WHO: Afrika Bambaataa
WHEN: Thursday, November 25
WHERE: Moe Joes
This guy invented hip-hop. No, really. Afrika Bambaataa named the emerging Bronx-born subculture in the early 1980s when reporters stuck microphones in his face and asked him what all this free stylin' and break-dancin' was all about.
To be fair, Lovebug Starski and Keith "Cowboy" Wiggins used the word in earlier raps, but it was Afrika Bambaataa (or Bam, for short) who helped popularize the term as it grew into a cultural force throughout the 1980s.
"We could have called this the 'boy-oi-oing', 'the go-off' or whatever, when it came down to media sayin', 'Whatchoo call it?'" he says, speaking from New York just days before embarking on a West Coast tour.
"So I decided to take it from the cliché they was rapping from and say 'This is hip-hop because it's hip and we hoppin' to the beat.'"
His music has also been hugely influential in the hip-hop world, even though his 1982 song "Planet Rock," was his only commercial hit. His tracks, "Looking for the Perfect Beat" and "Renegades of Funk" (covered by Rage Against the Machine in 2000) have been regarded as groundbreaking and his activism and leadership within the hip hop culture have earned him the name "Godfather of Hip Hop."
Bam's been "diggin' into digital crates" to keep busy these days (though we're not sure what that means). He's still travelling the world, hip-hoppin' and so on, "wakin' up and try to keep the peace in the streets," he says.
This has been a mission of his since the 1970s. As a child in South Bronx, he was a founding member of the Black Spades - New York City's largest street gang at that time. Gangs at that time were essentially a police force since law enforcers didn't touch the ghettos, and Bam (still known then as Kevin Donovan) rose quickly to the rank of warlord. Yes, Afrika Bambaataa, the original Renegade of Funk, was once a warlord, presiding over the Bronx River Projects, building ranks and expanding the Black Spades' turf.
It was after a trip to Africa and meeting the community-oriented Zulu that he adopted the name Afrika Bambaataa, (Zulu, he says, for "affectionate leader"). When he returned home, he decided to turn his turf-building skills away from violence to peace making instead.
And music. It's been written that the rise of the Black Spades had a dramatic impact on the explosions of hip-hop throughout the Bronx, and Bam was at the forefront of it all. These were the days of DJ battles at community centres and high schools. Of MC battles and break-dancing competitions.