By Craig Bechtel
The night before Kevin Donovan turns fifty-nine, he’ll be in Chicago providing a performance as his better known alter-ego, Afrika Bambaataa. The original soulsonic force from the South Bronx, he introduced “Planet Rock” to the hip-hop community and provided rap with its musical motivation. Drawing equal inspiration from disco and electronic rock, he’s been going full-tilt since 1977. Although Bambaataa is known for “Planet Rock,” his positions as “The Godfather” of hip-hop, the “Amen Ra of Hip Hop Kulture,” a forefather of turntablism and the father of “electro funk” are unassailable.
He started as a gang member and leader in the Black Spades, but his story took an amazing turn when he won an essay contest and a trip to Africa. He came back a new man, changing his name to Afrika Bambaataa Aasim (inspired by the name of a Zulu chief) and transformed what was a violent gang into the renamed Universal Zulu Nation, with its aim of spreading peace through music. Bambaataa is one of the originators of breakbeat deejaying, harnessing the breaks of his record collection to propel his beats, and was the first to organize a tour of hip-hop artists outside the United States, back in 1982. He recently completed a three-year stint as the Cornell Hip Hop Collection’s first visiting scholar, after which the university announced that it has acquired his archive of 20,000 records. Read the rest of this entry »