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Afrika Bambaataa: A Beautiful Mind

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 Afrika Bambaataa: A Beautiful Mind
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Afrika Bambaataa can tell you how heavy the bricks are in the foundation of Hip-Hop, he laid down many of them. As a living, working icon, Bambaataa still releases albums, worldwide.

In the celebration of his latest, Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light, we discussed the need for such records, as well as the political and social impact of Hip-Hop and the political potential within the culture.

Hours before playing a sell-out crowd for the fourth straight decade, we chipped one beautiful mind for sense of self as Hip-Hoppers and as human beings. Let the spiritual cleansing and the history lesson commence. Tell me about the new album. What was your vision for it, and what are you bringing to the people of Hip-Hop now?

Bam: A lot of people were asking me to do some Electro-funk. They had not heard me do some in a while. So here it is, Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light. As we always give people that fifth element of Hip-Hop, knowledge, culture, over-standing, we are giving them things to do some research on. I have 100 words of wisdom to look up and research. So they can see what they have been missing. Electro-funk is something I love. It's so much a part of the original Hip-Hop essence. But so much of it has fallen away. Why is that?

Bam: It never really fell away. It just had different names Freestyle, Latin Hip Hop, Drum and Bass, Electronica. Then it was the rave scene that was keeping it alive with the Techno, the Trip-Hop. It's still big as hell all over the world. Everybody these days are talking about the differences between the Rap industry and Hip-Hop culture. You are someone who was there from day one. What are your opinions on where Hip-Hop culture is now, and where does it need to go?

Bam: You have a few purists that are trying to keep the culture alive. The Zulu Nation, Rock Steady Crew, B-boy Summit, there are many organizations. But then you have a lot of people who are making Rap look like it is not a part of the Hip-Hop movement. People gotta understand that when you are talking about Hip-Hop, you are not just talking Rap. Does the new generation have a responsibility to learn the history? Is it okay to just to like the music from now?

Bam: Well, Black people in general, and these so-called Hip-Hop and R&B radio stations should be ashamed of themselves. They need to be playing the true school artists along with what’s happening now. You can go to any White kid and put on a record and say "Who is that?", they will tell you it's Mick Jagger and the Stones. They will tell you it's the Beatles or whoever.

But you ask any Black kid, "Who is it that came out with all that funk and changed Black music?" None of them can tell you who Sly and the Family Stone is. They can tell you James Brown is. They can tell you who George Clinton is because he was doing his thing and getting on with these rappers. We need to play both. Hip-Hop DJ's who use vinyl keep a lot of this alive. Now a lot of the Ohio Players, Mandrill and others are touring, again, putting out their old stuff...Now you can see where Puffy and Teddy Riley got their grooves from. But it's up to these radio stations to keep the music alive. In the wake of the election results, there is tremendous apathy in the Hip-Hop community. What can we do when voting doesn’t carry out our needs?

Bam: We have to pick up what the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad said to us. We have to get up and do something for self. Then we must pool our resources. We are always complaining about schools not teaching us. Well, get up and build your own damn schools. You don't like the food that’s being sold in our community? Then go buy these farms, like Elijah Muhammad told us.

A lot of people are falling asleep. We just wanna be about Hip-Hop, Hip-Hop, Hip-Hop! Or, we wanna be gangsters. Well then we need our Hip-Hop gangster lawyers, Hip-Hop gangster doctors, Hip-Hop Masonic orders. If you wanna be a Hip-Hop gangsta, take care of your Hip-Hop gangster a.sses [laughing]. I'm concerned about the women in Hip-Hop and the impact of the music around them. Please give a message to the sisters in Hip-Hop.

Bam: Well, a lot of our sisters are getting caught up with the “Ice Syndrome.” They are gettin' caught up with the Tel-Lie-Vision. It's telling lies to your vision. What they see is an illusion. A matrix. the BET's and MTV's want you to think it's all about b00ty shaking.

I'm not saying you can't have that. Our culture always had b00ty shaking. But it's also about how you respect yourself. If you look at yourself using the [word, ‘b*tch’], then the brothers are gonna call you [b*tch]. You need to put them in check if you don’t wanna be used like that. Like Queen Latifah said, "Who you callin' a b*tch?"

If you don’t respect yourself, and see yourself as some of the queens that came from the Motherland - like when you see Winnie Mandela- you can't call her no b*tch. You would never even think of that. Or like Miriam Makeba, or the sisters in the Nation of Islam- you can't call them a b*tch. Or the sisters that did “Stomp” with Kirk Franklin. They were not out there showing off their body. But they still looked attractive.

But the corporations are telling them what to do. The corporations are the ones telling people "We don't wanna do that revolution stuff. We don't wanna do the knowledge stuff- it don't sell!! But there is a conspiracy to make sure it is not selling and keep your mind deaf, dumb and blind. A lot of Hip-Hop these days seems to glorify prison. Especially songs like "Locked Up" or TV shows like “Oz”. How do you feel about the imagery of Black males in the media specifically, but in Hip-Hop in particular?

Bam: We have to look at people who say that, even if they are joking around. Are you with your people? Or are you apart of the Luciferian conspiracy to bring your people down? On one hand it's like the yin and the yang. The agreeable and the disagreeable. You gonna have your ‘n*ggas" and all about the benjamin’s’, and then you got those that wanna be in God's army. So you gotta look at what going on in our mentality. Like I said, Tel-lie-vision is so powerful. Who were we before slavery? I see people celebrate the Fourth of July. You are celebrating your defeat. When they tell you that George Washington cut down the cherry tree, they are telling you that he took down the Moorish flag.

You gotta go see. It was a Moor that brought Columbus here. [WRITERS NOTE: Moors are the African Muslims that ruled Spain from 700-1400 AD]. They did not even know where India was at. That’s why you got so many "West Indians", "East Indians” and "American Indians" [laughter] What books do you suggest interested people read?

Bam: Go to We have a book list by authors that are Black and White and every color in between. You can get a whole new view of what is going on. What are your thoughts on the state of the world with all this terrorism and the situation with Iraq and the climate of violence across the globe?

Bam: Who has put these ideas into the people on both sides? The whole earth better wake up, and get back to spirituality. I'm not just talking about organized religion. I'm talking about your first temple, mosque and church is your body and your mind. If we don't, on the Earth then you will feel the wrath of the almighty Amen Ra, Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, Jah, whatever you call the Supreme force, all hell is about to break loose. Mother Earth is a living entity. I really miss graf. It has always been the strongest political element of Hip Hop, to me. I'm disappointed in a lot of the graf writers because they started being about style, "I made up this letter style blah, blah blah" and forgot the political element. Because you used to blow up a wall with, '[Mayor] Koch Sucks' or 'No Nukes' – now, you are writing nothing. How valuable is graf as a political tool in Hip Hop?

Bam: We want to keep the culture alive. But the way these demons are making things up now, they are locking us up. They make it so when you spray on some trains the paint won't stick, it runs off. So they and [the graf writers] are battling it out. This is why we have to get back into the spirituality. Our enemies plan. The Supreme Force also plans. And the Supreme Force is the best of planners.

We can get into the Funk, and the Soul and all that. But if you don't know what happened from back in the day, to what happened now, you will be part of the matrix as a zombie or a slave. That’s like we say in the Zulu Nation: "What you thought was your fantasy becomes your reality. And what you think is your reality, becomes your vitality".

Adisa Banjoko is author of the new book "Lyrical Swords: Hip Hop and Politics in the Mix", on YinSumi Press.
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