Afrika Bambaataa

Hip-Hop Recording Artist, DJ, Producer, & Civil Rights Activist

“How you act, walk, look and talk is all part of Hip Hop culture. And the music is colorless. Hip Hop music is made from Black, brown, yellow, red and white.”

Afrika Bambaataa was an important rap-music pioneer who, much like Grandmaster Flash, became a forgotten elder statesman as rap evolved.

Bambaataa, who took his name (which means “affectionate leader”) from a movie about Zulu warriors, quit the notorious Black Spades street gang in the mid-'70s and formed Zulu Nation, a music-oriented “youth organization.” Among the members who became minor rap luminaries were DJs Red Alert, Jazzy Jay, and Whiz Kid, as well as Afrika Islam, who went on to work with Ice-T.

Afrika Bambaataa

Bambaataa became a popular DJ on the nascent South Bronx rap scene, where his encyclopedic knowledge of funk grooves earned him the nickname “Master of Records.” He formed two rap crews: the Jazzy 5 (with MCs Ice, Mr. Freeze, Master D.E.E., and AJ Les) and Soulsonic Force (Mr. Biggs [Ellis Williams], Pow Wow [Robert Darrell Allen], and Emcee G.L.O.B.E. [John B. Miller]).

Each made its debut 12-inch single in 1980: Jazzy 5's “Jazzy Sensation” and Soulsonic Force's “Zulu Nation Throwdown,” both classic proto-hip-hop party anthems, with round-robin rapping backed by live bands playing slinky funk vamps.

In 1982 Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force dropped the live band to go high-tech. Producer Arthur Baker (who had worked on “Jazzy Sensation”) and synthesizer player John Robie provided electronic “beat-box” rhythm and an eerie keyboard hook modeled on “TransEurope Express” by Kraftwerk, whose robotic trance music had long been popular with inner-city youth. The result was “Planet Rock,” a pop hit that went gold and spawned an entire school of “electro-boogie” rap and dance music.

While Bambaataa continued to exert some influence on rap music, “Planet Rock” turned out to be his only hit. Bambaataa's groundbreaking tracks that failed to chart include 1982's “Looking for the Perfect Beat” (sampled in Duice's 1993 rap-dance hit “Dazzey Duks”); 1983's “Renegades of Funk” (on which G.L.O.B.E. pioneered the rapid-fire “poppin’” style of rap later popularized by Big Daddy Kane and Das EFX); 1984's “World Destruction” by Time Zone, a rap-rock fusion unit featuring Bambaataa, ex–Sex Pistol John Lydon, and bassist/producer Bill Laswell; and 1984's “Unity,” which Bambaataa recorded with rap forebear James Brown.

Afrika Bambaataa

Even Bambaataa's and Soulsonic Force's appearance in the 1984 rap movie Beat Street brought problems: Emcee G.L.O.B.E. and Pow Wow were arrested for their roles in a 1979 Manhattan bank holdup, when a policeman watching the movie recognized Pow Wow from the bank surveillance video. G.L.O.B.E. and Pow Wow were later put on probation and received community service sentences for convictions on conspiracy to commit bank robbery.

Bambaataa has remained active if not commercially successful. The Light featured guests George Clinton, Sly and Robbie, Boy George, and UB40. Decade of Darkness collected dance-oriented tracks produced for an Italian label. Bambaataa formed his own label to release the Time Zone compilation.

The rise of “turntablism” as its own subgenre and the ratification of “electronica” as an industry-certified trend in the late ‘90s brought Bambaataa renewed recognition well beyond the hip-hop community.

Each year brings a new batch of remixes on multiple dance and import labels, and updates of his signature hit. Lost Generation sports “Planet Rock ‘96,” and the millennium would not have been complete without the release of “Planet Rock 2000.”

Quick Facts

Birth Date:
April 17, 1957

  • He was a member of a gang known as the Black Spades.
  • His mother was an activist with the Black Liberation Movement and her views informed a lot the content of his music.
  • George Clinton appeared on his album Afrika Bambaataa and Family.
  • Bambaataa was deeply moved by the movie ‘Zulu’ which he had watched during his younger days. The movie inspired him to travel to Africa, where he encountered a tribal chief by name ‘Bhambhatha’. The singer drew inspiration from both, the nation, as well as this tribal chief, which made him change his name to Afrika Bambaataa.
  • Afrika Bambaataa
  • Afrika Bambaataa
  • Afrika Bambaataa


BIO: +
PHOTO: Pitchfork + HipHopDX + ZuluMerch + ReadyChurch + Billboard

Last Updated

April 2015

Original Published Date

April 2015

Similar Entries

DJ Grandmaster Flash Music

DJ Grandmaster Flash

Joseph Saddler, better known by his stage name Grandmaster Flash is an American hip hop recording artist and DJ. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of hip-hop DJing, cutting, scratching and mixing.

Read More
Spike Lee Film & TV

Spike Lee

“Spike” Lee is a film director, producer, writer, and actor. His production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983. He made his directorial debut with She's Gotta Have It, and has since directed such films as Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X.

Read More
Public Enemy Music

Public Enemy

Public Enemy is an American hip hop group known for their politically charged music and criticism of the American media, with an active interest in the frustrations and concerns of the African American community.

Read More
Rakim Music


William Michael Griffin Jr., better known by his stage name Rakim, is an American rapper. One half of golden age hip hop duo Eric B. & Rakim, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential and most skilled MCs of all time.

Read More
Run-D.M.C. Music


Run-D.M.C. was an American hip hop group, founded in 1983 by Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels, and Jason Mizell. Run-DMC is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential acts in the history of hip hop culture and one of the most famous hip hop acts of the 1980s.

Read More
Tupac Shakur Music

Tupac Shakur

Tupac Amaru Shakur, known professionally as 2Pac and Makaveli, was an American rapper and actor. Much of Shakur's work has been noted for addressing contemporary social issues that plagued inner cities, and he is considered a symbol of resistance and activism against inequality.

Read More