Afrika Bambaataa grew up in The Bronx River Projects, with an activist mother and uncle. As a child, he was exposed to the black liberation movement, and witnessed debates between his mother and uncle regarding the conflicting ideologies in the movement. He was exposed to his mother's extensive and eclectic record collection. Gangs in the area became the law in the absence of law, clearing their turf of drug dealers, assisting with community health programs and both fighting and partying to keep members and turf. Bambaataa was a founding member of The Bronx River Projects-area street gang The Savage Seven. Due to the explosive growth of the gang, it later became known as the Black Spades, and Bambaataa quickly rose to the position of warlord. As warlord, it was his job to build ranks and expand the turf of the Black Spades. Bambaataa was not afraid to cross turfs to forge relationships with other gang members, and with other gangs. As a result, the Spades became the biggest gang in the city in terms of both membership and turf.
After Bambaataa won an essay contest that earned him a trip to Africa, his worldview shifted. He had seen the movie Zulu and was impressed with the solidarity exhibited by the Zulu in that film. During his trip to Africa, the communities he visited inspired him to stop the violence and create a community in his own neighborhood. He changed his name to Afrika Bambaataa Aasim, adopting the name of the Zulu chief Bhambatha, who led an armed rebellion against unfair economic practices in early 20th century South Africa that can be seen as a precursor to the anti-apartheid movement. He told people that his name was Zulu for "affectionate leader". A young Afrika Bambaataa began to think about how he could turn his turf-building skills to peacemaking. He formed The "Bronx River Organization" as an alternative to the Black Spades.
Along with other DJs such as DJ Kool Herc and Kool DJ Dee, he too began hosting hip hop parties. He vowed to use hip hop to draw angry kids out of gangs and formed the Universal Zulu Nation. Bambaataa is credited with naming hip-hop. "Hip hop" was a common phrase used by MCs as part of a scat-inspired style of rhyming, and Bambaataa appropriated it for use in describing the emerging culture, which included the four elements: the music of DJs, the lyricism and poetry of emcees, the dancing of b-boys and b-girls, and graffiti art.
In 1982, Bambaataa and his followers, a group of dancers, artists and DJs, went outside the United States on the first hip hop tour. Bambaataa saw that the hip hop tours would be the key to help expand hip hop and his Universal Zulu Nation. In addition it would help promote the values of hip hop that he believed are based on peace, unity, love, and having fun. Bambaataa brought peace to the gangs as many artists and gang members say that "hip hop saved a lot of lives". His influence inspired many overseas artists like the French rapper MC Solaar. He was a popular DJ in The South Bronx rap scene and became known not only as Afrika Bambaataa but also as the "Master of Records". He established two rap crews: the Jazzy 5 including MCs Master Ice, Mr. Freeze, Master Bee, Master D.E.E, and AJ Les, and the second crew referred to as Soulsonic Force including Mr. Biggs, Pow Wow and Emcee G.L.O.B.E.
In that same year Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force dropped the live band to go high-tech. Bambaataa credited the pioneering Japanese electropop group Yellow Magic Orchestra, whose work he sampled, as an inspiration. He also borrowed an eerie keyboard hook from German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk and was provided an electronic "beat-box" by producer Arthur Baker and synthesizer player John Robie. That resulted in a pop hit "Planet Rock", which went to gold status and generated an entire school of "electro-boogie" rap and dance music. Bambaataa formed his own label to release the Time Zone Compilation. He created "turntablism" as its own sub-genre and the ratification of "electronica" as an industry-certified trend in the late 1990s.
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