Bambaataa Kahim Aasim, aka Afrika Bambaataa, has been called many things in his globe-spanning life. To hip-hop heads, Bambaataa, scheduled to perform Wednesday, July 15, at Limelight, is simply the Godfather, an elder statesman, ambassador of the five elements. Of the holy trinity of hip-hop, DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Bambaataa, it is Bam who is credited with stopping bullets with two turntables, building a nation of his own, and discovering a new “Planet Rock” where inclusion reigned.
The enigmatic Bambaataa was born in Manhattan to parents of Caribbean descent, but under what name and what date remain a mystery. Hip-hop historians generally agree he was born sometime in April 1957, but it was on the ground floor of the Bronx River projects that a young Bambaataa forged a movement. The Current caught up with Bambaataa in New York via telephone in anticipation of his long-awaited return to San Antonio.
What was it like growing up in the Bronx at the dawn of the hip-hop movement?
Growing up in the Bronx was definitely a deep time. Seeing that we just came out of a movement of human rights, civil rights, black power and white power, police brutality, and racism and all that, it was a deep time when the country was changing. Seeing all the different things that was going on within the country, from different presidents, different assassinations, different so-called black leaders, the Panthers, the Ku Klux Klan, and seeing Woodstock. And also seeing the change that was going on in other countries, whether Europe or Africa, what was going on in those respective places. It was a deep era of vibrations and frequencies that was going on on our planet.
How did the four elements of hip-hop (MCing, DJing, graffiti, and breakdancing) come to pass and when did the fifth element (knowledge) come into play?
10pm WED, JUL 15
2718 N. St. Mary's
Well, the four elements, it was just more of having fun. Being an emcee, a graffiti artist, a DJ, a b-boy/b-girl, but that fifth element holds it all together. It’s ’cause if you a b-boy/b-girl and don’t know how to really make the moves, you might break your damn neck. It takes knowledge to know when to do that, when to slow down, when you should stay fast, when you should jump back up after spinning on your head. The same with the emceeing. When to take breathers and hold your breath, or not, so you can keep going or you might end up getting a heart attack or something. The same with graffiti artists or aerosol writing. When you spraying that paint, you better know what to put around your face or how much fumes you should take in at a time before it might take you out or knock you out. And then the DJ. You got to be a master, knowing when to play, what to play and how to manipulate the turntable to make your audience either funky or else your turntable is for showmanship for the people. And then that fifth element. Besides the four elements, you need that fifth element because you better know what’s going on in your town, around your town, in your city, outside your city, in your government, and on your planet and your world and your universe. The fifth element could deal with everything that’s on the planet, in the planet, outside the planet, that has to deal with life in general.
How did “Planet Rock” change the world?
“Planet Rock” was the birth of a new sound, that we called electrofunk, which also is taken from the technopop sounds of what Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kraftwerk, Gary Newman, Dick Hymen, and a couple other groups was doing back then. I wanted to have something that the beat at first is of the Africans then mix this other sound. Add that funk that James Brown, George Clinton, and the great Sly & the Family Stone gave, and mix it with that technopop sound. Thus came the birth of the electrofunk sound, and from the birth of electrofunk sound came all the different styles of music, your Latin freestyle, hip-hop, your hip-house, your two-step, drum and bass, what they call electronica today. It’s all part of the electrofunk movement.
What are some of the positive and negative ways that hip-hop has evolved over the years?
Well, positive in that it has helped many people who might not have had a lot of funds in they pockets are now thousandaires, some would say millionaires, and some are beyond that. It also helped to give people hope in many other different countries who use it to get out of certain situational environments that they are in. It also has brought more people of different nationalities, or so-called races, together than many of the politicians put together on this great planet. But then it also has let secret society orders, corporations, to come in and take control and dictate what they think hip-hop is and where it should be going. Then that’s what you think people want to hear because you’ve got program directors programming the minds of the people, especially the youth. Stop trying to fake the funk on the people saying this is what they want to hear. No, this is what you pushin’ to the people.