Tag Archives: African American Music

Afrika Bambaataa – The Godfather of Hip Hop

22 Aug

Afrika Bambaataa–the godfather of hip hop–is responsible for first using the phrase “hip hop”–giving hip hop its name, and spreading the music around the world.

Kevin Donovan aka Afrika Bambaataa, born April 19, 1957, is undoubtedly considered one of the godfathers of hip hop.  Afrika Bambaataa was a DJ from the South Bronx during the 1970’s, who is often credited with naming the culture “hip hop”, a term frequently used by his friend Love Bug Starski aka Kevin Smith.  Love Bug Starski, who is currently an MC, musician and record producer, was a record boy and DJ from the Bronx, New York during the birth of hip hop in the early 1970’s. “Hip hop” was a common phrase used by MCs as part of a scat-inspired style of rhyming, and Afrika Bambaataa appropriated it for use in describing this new emerging culture, which included four elements: 1) the music of DJs, 2) the lyricism and poetry of emcees, 3) the dancing of b-boys and b-girls, and 4) graffiti art.

As a teenager in the mid-1970′s, Afrika Bambaataa was a founding member of The Bronx River Projects-area street gang The Savage Seven. Due to the explosive growth of the gang, it later became known as the Black Spades, and Bambaataa quickly rose to the position of warlord. As warlord, it was his job to build ranks and expand the turf of the Black Spades.   Bambaataa was not afraid to cross turfs to forge relationships with other gang members, and with other gangs.  As a result, the Spades became the biggest gang in the city in terms of both membership and turf.

Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc–the Father of Hip Hop

Afrika Bambaataa’s involvement with gangs was heavily influenced by his activist mother and uncle.  As a child, he was exposed to his mother’s extensive and eclectic record collection. He was also exposed to the black liberation movement, and witnessed debates between his mother and uncle regarding the conflicting ideologies in the movement.  Gangs in the area became the law in the absence of law, clearing their turf of drug dealers, assisting with community health programs and both fighting and partying to keep members and turf.

Afrika Bambaataa’s ideological influences ran the gamut of the black political leaders of the time.  Although he was involved with gangs, he began to take on a different interest than causing trouble.  After winning an essay contest that earned him a trip to Africa, Afrika Bambaataa’s worldview changed.  He saw the film Zulu, which depicted the battle between British troops and the Zulu tribe in 1879. The British seem victorious before they were overwhelmed by the number of Zulus who spared their lives.   Bambaataa was so impressed with the solidarity exhibited by the Zulus in that film that during his trip to Africa, and the communities he visited, he was inspired to stop the violence and create a community in his own neighborhood. He later changed his name to Afrika Bambaataa Aasim, which means “affectionate leader.”

Afrika Bambaataa decided to form his own Zulu Nation to help assemble what he referred to as “the elements” of the culture into organization. The original crew was called The Organization, but after two years he changed it into the Zulu Nation.  The group was a break dance crew at first but then it grew to include rappers, deejays, and graffiti artists.   As a result, the Hip hop culture began spreading through the streets via house parties, block parties, gym dances and mix tapes.

Following is an example of one of the first breakbeat and beat-mixing soundtracks by DJ Kool Herc while rapping and performing at a club during the early stages of hip hop. Watch.

Audio & Slideshow Version

Video Version

Because of his mother, Afrika Bambaataa had a passion for buying records and his tastes were very diversified from rock to R&B to African sounds to Latin, calypso, and classical.  Although Kool Herc was the top DJ at the time, Afrika Bambaata knew he owned most of the same records as Kool Herc so he decided to start playing on his own. He wanted to be a DJ, so he started deejaying in 1970, and would later be known as the “Master of Records”.  

Afrika Bambaataa began his career as a record boy in 1971 as hip-hop first appeared in the Bronx, and eventually became a DJ at the Disco Fever club in 1978.  Along with other DJs such as DJ Kool Herc and Kool DJ Dee, he too began hosting hip hop parties. He vowed to use hip hop to draw angry kids out of gangs and formed the Universal Zulu Nation.  He released his first record on Paul Winley Records called “Zulu Nation Throwdown, Part 1″ in 1980. The group released the first 12″ at Tommy Boy “Jazzy Sensation” in 1981.

In 1982, hip hop artist Fab Five Freddy was putting together music packages in the largely white downtown Manhattan New Wave clubs, and invited Afrika Bambaataa to perform at one of them–the Mudd Club. It was the first time Bambaata had performed before a predominantly white crowd. Attendance for his parties downtown became so large that he had to move to larger venues, first to the Ritz, with Malcolm McLaren’s group “Bow Wow Wow”, then to the Peppermint Lounge, The Jefferson, Negril, Danceteria and the Roxy.

“Planet Rock”, a popular single produced by Arthur Baker and the keyboardist John Robie, was later released under the name Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force. The song borrowed musical motifs from German electronic music, funk, and rock. Different elements and musical styles were used together. The song became an immediate hit and stormed the music charts worldwide.  The song melded the main melody from Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express” with electronic beats based on their track “Numbers” as well as portions from records by Babe Ruth and Captain Sky, thus creating a new style of music altogether, called electro funk.

Afrika Bambaataa is one of the three originators of break-beat deejaying, and is respectfully known as the “Grandfather” and the Amen Ra of Universal Hip Hop Culture as well as the Father of The Electro Funk Sound.  He was instrumental in the early development of hip hop throughout the 1980s. Through co-opting the street gang–the Black Spades– into the music and culture-oriented Universal Zulu Nation, he is responsible for spreading the hip hop culture throughout the world.  On September 27, 2007, Afrika Bambaataa was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Rhythm & Blues: The Mother of Hip Hop

23 May

R&B, which stands for Rhythm and Blues, was the greatest influence on music around the world for most of the second half of the 20th century.  Rhythm and Blues is a term with a broad sense, but typically recognizing black-pop music. This type of music was introduced to the world by artists’ combining the music styles of jazz and blues.

R&B is actually what was later developed into what we know as rock and roll. The term Rhythm and Blues was used as a synonym for Black Rock and Roll in the 1950s. This influence is evident in forms of Rock Music, Country and Western, Gospel music, Jazz and also in Non-Western forms of music. Rhythm and Blues music also embraces genres such as Jump Blues, Club Blues, Black Rock and Roll, Soul, Motown, Funk, Disco and Rap.

The Drifters

Evolving out of jump blues in the late ’40s, R&B laid the groundwork for rock & roll.   It kept the tempo and the drive of jump blues, but its instrumentation was sparer and the emphasis was on the song, not improvisation. R&B was was basically blues chord changes played with an insistent backbeat. During the ’50s, the genre was dominated by vocalists like Ray Charles and Ruth Brown, as well as vocal groups like the Drifters and the Coasters. Eventually, R&B metamorphosed into soul, which was funkier and looser than the pile-driving rhythms of R&B. Soul came to describe a number of R&B-based music styles.  From the bouncy, catchy acts at Motown to the horn-driven, gritty soul of Stax/Volt, there was an immense amount of diversity within soul.

During the first part of the ’60s, soul music remained close to its R&B roots. However, musicians pushed the music in different directions, and different regions of America produced different kinds of soul. In urban centers like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, the music concentrated on vocal interplay

The Jackson 5

and smooth productions. In Detroit, Motown concentrated on creating a pop-oriented sound that was informed equally by gospel, R&B, and rock & roll. In the South, the music became harder and tougher, relying on syncopated rhythms, raw vocals, and blaring horns. All of these styles formed soul, which ruled the black music charts throughout the ’60s and also frequently crossed over into the pop charts.

During the ’60s and ’70s, soul began to splinter apart.  Artists like James Brown and Sly Stone developed funk; Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff initiated Philly

James Brown – The “Godfather of Soul”

soul with the O’Jays and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes; and later in the decade, danceable R&B became a mass phenomenon with the brief disco fad.

In the 1970s, the term R&B was being used to describe soul and funk music styles, which today we know it describes Rhythm and Blues. Along with being influenced by jazz and blues, R&B also had influences from gospel and disco music. Disco’s downturn in the 1980s opened the door for R&B to truly take-off in popularity.

In the early 1970s, the cultural movement of hip hop music was born. Hip hop’s fast paced music style is made of two parts; the rhythmic delivery of rap and the use of instrumentation by a DJ. Hip hop music also brought with it a fashion of its own.  The fashion helped to represent and advance this newly created music.

Hip hop music has its roots from West African music and African-American music. The first rap song to be put onto a vinyl record was, “Rapper’s Delight”, a song by The Sugarhill Gang back in the 1970s. This is when block parties started becoming the norm in New York City, which gave hip hop and rap the chance to explode in popularity. Hip hop’s instrumentation came from funk, R&B, and disco, when combined together make this dynamic type of music. When the DJs at these block parties learned what the people liked, they began mixing these vinyl records and created music that played continuously with amazing transitions between songs.

Kurtis Blow

Hip hop was actually created by a DJ named Kool Herc, a Jamaican that had moved to the United States with a style that consisted of mixing music by using two copies of the same record. Many of the poor Jamaican’s in the town could not afford vinyl records, so huge stereo systems were set up so that many could hear the rhythmic beats. These stereo systems were the kick-off for the beginning of the evolution of block parties. So with the musical talent of these amazing DJs, with the use of vinyl record mixing, the culture of hip hop and rap music was born.

During the ’80s and ’90s, the polished, less earthy sound of urban and quiet

Sugarhill Gang

storm ruled the airwaves, but even then, R&B began adding stylistic components of hip-hop until — by the end of the millennium — there were hundreds of artists who featured both rapping and singing on their records.