Afrika Bambaataa is one of the three main originators of break-beat deejaying, and is respectfully known as the "Godfather" of hip hop and the "Father " of the Electro Funk Sound. He is one of the architects of Hip Hop Culture. Through his co-opting of the street gang the Black Spades into the music and culture-oriented Zulu nation, he is responsible for spreading hip-hop culture throughout the world and is credited for coining the phrase "Hip-Hop". He has consistently made records nationally and internationally.
Due to his early use of drum machines and computer sounds, Bam (as he is affectionately known) was instrumental in changing the way R&B and other forms of black music were recorded. His creation of electrofunk, beginning with his piece "Planet Rock," helped fuel the development of other musical genres such as freestyle or Latin freestyle, Miami bass, house, hip house, electronic and early techno. He was the First to use a synthesizer on a Hip Hop record (and ultimately creating the electro funk sound).
Bam is responsible for initiating many careers in the music industry, and his early association with Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records helped propel the label to its success. Bam was instrumental in launching the R&B group New Edition, Maurice Starr and the Jonzun Crew, Tashan, and Bernard Fowler of the Peech Boys, to name a few. Bam is also recognized as a humanitarian and a man of peace, who has applied elements of Afrocentric, spiritual, and health-conscious teachings to his philosophy. He is also a historian on hip-hop roots, who traces the culture back to the times of the African griots.
At a time when DJs - hip hop or otherwise-were recognized for the distinctive records they played, Bam was called the "Master of Records," and was acclaimed for the wide variety of music and break records he presented to the hip-hop crowd, which included go-go, soca, reggae, and African music. He is responsible for premiering the following records and songs to hip hoppers, which are now staples in rap and hip-hop culture: "Jam on the Groove" and "Calypso Breakdown" by Ralph McDonald; "Dance to the Drummer's Beat" by Herman Kelly; "Champ" by the Mohawks; themes from The Andy Griffith Show and The Pink Panther, and "Trans-Europe Express, by Kraftwerk.
Bam joined the Bronx River Projects division of the Black Spades street gang in the southeast Bronx where he soon became warlord. Always a music enthusiast (taking up trumpet and piano for a short time at Adlai E. Stevenson High School), Bam was also a serious record collector, who collected everything from R&B to rock. By 1970 he was already deejaying at house parties. Bam became hooked to deejaying around 1973, when he heard Bronx DJs Kool DJ D and Kool DJ Herc. Kool DJ D had one of the first coffins (a rectangular case that contains two turntables and a mixer) in the Bronx area circa 1972. West Bronx DJ Kool DJ Herc was playing funk records by James Brown, and later just playing the instrumental breaks of those records. noticing that he had many of the same records Herc was playing, Bam began to play them, but expanded his repertoire to include other types of music as well. As the Black Spades gang began to die out in early 73, Bam started organizing a Performing group at Stevenson High School, first calling it the Bronx River organization, then Later the Organization. Bam had deejayed with his own sound system at the Bronx River Community Center, accompanied by MC Mr. Biggs, Queen Kenya, and MC Cowboy. Because of his prior status in the Black Spades, Bam already had an established party crowd drawn from former members of the gang.
About a year later he reformed a group, calling it the Zulu Nation (inspired by his wide studies on African history at the time). Five b-boys (break dancers) joined him who he called the Shaka ZULU Kings, a.k.a. ZULU Kings; there were also the Shaka Zulu Queens. As Bam continued deejaying, more DJs, rappers, break dancers, graffiti writers, and artists followed his parties, and he look them under his wing and made them members of his Zulu Nation.
By 1976, because of the proliferation of DJs, many sound system battles would occur to determine which DJ had the best music and sound. Although the amount of people gathered around a DJ was supposed to be the deciding factor, the best DJ was mostly determined by whose system was the loudest. Held in parks and community centers, DJs would set up their gear on opposite sides, playing their records at the same time at maximum volume. However, Bam decided that all challenges to him would follow an hour-by-hour rule, where he would play for an hour, and the opposing DJ would play for an hour.
Bam's first official battle was against Disco King Mario at Junior High School 123 (a.k.a. the Funky 3). A few other important battles Bam had later on were against Grandmaster Caz (known as Casanova Fly at that time and who later was one of the Cold Crush Brothers) at the P.A.L. (Police Athletic League) circa 1978, and a team battle against Grandmaster Flash and an army of sound systems, with Bam teaming systems with Disco King Mario and DJ Tex. Bam formed additional systems for battling as well, like the Earthquake Systems with DJ Superman and DJ Jazzy Jay. There were also many MC battles, where rappers from Bam's Zulu nation would go against other outside rappers. Later, Bam also jointly promoted Shows with Kool Herc under the name Nubian Productions.
Influenced by George Clinton, and the many separate-but-same Groups that he created, Bam formed the Soul Sonic Force, which in its original makeup consisted of approximately twenty Zulu Nation members.
In 1980, Bam and his groups made some of their first recordings with Paul Winley Records, who recorded Bam's "Death Mix" piece. Winley also released Cosmic Forcers "Zulu Nation Throwdown,".
Soon after, Tom Silverman met producer Arthur Baker, and together with then-KISS-FM radio mastermix DJ Shep Pettibone, Silverman recorded Bam and the Jazzy Fives "Jazzy Sensation" on Silverman's own Tommy Boy Records label. The record had three mixes, one with Bam and the Jazzy Five, and the other with a group called the Kryptic Krew. The third mix was an instrumental. The record was a hit with hip hoppers.
Around 1981 Hip-hop graffitti artist Fab 5 Freddy invited Bam to DJ at the Mudd Club. . And shortly after Freddy introduced Bam to Kool Lady Blue who booked Bam at her legendary “ Wheels of Steel” parties at Club Negril, Danceteria, and most significantly at The ROXY.
In 1982 Bam had an idea for a record revolving around Kraftwerk's piece "Trans-Europe Express." Bam brought the idea to Silverman and both tried working on it in Silverman's apartment. Bam soon met John Robie, who brought Bam a techno-pop oriented record titled "Vena Carved" that he was trying to release. Bam then introduced Robie to Arthur Baker, and the three of them, along with Silverman and the Soul Sonic Force, worked on the "Trans-Europe Express" idea, resulting in the piece "Planet Rock"-one of the most influential records in music history. Bam called the sound of the record "electrofunk" or the "electro-sound," and he cited James Brown, Parliament, and Sly and the Family Stone as the building blocks of its composition. By September of that year "Planet Rock" went gold, and it continued to sell internationally throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.
In the autumn of 1982 Bam and other members of the Zulu nation (which included Grand mixer D.ST, Fab 5 Freddy, Phase 11, Mr. Freeze, Dondi, Futura 2000, and Crazy Legs, to name a few) made their FIRST of many trips to Europe, (Paris and London) which was organized and co-promoted by Kool Lady Blue. This was the very first tour to Europe which featured all the elements of Hip Hop.
Bam's second release around 1983 was "Looking for the Perfect Beat," then later, "Renegades of Funk," both with Soul Sonic Force. Bam began working with producer Bill Laswell at Jean Karakos's Celluloid Records, where he developed and placed two groups on the label Time Zone and Shango. He did "Wildstyle" with Time Zone, and in 1984 he did a duet with punk-rocker John Lydon and Time Zone, titled "World Destruction." Shango's album Shango Funk Theology was also released by the label in 1984. That same year Bam and other hip-hop celebrities appeared in the movie Beat Street. Bam also made a landmark recording with James Brown, titled "Unity." It was admirably billed in music industry circles as "the Godfather of Soul meets the Godfather of Hip Hop."
Around October 1985 Bam and other music stars worked on the antiapartheid album Sun City with Little Steven Van Zandt, Run-D.M.C., and Lou Reed. During 1988 Bam recorded another landmark piece as Afrika Bamboataa and Family. The work featured Nona Hendryx, UB40, Boy George, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and Yellowman, and it was titled “The Light”.
In 1990 Bam made it into Life magazine's "Most Important Americans of the 20th Century" issue. He was also involved in the anti-apartheid work "Hip Hop Artists Against Apartheid" for Warlock Records. He teamed up with the Jungle Brothers to record the album Return to Planet Rock (The Second Coming).
Around this same period, Bam performed at a concert at Wembley Stadium in London for the A.N.C. (African National Congress), in honor of Nelson Mandela's release from prison. The concert brought together performances by British and American rappers, and also introduced both Nelson and Winnie Mandela and the A.N.C. to hip-hop audiences. In relation to the event, the recording "Ndodemnyama South Africa" helped raise approximately $30,000 for the A.N.C. Bam also helped to raise funds for the organization in Italy.
In 1991 Bam received some notice for his remix work on the group EMF's goldsingle "Unbelievable." He also did an album for the Italian label DFC (Dance Floor Corporation), titled 1990-2000:The Decade of Darkness.
By 1992 Bam had his own Planet Rock Records label, releasing Time Zone's Thy Will "By" Funk LP. In 1993 They recorded the single "What's the name of this nation?... Zulu!" for Profile Records. Toward 1994 Bam regrouped his Soul Sonic Force for the album Ominous Isthumus. He began deejaying on Hot 97 FM in new York City on Fridays, hosting the show Old School at noon.
During the 90’s and now into the new millenium Bam was busy collaborating with various artists like Uberzone, WestBam, a Kraftwerk tribute album. He wrote and produced the music for the groundbreaking NIKE Freestyle campaign which won an Emmy AWARD and has to date received more prestigious Advertising Awards than any other in the Advertising world.
Bam completed an album project for the all new dance label Tommy Boy Records in 2006 called "Dark Matter – Moving at the Speed of Light" and produced the music for the new Sony Playstation NBA "Shoot Out" game.
Bam was honored as the very first person to be presented with the Billboard FOUNDERS OF HIP HOP Award in Miami in 2005.
June 2006 he was honored by Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion and inducted into the The Bronx Walk of Fame where his name appears on a street plaque permanently attached to a lamppost along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx infront of the Supreme Court House!
Today, Bam continues his work spreading messages of peace and education throughout the world through Music. He continues to tour the globe as a deejay, on the road more these days than ever before, performing on the main stage for MTV Italy with artists such as Rihanna and rocking the main stage at Exit Festival, Serbia with N.E.R.D and Kraftwerk...then on to Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland July 2011. And then on to Rock In Rio Festival Brasil in September 2011 – the biggest festival on the planet to join up with fellow headliners this year who include Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Shakira, Metallica, Gun N Roses, Coldplay to name just a few!!
Bam continues releasing more good music each year, keeping the true essence of Hip Hop culture alive and kicking with his philosophy of diversity through unity both musically and spiritually. Bam also makes time to continue his passion of keeping the peace in the local community we call the South Bronx with his credo of fighting the negative and transforming it into the positive!
In 1977, Kevin Donovan appropriated the name of a 19th Century Zulu chief, began throwing Bronx block parties, and became one of the elite DJs of the early hip hop scene. He cut his funk 45s with Kraftwerk and helped to found the conscious, Afrocentric Zulu Nation movement, which briefly rose to prominence in the rap world in the late 80s and early 90s. As Afrika Bambaataa, he changed music forever in the space of just two 1982 singles, the sublime slices of electro-rap "Planet Rock" and "Looking for the Perfect Beat"...