photo & text by nacrowe
when you look back at the nascent HIP HOP scene in THE BRONX in the late 1970s, there was a lot of EXPERIMENTATION going on. the form itself was justing coming into being and the sonic possibilities that came with remixing one's record collection on turntables with a clever DJ running copilot was seemingly limited to one's imagination.
what is INTRIGUING about going back to the source, of which AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & SOULSONIC FORCE's EPOCHAL release PLANET ROCK: THE ALBUM (TOMMY BOY, 1986) is how informed his range was of the musical AVANT-GARDE, even going so far as to sample KRAUTROCK contemporaries KRAFTWERK for the LEGENDARY title track. in his hands (along with collaborating co-producer ARTHUR BAKER), the consciously RIGID and MACHINE-LIKE efficiency of "NUMBERS" off of KRAFTWERK's COMPUTER WORLD (KLING KLANG, 1981) became something totally unexpected: FUNKY. in the MODERN lexicon of HIP HOP as it has develop over the ensuing decades, "PLANET ROCK" has one of the DEFINING samples of the genre. so much so that the song helped provide the impetus for the ELECTRO movement that followed.
sometimes genres become more CALCIFIED over the course of their development as a form and there is this fallacy that develops that the early FORBEARERS somehow held onto this UNADULTERATED, UNALLOYED, PURE DISTILLATION of the TRUE SPIRIT of the genre. you see that type of incorrect thinking and mythologizing with everything from PUNK ROCK and the BIBLE to BASEBALL and the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION. its a very human thing to distort the past. the further you go back, often what becomes apparent is how in flux and undetermined all these later DOGMATIC parameters were at the time of formation. HIP HOP is no different and "PLANET ROCK" is a PRIME and INTRIGUING example of such.
i would be remiss if i didnt mention the other STANDOUT track, which is "RENEGADES OF FUNK," decades later MEMORABLY covered by BAMBAATAAA acolytes RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE. lyrically the song celebrates all these BLACK EMPOWERMENT and is a bit of history lesson of such, listing past THINKERS and REVOLUTIONARIES that pushed the ball forward in terms of the LIBERATION and FREEDOM of the AFRICAN DIASPORA. in fact, BAMBAATAAA headed the UNIVERSAL ZULU NATION, an international HIP HOP awareness group he initiated while still in high school that promoted PAN-AFRICANISM and BLACK EMPOWERMENT. later NOTABLE affiliates include Q-TIP (A TRIBE CALLED QUEST), KOOL MOE DEE, BIG BOI (OUTKAST), KURTIS BLOW, IMMORTAL TECHNIQUE and ICE-T among many others.
i should also state that in recent years BAMBAATAAA has become something of a CONTROVERSIAL figure, with many allegations surfacing of his alleged involvement in the molesting of young boys going back to the 1970s. BAMBAATAAA has vehemently denied these charges and to date no charges have been leveled against him. all the same it goes without mentioning that these allegations have complicated his legacy as a HIP HOP ORIGINATOR and CULTURAL INNOVATOR of the first order.
photo & text by nacrowe
back in the 1980s there was a distinct cultural moment were everyone got excited over bloated charity singles that often featured a chorus of god-knows-how-many notable artists singing in unison. two that come immediately to mind was the MICHAEL JACKSON/LIONEL RITCHIE-penned "WE ARE THE WORLD" (COLUMBIA, 1985) for USA FOR AFRICA (over 45 POP musicians) and the RONNIE JAMES DIO-penned "STARS" (POLYGRAM, 1986) for HEAR 'N AID (made up of over 40 prominent METAL musicians), both of which raised funds for famine relief in ETHIOPIA. buying these singles was less about musical enjoyment, since the songs were objectively horrendous, and more a form of altruism. although it begs one to wonder why the artists just didnt advocate for direct funds as there is no doubt corporate record companies made a pillaging off these recordings.
enter STEVEN VAN ZANDT.
during this period he had recently departed BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's infamous E-STREET BAND right at the cusp of the release of what would become their commercial breakthrough BORN IN THE U.S.A. (COLUMBIA, 1984) record. at the time a journalist friend that had reported on the horrors of APARTHEID in SOUTH AFRICA suggested he write a protest song as a charity-style single. at the time it was still deemed acceptable for prominent musicians to perform at the SUN CITY resort/casino in SOUTH AFRICA. in fact prominent acts at the time such as QUEEN, FRANK SINATRA, ELTON JOHN, LIZA MINELLI, ROD STEWART and LINDA RONSTADT had done just that to their own shame in retrospect. the "SUN CITY" (EMI, 1985) single took aim at the resort specifically and the regime and its racist power structure politically at a time that the UNITED STATES still supported it. even in retrospect its a pretty bold and impressive statement, even if the song is a little bland. participating artists in the ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID activist protest group (who similarly took a vow not play in SOUTH AFRICA until the abolishment of APARTHEID) included the likes of BOB DYLAN, GEORGE CLINTON (PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC), BOBBY WOMACK, LOU REED (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), RAY BARETTO, RUN-DMC, KEITH RICHARDS (THE ROLLING STONES), JIMMY CLIFF, BONO (U2), HERBIE HANCOCK, GIL SCOTT-HERON, PETER GABRIEL, HALL & OATES, KURTIS BLOW, STIV BATORS (THE DEAD BOYS), AFRIKA BAMBAATAA, RINGO STARR (THE BEATLES), BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and JOEY RAMONE (THE RAMONES) among many other JAZZ, R&B, ROCK N ROLL and early HIP HOP luminaries. PAUL SIMON was offered and declined participation due to his friendship with LINDA RONSTADT and the fact that he was then working on his GRACELAND (WARNER BROS, 1986) album at the time with SOUTH AFRICAN musicians, of which he has received (well-founded) criticism ever since for cultural appropriation. that recording was also in violation of UNITED NATIONS cultural boycott against APARTHEID. so there is that.
in this digital era we are all too comfortable with the idea of charity telethons and hashtag activism getting the word out on efforts to encourage fundraising for disaster relief efforts or the victims of the latest international tragedy. its part of the fabric of how our capitalist society functions at this point. but an activist single that take aim at altering AMERICAN foreign policy stances with regards to one of its allies. that i cannot find another example to compare. its a complete anomaly. and a singular achievement for all those involved, especially VAN ZANDT.
fuck PAUL SIMON.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
here is a blast from the past. ever since MP3s took over the music business back at the turn of the millennium, long before streaming was a thing or even the iphone for that matter, there was a resurgence of interest in VINYL RECORDS. this was due to the warmth of that analog sound that just can't be replicated on a digital format. call it psychosomatic but we all know its true.
roughly a decade ago the television channel FUSE (remember FUSE?!) had a series of small segments called CRATE DIGGERS in which they interview producers, artists and musicians like AFRIKA BAMBAATAA, PEANUT BUTTER WOLF, HANK WILLIAMS III, PETE ROCK, JELLO BIAFRA, LORD FINESSE, DJ MUGGS, SHEPARD FAIREY and DAN THE AUTOMATOR about their vinyl collections and how they went about amassing them. its basically a love letter to the pursuit of new unexplored sounds.
definitely worth checking out.