Three decades ago, Afrika Bambaataa found the perfect beat when he made the "Planet Rock." And it was that beat-breaking track that bridged the gap between hip-hop and electronic music.
But there's more to the Godfather of Hip-Hop than "Planet Rock:" Bam is credited for coining the term hip-hop because the rhymes were "hip and [made] you hippity-hop to the beat," he is the founder of the Universal Zulu Nation, and there's a petition going around to nominate the hip-hip revolutionist for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Last week, Crossfade caught up with Bambaataa, who was all the way in London, and spoke to him about how "Planet Rock" revolutionized hip-hop, the influential role of DJs, UZN, and his Miami gig at PAX on June 15 celebrating 20 years of UZN Miami.
Crossfade: So what are you doing in London?
Afrika Bambaataa: Some shows all over the UK.
"Planet Rock" celebrates 30 years this year. How are you celebrating?
We just traveling around and just keep playing the music and keep on reminding them [fans of] the different styles of "Planet Rock" song...
Out of all of the tracks that you've produced, what do you think was so revolutionary about "Planet Rock?"
Well because it's one of the first that came to an up-tempo beat. It had that funk and that techno-pop sound of Gary Numan... and put them together and became the birth of it. And from there, came the different sounds... [like] Miami bass...
What do you think about today's DJs? Do you feel they have a stronger impact?
They were all 'bout the MCs and... many DJs are coming back, from techno to hip-hop... [DJs] have a stronger impact. Definitely. Many hip-hop MCs and R&B soul singers, and many who are doing pop music started off as DJs. You have all sorts of [musician] DJs.
Do you think it's more of a fad?
Some places. It is because you got many other people in the entertainment field jumping on the bandwagon and the music industry is getting so jacked up now and a lot of people are getting back to the entertainment.
Do you think that's what's becoming of the music industry?
It's basically what it might be becoming because everything is focused on the Internet and now people are doing everything they can to download, trying to get your fan base. It's like a big change happening.
UZN Miami circa 1993.
Courtesy Jacqueline Mestre
What inspired you to create the Universal Zulu Nation? How did the idea come about? What's its purpose and philosophy?
It was a time when we was going through our civil and human rights during the 60s. I saw this powerful movie called Zulu where colonizers came and told the Zulus what they should do... [how] they fought so gracefully as warriors just blew me away... [Universal Zulu Nation] is inspired by many ideas of many groups and religions, it's universal, from all of the ideologies of the world. We're all one race, the human race. Our emblem is the flag of all the planets with the sun in the middle with a question mark in the center because we are not alone in our universe.
How has it evolved over the years?
Hip-hop parties were trying to get a Universal Zulu Nation, a cultural center of the universe which would be like a UN for the people of the streets. Hip-hop has put so many people together that politics hasn't solve. When you become Zulu, you're not scared to deal with the fifth elements of knowledge... you're not scared to of going to towns and cities... because everybody is connected through hip-hop music, all the different forums of it. [It's] the whole cultural movement of it.
Omar Iz is the founder of the Nation Miami. He said that you sent him on a mission down here, that there were Zulu members in Broward that were acting like a gang and not following Zulu's philosophy. Is that what sparked the start of the Miami chapter?
Most definite. We had a lot of people who had ideas of who the Zulu was and just started their own things, some for good or bad. So we had to send out missionaries out there to restructure it. He [Iz] was the one who went down there and gave the light. He was the bright morning star that spread the word.
How did you go from being warlord of the Black Spades to having a petition going around to nominate you for a Nobel Peace Prize?
I was a warlord in one of the chapters of the Black Spades and for people who trying to give me the Nobel Award, I'm gonna keep on doing what I'm doing and talking to people and make them see logic. I don't look for awards... I just go by the great supreme force of the universe, that goes by many names. I would accept it, say thank you, and keep doing what we doing.
A lot of rap, hip-hop songs nowadays only talk about money and are degrading towards women. What do you have to say about that?
That's the big activity.. I blame media and radio stations for that because it should be a balance... They [radios] should be playing hip-hop, house, techno ska, you should be playing old music with the new, and new with old. I blame the directors of the stations who are programming the minds of the masses of the people
Are you excited about coming to Miami for UZN Miami's 20th anniversary?
Looking forward to coming down here and mingle with the family and join in on peace, unity, love, and having fun.
Is there anything else you want to share?
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We want to give love and honor to our planet. If us, as humans, do not respect our planet and see what we are doing on our planet...then we're gonna see the planet do things we've never seen before...We got the power of humans to change.
Universal Zulu Nation Miami Chapter 20th Anniversary Party and Fundraiser. Hosted by Jaqui Toma and Oski Gonzalez. Music by Afrika Bambaataa, Rubox, Lego, DJs Klassik, Heron, Immortal, Tom Laroc, and others. Saturday, June 15. PAX, 337 SW Eighth St., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $15 plus fees via ticketfly.com. Call 305-640-5847 or visit paxmiami.com.