Friday, May 6, 2011

Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force -- "Renegades of Funk" (1983)

From a different solar system
Many, many galaxies away
We are the force of another creation
A new musical revelation
And we're on this musical mission
To help the others listen . . .
We're the renegades of funk

[NOTE:  Heads are going to roll when I get back to the 2 or 3 lines headquarters tomorrow.  If you keep reading, you'll see that this post should have gone up over a month ago -- before the Run-DMC "Kings of Rock" post.  2 or 3 lines is embarrassed and chagrined, and someone is going to pay for this.]

In today's "Hip Hop 101" lecture, we're going to learn about another first-generation New York City hip hop DJ.  By the way, this is the last lecture in the first unit of Hip Hop 101, which I call "The Godfathers of Hip-Hop: New York, 1979-1983."  Our next unit -- which is titled "The Next Generation of New York City Rappers, 1983-1988" on the course syllabus -- will cover Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Eric. B & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions, and others. 

Keith Donovan, who was born in the South Bronx in 1957, was one of the warlords of the "Black Spades" street gang.  But a trip to Africa inspired him to disavow violence and to found the Universal Zulu Nation, a group of socially and politically aware rappers, artists, dancers, and other members of the hip hop community.  He changed his name to Afrika Bambaataa after a Zulu chief who had led an armed rebellion in early 2oth-century South Africa.  

Afrika Bambaataa
Bambaataa defined hip hop culture as having four elements: DJ'ing, rapping by MCs, breakdancing (whose practitioners were called "b-boys," or "break-boys"), and graffiti art.  His philosophy can be summed up by the first line of a 1984 record he did with James Brown: "Peace, unity, love, and having fun!" 

Bambaataa was a very popular DJ who organized hip hop block parties all over the South Bronx.  He then started to perform at Manhattan "new wave" venues like the Mudd Club (where bands like the Talking Heads and the B-52s played) and the Roxy.  

DJ Kool Herc
Like Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa learned a lot from Clive Campbell, a young immigrant from Kingston, Jamaica, which DJ'ed under the name DJ Kool Herc.  DJ Kool Herc is credited with inventing the DJ'ing technique of using two turntables to alternate between two copies of the same record, which allowed him to extend the instrumental "breaks."  But unlike Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc never made records.

Bambaataa's first hit record, "Planet Rock," was released in 1982, the same year that Bambaataa took a number of Zulu Nation performers on a European tour.  "Planet Rock" borrowed elements from Kraftwerk's music, and is considered the first electro-funk song.

Here's a video of "Planet Rock" with a lot of old video footage that captures what Bambaataa's Universal Zulu Nation was all about:

"Renegades of Funk" was released as a single the next year, but didn't appear on an album until 1986.  It places current-day rappers in the context of renegades from previous generations, including Tom Paine, Sitting Bull, and Malcolm X.

Here's "Renegades of Funk":

Here's a link you can use to buy Afrika Bambaataa's "Renegades of Funk" from iTunes:

Here's a link to use if you prefer Amazon:

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