Afrika Bambaataa was nominated by Life magazine as one of most important Americans
of the 20th century. In the early years of the culture, the movement went untitled
until Bambaataa coined the phrase "Hip Hop" from a term that rapper
Love Bug Starski used in his rhymes. In the 1970's, ten years prior to gaining
global recognition, Hip-Hop was a celebration of life.
MS - You are known as the grandfather of hip-hop. How do you feel about this?
AB - Some people call me Grandfather, some have called me the Godfather, the historian, the architect, but this Millenium a lot of people have been calling me the Omman Rha of Universal Hip Hop culture. I take that name better because it's nearer to God.
MS - How did the name Hip Hop originate? And how did your career as a DJ first begin?
AB - The phrase Hip Hip came from Love Bug Starski, who used to use it in their rhymes. Back then the music had no name, maybe Boi-oi-oing, or Be Bop. Pulling it together as a culture, the name hip hop started with myself and the Universal Zulu Nation. Back then we were doing our Disco thing- Love Bug, myself, Kool DJ D, DJ Hollywood, and others, back when there was no Hip Hop. Then Kool Herc came playing all those break beats, and I already had those types of records, so I started playing all that same stuff after him, and we sat down and started compiling the music and that became what developed into the culture of Hip Hop.
MS - How is DJing different now compared to then?
AB - I started DJing back in the 1970s as a very young person. We started bringing the turntables from our mother's house, and somebody else would bring another turntable from their mother and fathers system, and we'd set that on the other side of the room, and we'd play records. Of course that was back then with automatic turntables when the needle wouldn't drop right, and you'd have to play it in manual to hit the right spot, and then the other guy would play a song right after on his turntable- that was before they had the systems with two turntables and mixers and all that. It's very different now. Big time!
MS - What were your early influences that led you to forming Zulu Nation? The formation of Zulu Nation came in 1973. It came from a group called the Organization, and then a group called the Black Spades, and then the Immortals. The formation started from a street gang. It went from the negative to the positive. What stands out is the unity that we had, and the wisdom that was coming from the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party, as well as the Young Lords Party.
MS - What is the message of Zulu Nation? Why do you feel it is important to get this message across to the youth of today?
AB - The message of the Universal Zulu Nation is Peace, Unity, Love, and Having Fun.
MS - Isn't that the words to a song? Y
AB - es, that's from the song I did with James Brown. The Universal Zulu Nation stands for knowledge, wisdom, understanding, freedom, justice, and equality- overcoming the negative to the positive. Science, Mathematics, Facts, Faith Truth and the wonders of God.
MS - That's quite a message! Well, especially Peace, Unity, Love & having Fun!
MS - Do you miss the times of block parties, break dancing and old school
AB - Well, we definitely miss what we call True School Hip Hop. A lot of people get caught up in this Old School- New School. Instead of choosing, we say we're part of the True School. Do you think people view hip-hop differently now compared to back then? The hip hop of today is in two different split situations. You've got the people who follow "rap" hip hop, and the people who follow the whole culture of Hip Hop, with all the five elements: The B-Boys & B-Girls, the graffiti artists, or aerosol writers, the Emcees, the DJs, and then the fifth element which holds it all together- which is Knowledge.
MS - What are your thoughts on hip-hop music and artists of today? Has it become too commercialized?
AB - Well, we thank God that there's a lot of money put into the music side of Hip Hop, but it's not put into the cultural side. There are some that are just doing it for the 'Benjamins", you know- the money. Then there are those who try to keep the culture alive, like Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, KRS1, some of the originators. Something needs to be put back to get the culture moving again. Now it's become too controlled by corporations and we're becoming slaves & zombies to the industry. Black Eyed Peas are definitely great. They are doing what we started doing a long times ago- playing with bands and stuff. And they don't have to curse that much. And there's Most Def and groups like that who try to keep the knowledge side of hip hop alive, as opposed to corporations that just try to keep the other side alive.
MS - In what ways has hip-hop changed since when you first started? How do you feel about the cursing and violence in rap?
AB - I just think that a lot of these radio stations are just BS, and have a conspiracy to focus on Gangsta Rap and cursing and violence. Instead of hip hop that talks about how Blacks, Latinos and other poor whites live, they want to keep that demonized mentality happening because it keeps the drugs happening, and keeps the police happening, and the jails happening, and all that. When they hear consciousness coming back again, they try to hide it and don't let that get airplay. Now they're using hip hop to destroy the old culture.
MS - You've been praised as one of the first people to mix hip-hop beats with techno pop sounds. You've worked with artists such as James Brown, UB40 and Boy George. It seems you draw from a lot of different influences. What artists would you be interested in seeing work together, and what artists would you like to work with?
AB - I'd like to see some of the new artists work with some of the old artists, what we call the True School artists. I would like to see Missy Elliott do a record with a Grace Jones, or see Little John make some funky beats for Ohio Players, or someone like Kris (KRS1) work with Sly and the Family Stone- that makes it more interesting. I'd like to see some new artists work with those old groups that they sampled their records from!!
And myself- I'd truly like to do something with Mick Jagger & the Rolling Stones. I'd like to work with Chaka Khan and some of those great soul singers, or African singers, West Indian singers, Salsa singers, flamenco and all that.
MS - The new project your involved in is called Kings of Hip Hop. The DVD is footage from a concert at Webster Hall with several other pioneers of hip-hop. How was it performing your music again and seeing those old faces?
AB - Well it's not like we've never performed together, but it was great to see them on stage- it felt like an anniversary. Like we have the Zulu Nation anniversary every year, and they'd be there for that. But the last thing we did together was John Travolta's Swordfish movie- we did a new version of Planet Rock, and we did the performance at Rockefeller Plaza.
MS - What is your hope with this DVD?
AB - Well we hope to get a reaction where people will want to see a lot more True School shows around the country. It would be good to get some money behind it so it could be in the media throughout the world, and we could do a True School show around the Planet!
MS - Tell us about your upcoming projects.
AB - We have a new album coming out- "Afrika Bambaataa & the Millenium of the Gods" on the Tommy Boy Entertainment label. And there's the Time Zone- "Moving At the Speed of Light" And we have a Time Zone Break Beat album, the "Party Break Beats". And we have another album coming in Germany under the name Sirius B- like the star- myself & DJ Hardy Hard. And I have a record that just came out in England with another guy, called Dys-Funk-tional.
MS - Finally, what advice would you give to anyone interested in starting a music career - in hip-hop or any other genre?
AB - Read up on what you're getting into, and know that it's a deep, funky game they're getting' in- it's not all about fun, fun, fun, and stardom. And understand how to save money, and make things happen.. (pause).. And watch everybody!
MS - Anything else you'd like to leave as a parting thought?
AB - Basically for people to respect the planet earth. Planet earth is a living entity. And if you disrespect planet earth, it will take yo' ass out with earthquakes, tornadoes, mudslides, and then some.
Interview questions by Sara O'Reilly
Transcribed & additional questions
by Michael Berman-Hollywood East Entertainment
[Special thanks to John Henderson for tracking Bam down!]