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[courtesy Afrika Bambaataa] Afrika Bambaataa Interview
Author: Adam Bernard

Does anyone in hip-hop require less of an introduction than Afrika Bambaataa? Being one of the most integral individuals in not just the creation of hip-hop, but its movement as a social force, Bambaataa forever altered both music, and cultural, history. This is why when he speaks, people listen, and why when RapReviews was granted time with him, we couldn't wait to hear what he had to say.

Adam Bernard: Hip-hop, at its very beginning, was a radical creative force. Where do you see the radical creativity in hip-hop today?

Afrika Bambaataa: It's still in the conscious, community, side of hip-hop, with the rappers who are still making these types of songs, but these so-called program directors, who are programing the minds of the masses of people, are not playing all the different categories of hip-hop music. Not just of hip-hop music, but they're not playing many different categories of music, of old and new, whether it be hip-hop, house, techno, country and western, jazz, rock, any musical form out there. They should be playing the old with the new, the new with the old, for it becomes true school. That's why so many people are turning to satellite stations, and internet radio stations, so they can hear a variety of music, old or new.

Adam Bernard: Where do you get most of your music at this point?

Afrika Bambaataa: Basically from the internet, and certain stores that I still go and look in.

Adam Bernard: I recently wrote about the idea of aging in a youth oriented culture. What are your thoughts on the changing role of artists, and fans, who are now middle aged in a culture that is driven by young people?

Afrika Bambaataa: Well, there's still a lot that's out there for them. They still got the true school music that they can go to. Even many of the youth who want to learn what their parents were playing, or still hear the original true school sound, are turning to that. From many different parties I have played around the world, I see different age brackets that come to my events. There are many who are observing what was there from back in the day, and then you got the elders who might get tired of what they're hearing now, and play music from the 80s and 70s, and then you got others who still can listen to both sides of things, and they still weed through it, to hear the certain music that they love.

Adam Bernard: The culture used to be very "come as you are, just be authentic." Now we have artists, from Rick Ross to Riff Raff, who take great care in creating characters for themselves, and crafting images that aren't necessarily who they really are, in an effort to sell albums. Have we reached a point where this sort of thing is simply a new aspect of hip-hop?

Afrika Bambaataa: I don't think it's a new aspect of hip-hop, I think it's more a marketing plan that people are using to try to sell what they're trying to push. It's almost like when Prince, with every album he had he came with a different style of dress, or look, to push the style of music that he was playing on that album, whereas a lot of the hip-hop marketing comes from others who sit in corporate chairs, and think, "How are we gonna break this artist? How are we gonna break somebody that uses Auto-Tune? We might want ten other groups that come out sounding like Auto-Tune, or we might want somebody that takes us back into time, like Raphael Saadiq, and we might want ten other artists to go back and sound like something from the 50s or 60s again." It's just marketing tools that certain recording companies use to push their artists. Then you have some artists who, once they get power, and sell so many records, then they can have more freedom to say and do what they want. You got some that might not want to be making what they call gangster rappin, or be talking negativity, and they might have used it, or some say selling out, to get where they had to get, then they're more free to say what they want to push. You got others who are pushing positive hip-hop, but can't get played on the airwaves because of all the other stations that are taking payola just to push one certain style of music. It's like a yin and a yang, a disagreeable and agreeable, that you're fighting against.

Adam Bernard: You mentioned marketing on the one hand, but you mentioned Prince on the other hand, who is someone who has been masterful at changing. He even came out with the song "7" where he said, "all seven and we'll watch them fall."

Afrika Bambaataa: And he was a master because after he put the "Slave" on his face, and they stole his name, and he became the symbol when they thought they were gonna wipe him out, and he drew them that ugly rock album to get off his deal. They thought he was washed up, but he came back with the funk and beat everybody, and sold out everybody in concert. He's the one that really jacked up the whole industry, with bringing you back to your freedom of independence, and cutting out the middle man. Since he did that other artists followed suit, like Ice-T, Public Enemy, and some of the rock groups. It has really jacked the industry now to where people are just giving away mp3s, and it's back to how you get your fan base, and your concerts and shows, and most of the artists who are hurting in the music industry now are becoming DJs.

Adam Bernard: That's gonna become a pretty crowded market in a few years.

Afrika Bambaataa: It already is crowded. It's crazy. The whole music industry has changed big time, especially since the time Prince did all that.

Adam Bernard: When you mention both marketing and Prince you're mentioning an evil and a good, so when you look at what's going on today, is it more of a case by case basis in regards to the artists who are creating images?

Afrika Bambaataa: Oh most definitely. It's what they feel they're gonna be trying to push for a certain image for the time. It's the same as when we were coming up in hip-hop. I would try to grab my punk rock, new wave, people, people you would call Caucasians, and I would try to grab the Black people and Latinos, and I said, well, I'm gonna dress the style of punk, and have the punk funk, to grab that type of audience, and it did its job for the people who wanted to hear "Looking For The Perfect Beat." At one time rappers were all dressed in tuxedos and suits, looking like The Temptations, and I said no, I want to come out wild, looking like George Clinton and all that, to grab that whole funk crowd that nobody was trying to reach. So they're different ways of how you present yourself for the certain audience, or style, you want to grab.

Adam Bernard: What's one issue you feel is being neglected that you'd love for hip-hop to address in 2013?

Afrika Bambaataa: Probably what they should address is the mind controlling of people. There are others that are saying this is what it's supposed to be, but it's not really what it is, so you're not controlling of yourself. You had the freedom of the groups in the 60s, like Sly (and the Family Stone), and Quincy Jones, the Beatles, and all these types of groups who had a little more control. Even though they still had to listen to what their managers, and certain labels, were saying, once they started getting the power they were fighting for certain causes, to break up racism, to feed people, to have Woodstock, and all that. Many of today, it's all made for them, it's commercialized, it's put out there, this is what's gonna back it into the drink companies. If you're talking hip-hop, you must have a 40 ounce, and a blunt in your hand. If you're gonna talk heavy metal, you must throw up the Satan sign, and somewhere you're gonna kill somebody in your family. There's a certain image that they push under a mind control, to be part of the matrix of stating this is the image we're giving to you of what it is to be. If I'm throwing all this heavy rock, and metal rock, I'm gonna give you a Marilyn Manson, and this is how he's gonna dress, and this is what he's gonna talk about, so we're gonna get to a satanic sound. If I'm gonna talk about kill kill kill in hip-hop, like one time when they had Gravediggaz, and all those types, that was a vibe where that type of hip-hop was happening, and the other one's going to a Doug E. Fresh with "All The Way To Heaven," and (they were told) "aw, that's not too good to talk about God and Heaven, it must be like THIS." It's all trick-nology, mind control, and how to control the masses of the people by brainwashing, by using the programming to put you in what style of the matrix that they want you in.

Adam Bernard: It sounds like it's also brainwashing the artists a bit, because as you said, they don't necessarily, once they've achieved fame, go on and do something with it in terms of being politically, or socially, active.

Afrika Bambaataa: That's why you have a lot who are nervous, that just want to stay in the comfort zone. They don't take chances like myself, or Chuck D, or Prince, or Madonna, or John Lennon, all those type of people who want to bring about different changes. There are a lot who stay in the comfort zone, and if you stay in the comfort zone they're gonna push you to the top. They're gonna give you movie deals. If you're too much trying to help people, they're gotta make sure you stay just like this. This is a part of the world that we live in.

Adam Bernard: What's the most disappointed hip-hop has ever made you?

Afrika Bambaataa: The most disappointed is ... really not organizing under hip-hop federation for the preservation of hip-hop culture, and forgetting your egos, and trying to be organized in a state where we can push what we want in the industry, like a big union, saying we want to get health benefits, and this and this and that. That's the big angry part that we haven't seen yet in hip-hop. Even after Kool Herc went through hell, and other certain people had certain problems, you'd think people would have been pulled together to formulate something like that. That's not even just in hip-hop, that's with all styles of music. You're still going through many of the issues that they had in the 50s, and 60s, and 40s. Some of the artists who get fooled themselves, who don't study law, are still getting taken today. That's another big thing, we don't study law. We're so much dependent on management, but you should always get up and study for yourself what you're getting into.

Adam Bernard: Completely flipping things, outside of music, what makes you happiest?

Afrika Bambaataa: Seeing people pull together for different struggles, for making life better for other humans, and all humans, on this great planet. I'm heavy into the universe, and our mother earth, and it's definitely serious, and it makes you feel good when you see people relating to each other, and ain't scared to talk to each other, speaking of science, or what's happening on the planet, and in the planet, and outside the planet, going to events with topics that regular people think are just too out there to speak about.

Adam Bernard: So the moral of that story is talk to strangers.

Afrika Bambaataa: The moral of that story is speak to all when it comes to dealing with life on the planet, so we can know how we can live better on this planet. It's not just speaking to strangers, it's trying to understand human beings, the mentality of human beings, how that brain really clicks.

Adam Bernard: When was the last time you had a conversation like that, that really affected you?

Afrika Bambaataa: All the time when I travel. It's amazing when you really travel, and you meet humans, and religious people, or people who are non-religious who are just into the universe, and when you hear their ideologies, or where they got something from, or what book they've read, or what movie they've seen, it's deep.

Adam Bernard: Having been all around the world, what country, other than America, has affected you the most?

Afrika Bambaataa: It's hard to pick that. There are so many, for different reasons. One minute I'm all crazy with France, another I could be crazy being in Nigeria. At another point I'm in love with Brazil, another day I'm crazy about being in Canada, so I say the whole earth, and every part, is amazing to see, from good to bad, and just wondering what's out there when you look at the moon, sun, and maybe another planet jumps into your eye mode, and out. All the stars and the Milky Way, when you look at that you know there are planets, and they have their own stars and moon, and whatever else is out there, so that's just deep in itself, and what's in our ocean. Ancient species that we've never thought about, might have disappeared, started to come back. Seeing things we've never seen before popping up on the earth.

Adam Bernard: When they get the cameras down there deep in the ocean, where humans can't exist, and you see those creatures ... some of those things are terrifying.

Afrika Bambaataa: Yeah, some of them are crazy. I've even seen a fish in other countries that looked like it had a human face. I was like what the hell is that? It had a head like a human, and a nose and lips.

Adam Bernard: You'd have to cook that really well for me to eat it.

Afrika Bambaataa: I don't want to cook it at all. Just leave it alone. {*laughs*}

Adam Bernard: I saw a giant squid that had what looked like elbows in its tentacles, and I was like that's too much for me.

Afrika Bambaataa: And they're talking about some mega-shark that's out there. I never want to see that.

Adam Bernard: Moving from sharks to schools, tell me about what you have going on at Cornell University.

Afrika Bambaataa: At Cornell we're doing lectures with all the people there, dealing with hip-hop and the culture. They also just got a collection of mine of over 40,000 albums that they're going to preserve, and present for the people, and probably take around the world, with what we gave, and other people from Wild Style (gave), and other types of things that they are picking up from many people to keep at Cornell.

Adam Bernard: Finally, do you ever get tired of talking about hip-hop? Do you have days where you're just like "will someone please ask me about my favorite crock pot recipes?"

Afrika Bambaataa: Most places, even when I do a lot of college lectures, they're supposed to be hip-hop, (but) they always go beyond that. Sometimes you might get two or three questions that deal with that, and then the next thing is dealing with all types of things, social science, political, and things like that.

Adam Bernard: So it opens the door to everything.

Afrika Bambaataa: Most definitely.

Check out Afrika Bambaataa at the Universal Zulu Nation website.
Follow Adam @AdamsWorldBlog and follow the site @RapReviews!!

Originally posted: October 29th, 2013

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