Afrika Bamabaataa‘s record collection has long been regarded as one of the most comprehensive and expansive archives of hip-hop’s formative stages that exists in the world today. That bold and well-reasoned statement never rang more true than it did last week, when the duo of DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist took on the immense task of presenting some the most foundational and iconic cuts of that cratedigger’s master document into one fluid and masterful exposition on the ones and twos. Casual observers, funky fanatics, collectors, hoarders, b-boys and b-girls were all able to bear witness to a turntable orchestra, less an homage and more a reeducation in the art of the break.
All of this unfolded under the watchful and warm eye of the renegade of funk himself, sitting on the balcony bobbing his head as he was worshipped like the DJ deity that he is. His records, of course, being the holy sacrament. We had the privilege of speaking to the evening’s sonic architect and the curators of his legacy, getting a crate by crate account of the proceedings from the fellas that had the honor (and the audacity, really) to turn NYC’s Irving Plaza into a true, blue installation, covering all corners of the culture in one outrageous display of devotion to the craft and its tradition.
Things get properly cosmic, though. So be warned, the words below could either go way over your head or manage to pull you up into the stars along with them. Read along and find out what Bam’s very first record was, the depths of James Brown‘s influence, how Sly Stone changed the game and if he’s still in search of the perfect beat. You’ll quickly find out that 15 minutes with Bam is worth a lifetime of funk.
You can also listen to a special OKP curated list of cuts from the Zulu leader’s personal collection in the player on third and final page of our lengthy discussion. Click through for that and hit the link below for your chance to win tickets to see and hear Bam’s legendary collection come out to play with DJ Shadow x Cut Chemist when the Renegades of Rhythm comes to a discotheque near you:
OKP: [to Afrika Bambaataa] What’s the first record you ever bought?
Bambaataa: Well, the first we ever had in the household was The Marvelletes.
OKP: Did that ever get any spins in a set? Was that just for you?
AB: Well, we would always play “Mr. Postman” or something like that. Everybody would always go crazy for that. However, if I decided to take em’ back to the oldies but goodies; like Motown sound. Back in the days, I used to tell people to “dance like your mama and papa used to do.” And people would start doing all types of stuff. That was the fun part of the parties. Play certain types of song that people would remember or from a TV show or a cartoon or something.
OKP: What’s your personal favorite record to spin?
AB: Anything by James Brown and Sly [Stone]. I mean James Brown is like the ultimate of everything. Without James Brown the party is just boring.
OKP: Did you happen to see Get On Up?
OKP: And what did you think?
AB: I think the guy that played him (Chadwick Boseman – ed.) deserves an Oscar.
OKP: Have your seen or heard about the Alex Gibney doc that’s coming out about JB?
AB: I know there’s many that they had put out. But you can’t really put James in documentary. That’s like when they were trying to do something with me. I said well you’d have to make it like the Lord of The Ring movies, you know, all three of them. That’s exactly how James would have to be.
You could start with just his history, but then following that influence all the way around the world, ’til it hits someone like me. They need to do one on Sly Stone. Listen, there’s music before Sly and then there’s music after Sly. He changed the whole industry.
OKP: Is there anybody right now that’s particularly impressive to you? Anyone these days changing the game like that?