Afrika Bambaataa, Rhino Hi-Five: Afrika Bambaataa
Plenty of songs achieve a kind of global infamy, storming charts across borders and belief systems and inspiring oceans of moribund sound-alikes. But few songs seem radical, new, order-toppling ideas along the way; few artists empower their imagined community of listeners to re-envision the future; rarely is a fan asked to join in alliance and imagine a better world — together. This is what happened to those who happened upon Afrika Bambaataa's 1982 hits "Planet Rock" and "Looking for the Perfect Beat," paradigm-shifting moments in the early evolution of hip-hop, and permanent ruptures to the pop landscape.
Having already established himself as a visionary hip-hop thinker and DJ, Bambaataa's string of singles from 1981 to 1984 — the aforementioned pair as well as "Jazzy Sensation" and "Renegades of Funk" — cemented his global influence. From the Bronx to Paris to Tokyo to everywhere between, Bambaataa's singles redefined the sound and possibilities of dance music. Listening to them today, the singles remind us of the utopian instinct at the heart of all great musical cultures, with their tribal, all-together-now chants and sample-everything breakbeats. This wasn't lost on Bambaataa at the time. "Planet Rock" was prophecy, and with his half-fan club/half-religion, the Universal Zulu Nation, he initiated his listeners into a serious, humanistic kind of global hip-hop fellowship. Even if it's never been entirely clear what Afrika Bambaataa did on the "Planet Rock" 12-inch — producers Arthur Baker and John Robie deserve most of the credit for actualizing Bam's vision — his name has become synonymous with the revolutionary change in the sound and face of youth culture over the past three decades. He did it so you could too.