Afrika Bambaataa is undoubtedly one of hip hop’s godfathers.
As a teenager in the mid-1970’s, he fell into the Black Spades gang, but had a different interest than causing trouble.
Bam started deejaying in 1970.
He had a passion for buying records (he would later be known as the “Master of Records”) and his tastes were very diversified from rock to r&b to African sounds to Latin, calypso, and classical. Although Kool Herc was the top DJ at the time, Bam knew he owned most of the same records as Herc so he decided to start playing on his own.
His ideological influences ran the gamut of the black political leaders of the time. He saw the film Zulu which depicted the battle between British troops and the Zulu tribe in 1879. The British seem victorious before they are overwhelmed by the numbers of Zulus who spare their lives. He took his name “Afrika Bambaataa” which meant “affectionate leader” from the movie. In 1974 Bam decided to form his own Zulu Nation to help assemble what he referred to as “the elements” of the culture into organization. He original crew was called The Organization, but after two years he changed it into the Zulu Nation. It was a break dance crew at first but then grew to include rappers, deejays, and graffiti artists.
He is often credited with naming the culture “hip hop”, a term frequently used by Love Bug Starski.
His first recorded release was on Paul Winley Records and was called “Zulu Nation Throwdown, Part 1″ in 1980.
The group released the first 12” at Tommy Boy “Jazzy Sensation” in 1981.
He met Fab 5 Freddy who introduced him to the downtown music scene. As a result Bam attempted to fuse the uptown sounds he grew up on and the happenings he heard downtown.
In 1982, he was part of the first hip hop tour to Europe with Fab 5, Rammellzee, Grand Mixer D.ST. & The Infinity Rappers, Rock Steady Crew, the Double Dutch Girls, and graffiti artists Phase 2, Futura, and Dondi.
The Zulu DJ’s at the time were Bam, Jazzy Jay, Grand Mixer D.ST. (who would later work with Herbie Hancock on “Rockit”), and Afrika Islam. They took over a club called the Roxy. One of their performances was caught in the film Beat Street.
During May of 1982, Bam and his group the Soul Sonic Force made up of Bam, Jazzy Jay, Mr. Biggs (Ellis Williams), G.L.O.B.E. (John Miller), Whiz Kid and Pow Wow (Robert Darrell Allen) released “Planet Rock” on Tommy Boy Records and created a new sound for the genre that mixed funk and hip hop with Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europeoan Express”. By 1983, “Planet Rock” and a second single “Looking for the Perfect Beat” were blowing up all over the world.
His first album came out in 1983 called Planet Rock which featured other well known tracks like “Looking for the Perfect Beat”, “Frantic Situation”, “Renegades of Funk”.
1986 saw his other album for Tommy Boy “Beware The Funk is Everywhere” which featured “Funk You” and “Bambaataa’s Theme”
1989 saw an interesting release called ‘The Light’ which was an album that featured UB40, Boy George, Bobby Mcfarren and other luminaries of 80’s pop music.
Bam has since worked with James Brown (the first rapper to official collaborate with James not just sample his tracks).
He appears in the documentary film The Show.
He appeared on a song entitled “World Destruction” by Bill Laswell who also worked with Fab 5 Freddy.
In Fall of 1999 he was featured as a guest vocalist on the UK dance group Leftfield’s No.1 (UK) Album Rhythm And Stealth on the track “Afrika Shox” which peaked at No. 11 on the UK charts.