It's a pretty abused term, legend. Any time we get sent a press release for an artist older than 30, the term gets shaken in like salt on rice. Right now there are so many legends doing the rounds that my inbox looks like it was written by the Brothers Grimm. So the term's pretty low in value right now, I get it. But Africa Bambaataa, now there's a legend. A genuine walking, talking, redirecting-the-flow-of-history-while-looking-like-a-funk-martian legend. Bambaataa's children are everywhere, from those who explicitly reference the Zulu Nation, such as Space Dimension Controller with his throwbacks to cosmic electro rap, to those who's debt is less overt but no less real- think Young Thug's give-a-fuck dress sense and commitment to sonic exploration. So when I found out that the people behind the Soundcrash Funk & Soul Weekender were inviting Bam over to play, and were able to get him to give us a call, YES, I was well up for it. As it turned out, it was a slightly surreal moment when Afrika Bambaataa rang - I'd completely forgotten he was calling and, like the crazy guy I am, I was out buying milk from my local cornershop when the phone rang. Who is this? I asked. 'It's Bambaataa y'all' he replied. It was definitely the best thing I'd heard all week.
You were so influential in breaking new artists in the 80s, I'm interested to know who you're checking for now?
I’ve been listening to everybody, but particularly a female by the name of Sa- Roc, who’s killing it on the underground
Is she a New York artist?
She’s in Georgia. She’s got a load of videos on Youtube
What is it you look for in an artist?
Well, what they’re saying in their words, their look, and the music, the move and the beat
How do you feel about the distance mainstream hip hop has travelled from the positive ideology you started out with?
In terms of whats being played on radio stations, you have a lot of these stations that are only playing the one style of hip hop music, they’re not playing all the different flavours of hip hop music and culture. A lot of times I go to these radio stations and I say, you say you’re a hip hop radio station, or you’re a hip hop and RnB station, so where’s your Miami Bass, where’s your GoGo, where’s your scratch beat records, where's your funk, where's your hip house, where's all those other styles of hip hop? Don’t say you’re a hip hop station if you’re only playing one style of hip hop. Where’s James Brown?! That’s what all the architects, all the pioneers were playing back in the day. But now a lot of DJs are on the payola, and a lot of these programs aren’t about the culture, they’re about payola and advertisement.
Is the internet opening it back out again to allow the spirit of hip hop as a broad church to come to the forefront again?
Oh definitely. There’s a lot of people tuning into alternative radio now, where they can hear a variety of good music, like a lot of the progressive DJs in the 80s were playing, whether its soul, funk, rock, world whatever. So people can hear alternative sounds rather than these popular stations that seem to play the same 10 records over and over. It got all tacky now. In the early days of the 80s you heard a lot of progressive music on the stations, and the DJs that were more radical wouldn’t be scared to play everything. But now they got into apartheid, apartheid like ‘Im a house DJ, I’m a hip hop DJ, Im a rreggae DJ’
What about you, do you still play on radio
Yeah, I got two shows, the college show WHCR 90.3FM, I play 4 hours of music and we take you on a musical journey, then we’ve got the hip hop station on Sirius,on that we play different styles of hip hop, RnB, and all music with breakbeats in it. But we still try and teach, we’ll take you on a musical journey.
Im assuming that as part of that journey the consciousness of the Zulu Nation is still an important part?
Oh, big time. We keep the consciousness – we play conscious music along with all the other stuff, we just try and keep people listening to good music, and let them know there’s good stuff out there instead of all the crap they here over and over again
Much has been made of the negative link between, say, gangsta strands of hip hop, and actual violence - what are your thoughts?
If you having a festival like the Love Parade in Germany, you’re gonna bring people to dance and feel love, but if you have a festival where all the music is telling people to shoot shoot kill kill then you might have violence – but then you might not. We just did a big show in California called the Art of Rap that Ice T put on – you had gangsta rappers along with party rappers and conscious rappers, and everybody came out – it was raining and people still packed the place, everybody had a good time, there were no incidents, but you ain’t seen none of the newspaper or media there talking about how this whole thing was great. If something was violent it would have been all over the place. If anything happens they would have blamed a whole culture of music rather than an individual who started trouble.
Talking specifically about music, one of my favourite tracks you did was Time Zone with Lydon, how did that come about?
We reached out to him, through my producer Bill Lazwell. I was in France and I saw a movie called The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, which was all about the predictions of Nostradamus. As soon I finished watching it, something hit me to write this song called World Destruction. After I’d finished writing it I talked to Bill Lazwell about it, saying 'I need someone who can lock this with me and tear this up', and he suggested John Lydon of the Sex Pistols, and I said 'yeah I know him', I knew Public Image and the movie Corrupt that he’d done, I knew he’d be appropriate. And the rest is history (laughs)
Did you go in the studio together
Oh yeah, but we recorded the video in separate spaces. John Lydon was no joke.
What about now, are you making any music at the moment?
Yeah we’ve got a lot of new music that’s online –I have a song called What You Want and another song called Nbiru, I keep making music with different people, mostly for downloads. A lot of the tracks will definitely make you dance…
Africa Bambaataa plays the Soundcrash Funk & Soul Weekender, taking place in Camber Sands from May 13th - 16th. Tickets and info over here.
Enjoy this article? Want more?
You can support Ransom Note and independent journalism through our Patreon campaign now.
Become a friend of Ransom Note