Afrika Bambaataa: When heroes get dethroned

By Shaun Shearer | 23 July 2017

It was almost symbolic of the degraded, toxified state that hip-hop had regressed to, when one of the most respected figures from its inception became embroiled in multiple allegations of sexual impropriety in early 2016, and with the story still ongoing.

Afrika Bambaataa’s name is the one that has been spoken of with great reverence for the past four decades or more. Through the years, Bam has gone down on record as one of the founding fathers of hip-hop culture alongside Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore and Grandmixer DXT. Among his reverential nicknames have been ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Amen Ra of Hip Hop Kulture’. And his status was cemented considerably by the release of the single ‘Planet Rock’ in 1982 which, although acknowledged universally as a ‘hip-hop classic’, in reality isn’t in the hip-hop style at all, being more akin to electro-disco-funk and heavily influenced by the music of German synthesiser pioneers Kraftwerk.

From an outsider’s perspective, everything about Bambaataa’s world and that of the Universal Zulu Nation, the collective that he founded in The Bronx back in the 1970s, appeared to be benevolent and positive. This worldview was suddenly shattered, however, in the Spring of 2016, when two former Zulu Nation members came forward with allegations that, over a prolonged period dating back decades, Bambaataa had sexually molested them on several occasions while they were still minors. The most prominent accuser was Ronald Savage, who had been known during his Nation days by the street name Bee Stinger. Savage claimed that his abuse dated back to 1980 when he was 15 years old.

Right at the time of Savage’s claims, another former Nation member by the name of Hassan Campbell, known by the nickname Poppy, stepped forward with an almost identical story. Campbell claims he too was sexually molested by Bambaataa for a prolonged period dating back to the late 1970s. He states that Bambaataa’s penchant for underage boys was well-known within the Zulu Nation hierarchy, but that a blind eye was always turned and no action was ever taken.

A figure who has attained almost the same level of mythical status as Bambaataa, meanwhile, is KRS One. KRS was asked to comment on the Bambaataa situation when he stated:

“For me if you keep it hip-hop, nothing can be taken away from Afrika Bambaataa. Nothing. Just keep it hip-hop. But if you want to dig into dude’s personal life and accusations that’s being made and so on… Personally - me personally - I don’t give a fuck.”

KRS’s comments were interpreted by many as him turning a blind eye to the molestation claims. In the wake of the ensuing controversy, he issued a statement on his website in which he claimed his words had been taken out of context:

“I am indeed concerned about the accusations made against Afrika Bambaataa, but I will not become entangled in a controversy that seems to be less about justice and more about self-promotion and revenge… I said then as I am saying right now, it is not that I don’t care at all about the accusations made against Afrika Bambaataa.”

A vexed Hassan Campbell/ Poppy, said in one of his subsequent interviews that the only reasonable action for KRS One to take following his apparent defence of Bambaataa, would be to kill himself, as he questioned what kind of father would stand as an apologist for paedophilic behaviour against young boys.

“What I have to say to KRS One is like this: everything I thought he was as a person, he’s the total opposite. But I’m realising its about the music industry period, it’s not just him. the fact that everybody in the music industry is so quiet about this topic is crazy to me. Here it is, you’ve got the hip-hop pioneer, and everybody’s so quiet… For me to go through all the pain I’ve been through, and then for KRS one to be so inconsiderate. Do you know what it’s like being molested? … I’ve never seen a father been so insensitive towards someone that had been molested.”

Not too much peace, love, unity and having fun any more, it would seem.

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