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Revisionist Hip Hop and the Over Glorification of Afrika Bambaataa

by Sharrieff Saalakhan

Among all the shame and disgrace that Bambaataa has earned for himself, there are the passionate reactions of the public whose shock is compounded by the mythic narrative of Afrika Bambaataa being, “The Father of Hip Hop.”

Let me correct that very bluntly: That is pure bullshit.

If he is the father of anything, it is Electro music for the urban audience. A hybrid carryover of Kraftwerk, Disco and Gay clubs meshed with the call and response antics of the streets and wardrobe of Funkadelic and KISS. Yes, he was a visible figure and played a part in the early ages of Hip Hop as it continued to refine itself, but Afrika Bambaataa didn’t create anything other than the Zulu Nation.

The Zulu Nation basically being an imitator of The 5% Nation, NOI and even the Black Panther Party in its conduct code and homemade tenets. Yes, it is commendable that it attracted ex-gangbangers but that doesn’t warrant calling Bambaataa, “The Father of Hip Hop.” DJ Kool Herc laid down the framework in the early 70s, using two turntables and extending the breaks of James Brown records.

DJ Kool Herc and Rakim Photo: Sharrieff Salakhan
DJ Kool Herc and Rakim
Photo: Sharrieff Saalakhan

To this day, James Brown remains the most sampled artist in the history of Hip Hop. You can go down the line: Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, Public Enemy, etc., etc., and you will find James Brown. Kool Herc fathered that and Kool Herc coined the terms, “B Boy and “B Girl.”

So. what did Bam do? He didn’t invent scratching because Grand Wizard Theodore invented that. He didn’t invent breakdancing and pop-locking. Sure, he grew up among it in the Bronx but nobody knows him for that!

Because you witness history you cannot claim to be the author of that history. Frankly, Bam was a fringe element of Urban expression, an oddity that achieved mainstream success on the strength of his Electro single, “Planet Rock.”

To be real, “Rappers Delight,” in 1979 (with rhymes written by Grand Master Caz) was much more pure Hip Hop stylistically than Bam ever was. In 1980, Jimmy Spicer was putting it down, Kurtis Blow became the first rapper to be signed to a major label. In 1982, Flash gave us the unprecedented, “Wheels of Steel,” following in the footsteps of Herc and Theodore’s innovations and putting it on wax.

So, Bambaataa was a DJ, ex-gang member and embraced a specific genre of “Electro Club” music which had splashes of Hip Hop elements simply because he grew up in the Bronx where Kool Herc, the Father, created it.

No sooner than Afrika Bambaataa achieved his greatest fame with the hit, “Planet Rock,” Run DMC reminded the streets what Hip Hop was truly about with “Sucker MC’s.” A no bullshit ode to the essence of the art, muscular and shedding the fat of the Battle Star Galatica outfits and Las Vegas antics.

Of course, all things go through stages, including Hip Hop but the musical focus of Bam was more House and Electro. Notice when he speaks about Hip Hop, he never expounds specifically on the actual music, but the culture, which is basically the surroundings from which it sprung.

Kool Herc was the Architect, and for those who call Bam, “The God Father,” that is basically an honorary term and conditional position if something happens to the Father. Kool Herc is still alive, and surely no father will leave his child in the custody of a suspected serial child molester.

For the record, I was always indifferent about the Zulu Nation. Maybe because I was much more influenced by the 5% Nation or because I grew up in Brooklyn. It never really impressed me. I do enjoy and respect the work of several artists who have been affiliated with them but it has now become clear that it was nothing but a dressed up personality cult. Over magnifying the importance of their once gang member and protecting his immoral sins like the Black Vatican.

So let the record show, while Afrika Bambaataa was indeed on the scene, borrowed aspects of Hip Hop in his own musical expression, was a DJ and did many events over the decades, he has never been nor will he ever be the, “Father of Hip Hop.”

I don’t blame the youth who are 30 and under and don’t know any better because the Zulu Nation has propagated this myth about him but you old Mfers in your 40s, 50s and up should know better.

No one has ever confused Bam for an MC or rapper, he was never taken seriously. He endeared himself with a club record and looking like George Clinton escaped from the planet of the apes but he, along with his Zulu Nation, has done a hell of a job of hijacking Hip Hop history in proper context. Which, of course, promotes his stature and secures lucrative European tours and lectures which fatten the pockets of those who stayed silent as this still unmarried, no-kids-having-Negro took boys on tour with him and to his bedroom.

No more revision.

Straight reality over here.

Afrika Bambaataa AKA Lance Taylor AKA Kevin Donovan is NOT the Father of Hip Hop nor the Godfather.

Now let’s come back down to Planet Earth.