Afrika Bambaataa’s been called a Godfather of hip-hop for how he helped form an entire culture, and for that, he will finally be recognized; set to receive the lifetime achievement award at the Global Spin Awards on November 17.
A lot of times, when people say hip-hop, they don’t know what they’re talking about. They just think of the rappers. When you talk about hip-hop, you’re talking about the whole culture and movement. You have to take the whole culture for what it is.
Bambaataa got his start in the South Bronx, where he would become known as the “Master of Records.” It was there where he formed what would be known as two of the first rap collectives: The Jazzy 5 and Soulsonic Force. In order to popularize the music and the movement of hip-hop, Bambaataa went to Manhattan where he spread the culture to the proto-punks. In 1982, Bambaataa helped combine the newly formed genre of rap, along with the electronic trance music that was popular in the inner cities, to form a new genre of dance/rap with the song “Planet Rock.” The song reached #48 on the charts and went gold. This would be the only “hit” record that Bambaataa would create. Despite Bambaataa only hitting #48 on the charts, his usage and intuitive expansion of drum machines within the track made the song without a doubt, revolutionary. After “Planet Rock,” a new wave of electronic rap music followed; being directly influenced by the stones Afrika Bambaataa set in place.
Bambaataa is also passionate about Civil Rights. He wanted hip-hop to be the culture to people of all colors and often talked about how people shouldn’t worry about their race as these terms were made up to pin us against each other. Aside from racial issues, Bambaataa pictured hip-hop as a “force for social change” and has gone to several countries in his career to help protest for the rights of the indigenous people.
From an interview with Zack O’Malley Greenburg:
Don’t get caught up on ‘I’m brown, black, white, red, blue, whatever.’ You gotta ask, what were you called before 1492? All these names we’re using now are just an illusion made to keep us fighting each other.
Whether it was with race relations, creating music or spreading the knowledge, Afrika Bambaataa is by far the most important figure in hip-hop history. His revolutionary use of funk beats and open-mindedness helped define one of the largest cultures in the world. It is only fitting that he be honored with the lifetime achievement award.