Hip Hop History: Afrika Bambaataa Speaks on the Early Days of Hip Hop & the Zulu Nation

Zulu_Natio symbolNovember marks Hip Hop History Month and hence we wanna kick things off by highlighting the work and perspective of one of Hip Hop’s founding fathers Afrika Bambaataa and the Universal Zulu Nation who celebrate their 40th anniversary this year (2013) Included below are a couple of short clips from documentaries where Bam speaks about Hip Hop culture and Zulu Nation.. The last one is a long interview done by myself and writer Mark Skillz, where Bam opens up and gives an in-depth History lesson.. I also included an article written back in the 90s called From Gangs to Glory

Afrika Bambaataa breaks down the history of the Universal Zulu Nation this is from a BBC documentary



In this interview Afrika Bambaataa gives an in depth look at what Hip Hop was like during the early days in the 1970s.. He talks about the importance of Funk Music.. He talks about the early gangs and the culture of violence. The forming of Zulu nation and the racial tensions that existed in NY as Hip Hop was forming.. Bambaataa also breaks down many of the myths surrounding early Hip Hop.



by – Davey D

afrika-Bambaataa-GangFirst thing we wanna do is offer up our congratulations to Hip Hop’s oldest and largest organization, the Universal Zulu Nation. They are set to celebrate their 29th Anniversary this weekend [November 8-10] where they will be paying tribute to soul music and funk music Godfathers, Sly Stone, James Brown, and George Clinton. They will also pay tribute to Hip Hop’s seminal figures Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa.. For those who are unfamiliar with the Zulu Nation, they began as an organization founded by Afrika Bambaataa at Stevenson High School in the Bronx. Back than it was simply known as ‘The Organization‘.

Bam who once lived the gang lifestyle and was a Gang Lord was trying to change his ways and saw the newly formed group as a way out. Bam who was known for reading and staying up on the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and other African American leaders, changed the name to Zulu Nation after watching a movie of the same name that told the tale of the well known South African tribe.. Bam was inspired by their resistance to Dutch settlers. As Hip Hop became popular, the group became known as the Mighty Zulu Nation and as later the Universal Zulu Nation.

The story behind the evolution of UZN is significant. Back in the days Zulu’s struck fear in many who lived outside of their Bronx River Housing Project strong hold. While they gave birth to Hip Hop’s first B-Boys and B-Girls, the group for the most part was made up of former gang members. Many of them from the Notorious Black Spades which once reigned terror throughout the Bronx in the early to mid 70s. It used to be a really big deal for cats to hang out at Bronx River and not get stuck up. It was a sign of toughness and brought much prestige.

Black spades jacket 2Many of the early crews tried to associate themselves with Zulu Nation for protection from roving bands of stick up kids and other gangs turned crew. It was in this backdrop that Bambaataa and other conscious brothers spent a lot of time teaching and preaching and working with Zulu members to bring about positive change. Bam often talks about how he would do simple things like bestow titles like ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ upon Zulu members in an attempt to instill pride and confidence. His feeling was that if you treated people like royalty then they would turn around and act like royalty in their actions. As Bam’s recording career blew up, he saw too it that many of folks who were from the streets got an opportunity to go on tour with him and the Soul Sonic Force. Sometimes they were employed as roadies. Other times they worked as security. Again Bam’s main objective was to see to it that local cats got a chance to see there was a much bigger world outside the Bronx.

Change didn’t happen over night, but today the testament to all that hard work is the fact that there are vibrant Zulu chapters in more than 20 countries all over the world with estimated membership of over 10 thousand. They have come to embrace and preserve Hip Hop’s key elements and have exemplified what is often considered Hip Hop’s 5th Element-‘Knowledge‘.

Afrika Bambaataa mohawkTo me the beauty of it all is seeing what was once considered a ‘ruthless gang’ evolve’ to a group that has strived and succeeded in serving the community. There are all sorts of stories about Zulus ridding their housing projects of drug dealers and many of the older guys spending time mentoring younger people. There are stories about Zulus escorting women to and from their apartments as well as looking out and helping those in need. This of course is in addition to various Zulu chapters that have involved themselves in local politics including the fight to Free Mumia and get him a new trial. We also can not overlook the fact that it was Zulu Nation members who put out some of Hip Hop’s first records as well as among the first to establish Hip Hop’s first radio shows. Who could forget Zulu Beats with Afrika Islam on WHBI. It’s a shame that there hasn’t been more of a public celebration and acknowledgment of this organization and its accomplishments. In any case, props to them on their 29th anniversary.. For more information and a run down of this week’s schedule check out…http://www.zulunation.com/events.html

by Davey D
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