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Afrika Bambaataa: Inside the Mind of a Cult Leader




Article by Leila Wills

You gave me fortune

You gave me fame

You gave me power in your God’s name

I’m every person you need to be

I’m the cult of personality

Song by “Living Colour”


Hip Hop Legend and Pioneer Afrika Bambaataa is facing a litany of child molestation allegations said to have taken place over the course of nearly five decades. The story broke when east coast broadcast journalist Troi Torrain, known as Star, was contacted by Ronald Savage, 50, who alleges an adult Bambaataa molested him when he was in the ninth grade. Since then, an onslaught of men has come forward with graphic details of pedophilia allegedly committed by Bambaataa.

Hassan Campbell, 39 and known in the Bronx as “Poppy,” says he was 12 or 13 when Bambaataa began molesting him and he and Ronald Savage did not know each other until now. Poppy was the first to go public with his story after Bambaataa, who has denied “any and all claims,” did not step down from Zulu Nation leadership.

Afrika Bambaataa, originally known in the Bronx as Lance Taylor and on the internet as Kevin Donovan, started the Zulu Nation in 1975 under the premise of promoting a new, fledgling culture that would come to be known as, “Hip Hop.”

Was this the case or was the Zulu Nation started as a way for Bambaataa to have unlimited access to hundreds of boys in the Bronx River projects?

In 1970, President Nixon signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act and heroin flooded black ghettos across America. In this Act, law enforcement agencies were given authorization to conduct no-knock searches and arrests soar. John Ehrlichman, who testified during the Watergate hearings, was recently quoted in Harper Magazine saying, “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

In 1973, Nixon began his second term, the last of United States troops leave Vietnam and the Drug Enforcement Agency is founded. Also in 1973, the FBI goes full throttle to destroy the Black Panther Party and one of the co-founders, Bobby Seale, runs for mayor of Oakland and the other co-founder, Huey Newton, releases a book entitled, Revolutionary Suicide. Cult-leader Jim Jones, who would take this title literally five years later, is arrested in 1973 Los Angeles for soliciting another man for sex in a movie theater bathroom.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee dissolved in 1973 and in the Nation of Islam (NOI), Elijah Muhammad, 75 and under poor health, noticeably scaled back public appearances. In Oakland in 1973, a former member of the NOI, Yusuf Bey starts his own off-shoot sect, Your Black Muslim Bakery, and would later father at least 42 children by his cult members and get charged with 27 counts of rape of minor girls. Also in 1973, Dwight “Malachi” York had already started his Ansaru Allah Community, which later became the Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, when he was reportedly a student at the University of Kartoum in Sudan. York would later be indicted on 120 counts of child molestation and rape.

The Dawning of Legends

In the Bronx River housing projects in New York, Lance Taylor aka Kevin Donovan, was 16 years old in 1973 and in a street gang called the Black Spades. He attended Monroe High School and frequently went to Intermediate School 167 to check on younger members of the gang. Gangs began to die out in New York and Lance wanted to transfer the membership to a new group he founds called the Organization. Later that summer, he hears DJ Kool Herc spinning records at a party and finds the perfect hook for his new group. Music.

Herc, like other DJ’s, would play records and watch the crowd. He keenly observes that the party goes up a few notches during the mostly percussive song breaks. Herc then gets two of the same records and extends the break by mixing in the alternate record. It is August of 1973 when Herc founds a new genre of black music that would be all things to many people, extremely influential and even political, and that genre is Hip Hop.

This new “break music” took on a life of its own. Dancers were called Break Boys and Break Girls and then simply B-boys and B-girls. The break-dancers form cyphers and take their turn in the center trying outdo themselves and each other at successive parties. Herc shouts out their names and, “it don’t stop,” from the DJ table.

DJ’s began to have Master of Ceremonies at parties who would speak in rhythm over the music “hipping” the crowd to the latest word on the street, current events or simply, “dropping knowledge” about whatever the time called for and the role of emcees would become more and more emphasized.

But it is Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins who begins to “move the crowd” while emceeing. Cowboy engages the crowd with commands like, “Throw your hands in the air!” “Say HOOOO!” enjoining the crowd to respond with participation. It is reported that Cowboy was on stage making fun of his friend who was going to the armed forces by humorously acting as if he were in the army while marching across the stage to a beat saying, “Hip Hop, Hip Hop, Hip Hop.” Sadly, as Nixon’s “War on Drugs” would have it, Cowboy dies in 1989 with a crack addiction.

Lance Taylor aka Kevin Donovan had one of the largest record collections in the projects which means he had more breaks than any other DJ. He hears what Herc is doing with the breaks and says, “I have a lot of those records at home.” He picks up on the style, shops for more records and begins to DJ in Herc’s style drawing huge crowds that will unquestionably become members of his new group.

In the 1964 film, Zulu, Chief Bhambatha kaMancinga head of the Zondi, led a rebellion in 1906 and after watching, Lance Taylor aka Kevin Donovan becomes Afrika Bambaataa. He describes himself as a man who always had “visions” and felt that he was “sent to do a job for the creator.”

November of 1973 is when the Zulu Nation says they were founded as, “Hip Hop’s First Family,” but early member Lord Shariyf says the Universal Zulu Nation did not come about until 1975 and that the year 1973 is borrowed by way of the birth of Hip Hop. If this is the case, then DJ Kool Herc and the Herculoids would be, “Hip Hop’s First Family.”

Bambaataa started the Bronx River Organization in 1974 which expanded into the borough-wide Bronx Organization in the same year, and finally, in 1975,  into the Universal Zulu Nation. Many gang members, who had become b-boys and b-girls, join because its aim is to proliferate this new Hip Hop culture.

Also in 1974, Bambaataa says he won two essay writing contests sponsored by UNICEF. The prize of the first contest is a trip to India and when it is time to meet with the judges’ panel, he is passing out fliers for his next party and misses the meeting. The second time, he makes the meeting and wins a trip to Africa spending two weeks in Nigeria, Guinea Bissau and the Ivory Coast along with one week in Europe.

There is much speculation on what may have occurred in Africa but when he returns, he solidifies the Zulu Nation. Bambaataa is credited for defining the five elements of Hip Hop: DJ’ing, emceeing, B-boys and B-girls, graffiti, and knowledge. The Zulu Nation’s foundation is, “Peace, Love, Unity and Having Fun,” and the belief system is a mish-mosh of tenets from the Nation of Islam, Christianity, the 5% Nation, the Black Panther Party, Moorish Science, the Nuwabians and Malcolm X. Bambaataa would later borrow Malachi York’s title and call himself, “The Amen Ra of Hip Hop.”

New group, new culture, new music, new opportunities.

What could possibly go wrong?

Cult Initiation: First Comes Love

Bambaataa did not have the typical swag of other brothers in the Bronx or Zulu Nation, as a matter of fact, he was described as somewhat corny. But what he does have is money from doing parties and a way with children and he makes his apartment in Bronx River projects the coolest place to be. Food, music, local celebrities and, by alleged victims’ accounts, porn.

By now, the Zulu Nation has a strong presence in the projects and the more intimidating members are former Black Spades who become the group’s gestapo. Rumors of Bambaataa being gay are already traveling in the breeze and some little boys are warned by older men to stay away from him. His own personal security detail was hardened gang members and his alleged secret life was hidden from the outer world. If what the victims are saying is true, no one crossed him and no one stopped him. The only reports of Bambaataa getting roughed up or stabbed are from alleged victims who were allegedly sexually assaulted by him.

Heroin and crack continue wreaking havoc in the projects and many children already living in extreme poverty now had drug addicted parents and were left to fend for themselves. In the very least, they were without proper supervision making conditions ripe for a sexual predator.

In the late 1970’s, Ronald Savage was 13 or 14 when he wanted to be down with Bambaataa. His sister’s boyfriend was in the Zulu Nation as was everyone he looked up to. He says he was in his first year of high school when Bambaataa first molested him. He had decided to skip school one day and called Bambaataa to see if he could hang out at his apartment. He took a taxi, Bambaataa paid for it and told him he could go into the bedroom and watch television.

Savage says he was not in there more than a few minutes before Bambaataa, in his early twenties, allegedly came in and began masturbating. He allegedly asked Ronald to pull his out and do the same. Ronald idolized Bambaataa and even though he froze, he says Bambaataa reassured him that it was okay. After a short time, Bambaataa allegedly leaves and another man enters the bedroom and exposes himself. Ronald takes off and leaves the apartment.

This would not be the only encounter between the two and Bambaataa began coming to Ronald’s house allegedly escalating his molestation and even taking Ronald to another member of the Zulu Nation, Ronald’s sister’s boyfriend, to give the boyfriend oral sex.

Many wanted to join the Zulu Nation and Ronald, like other young boys, were “crate boys” for Bambaataa carrying his records to all the parties. Ronald cannot explain why he continued to see Bambaataa when he knew it was wrong. He told the New York Daily News, “I hated myself. It was like I was hypnotized.”

In 1982, when Planet Rock hit radio stations around the world, Afrika Bambaataa was catapulted to big-time celebrity status and with all the hungry people around him looking for an inroad to the music business, his alleged appetite for little boys would go unchecked.

Deception, Dependency and Dread

In 1989, Poppy, one of six children, was a preteen in Bronx River projects when a 32 or 33 year-old Bambaataa allegedly began molesting him. Poppy’s father was addicted to dope and his mother was forced to use babysitters as she worked to take care of her children. Poppy had already been abused by previous babysitters before his mother entrusted him to Bambaataa.

In one interview, Poppy said that Bambaataa was, “like an uncle who would pay for you to go to college and molest you at the same time.” He describes a book of polaroid pictures, spanning years, of all the boys and men that Bambaataa allegedly had sex with or molested with their pants down exposing themselves. This book, Poppy says, is what Bambaataa used to groom young victims in his 7th floor apartment indicating, “everybody does it,” and in it were people Poppy knew and looked up to.

As a teenager, the alleged molestation continued and Poppy took on a hard edge and began doing “work” on behalf of the Zulu Nation, which Star describes as a “glorified gang.” Poppy would end up in prison at the age of 18 and while in prison, Bambaataa would allegedly send him money and let him know he was being looked after. Conflicted over the abuse, Poppy knew what Bambaataa did to him was wrong but he and the Zulu Nation were his close-knit Bronx River family.

Upon his release from prison, Poppy thought the former days were over until he says he began hearing that Bambaataa had continued to allegedly molest boys through the years. He requested a meeting with the Zulu Nation’s council to confront Bambaataa and at this council meeting, he alleges that Bambaataa, “cried like a baby,” admitted to the molestation and even confessed that he had also been molested as a young boy. Poppy requested that Bambaataa step down from Zulu Nation leadership, get professional help and start some kind of program or treatment center for the men that he had hurt so that these men would not hurt others. Bambaataa allegedly agreed.

A year or so after this meeting, none of these agreements was met and Poppy decides to risk being ostracized, and possibly even killed, by the same group he went to prison for in order to prevent other boys from being molested and goes public with his story. He posted a video which infuriated members of the Zulu Nation, including the council who were allegedly present during Bambaataa’s alleged confession.

Poppy contends that Bambaataa has created dependency upon himself by his followers and that the council are “his slaves.” Since Poppy has come forward, Bambaataa has been under a constant barrage of new alleged victims telling their stories and internal strife has afflicted the Zulu Nation with younger membership splitting their allegiance in support of the victims.

New York’s statute of limitations for molestation is five years after a child becomes an adult so if one does not file charges by the age of 23 or younger, no prosecution can happen. Ronald Savage, a former NY Democratic committeeman, is pushing for a change in legislation.

Hip Hop history is being rewritten and if Afrika Bambaataa set up the Zulu Nation in order to carryout unspeakable acts against children, he will be Hip Hop’s very own cult leader.

This story will be updated. Metropolis