also helped to raise funds for the organization in Italy.
In 1991 Bam received some notice for his remix work on the group EMF's goldsingle "Unbelievable." He also did an album for the Italian label DFC (Dance Floor Corporation), titled 1990-2000:The Decade of Darkness.
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 changed the shows name to True School at noon. Bam has release other records throughout the world from many different countries as well as always stayed on top of his deejaying throughout the world from the 90's, straight through the next millennium 2000. He is truly one of the hardest working man in Hip Hop.