Already a seminal New York DJ by the early1970s, Afrika Bambaataa
earned his title as the "Godfather of Hip Hop" organizing massive block parties and legendary DJ battles in the southeast Bronx, where he served as "warlord" of the Bronx River Projects division of a street gang called the Black Spades. In 1973, as the influence of the Black Spades began to fade, Bambaataa's passion for music drove him to form a performance group based at the local high school. The Organization, as it came to be known, included b-boys, rappers, DJs, and graffiti artists who became the early members of Bambaataa's Zulu Nation, a culture-oriented collective that currently counts De La Soul, Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest, and the Jungle Brothers among its ranks. As the Zulu Nation parties continued to grow in popularity, Bambaataa became ever more adventurous with his sets, mixing speeches by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. with instrumental breaks from calypso or TV theme songs. In 1982, around the time he was grabbing Manhattan by the lapel, performing in front of huge, mostly white audiences alongside seemingly incongruent groups like Bow Wow Wow, Bambaataa got the idea for a hip hop record based on Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express." The resultant Planet Rock
, recorded with the help of dance-floor authority Arthur Baker and fledgling Tommy Boy Records founder Tom Silverman, blended hip hop beats and techno-pop futurism, and it became the ass-shaking stew that Bambaataa would term "electro funk," later to be known simply as electro. The record, which remains one of the most widely sampled in hip hop history, reached No. 4 on the R&B charts, becoming an instant classic and fueling emergent genres such as Miami bass, house, and Latin freestyle. Despite the success of Planet Rock
Bambaataa has used the electro-funk recipe sparingly over the course of his prolific recording career, focusing instead on collaborations with everyone from Johnny Lydon to James Brown, and on the ever-widening reach of the Zulu Nation. A one-stop shop for those freshly inspired by conscious hip hop, the Zulu Nation's well-maintained Web site has become a clearinghouse for new ideas in the genre, as well as the keeper of its books, garnering Bambaataa the mantle of hip hop's historian, as well as its godfather. The recent 30-year anniversary celebration of the Zulu Nation, which was held at the National Black Theater in Harlem last November, drew a standing-room-only crowd with artists like KRS-One, Grand Master Flash, C&C Music Factory, the Cold Crush Brothers, Wanda Dee, and others performing under a giant photo of the man himself, which doesn't technically make Bambaataa a cult leader but .... There's something about the Zulu Nation prayer -- "In the Name of the Force, who is the Source" -- that is almost as irresistible as Planet Rock
. If you're not already a convert, you've been warned.
Afrika Bambaataa performs on Saturday, Jan. 10, at Club Six with DJs Apollo, J-Boogie, Zeph, Ren the Vinyl Archaeologist, Platurn, and Michael Tello opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10-15; call 863-1221 or go to www.clubsix1.com
While the Swingin' Utters have long stood out as one of the most literate street-punk bands of any generation, their last two albums intimated a greater musical range and lyrical depth rising beneath the obligatory pissed and pocked surface. Long in coming, the side project known as Filthy Thieving Bastards is a release valve for all the poetry, philosophy, and sentiment undermining that rock-hard visage. In the FTBs, Utters vocalist Johnny Bonnel abandons his anthemic writing style and gives the Utters' ever-elegiac guitarist, Darius Koski, a run for his verse. "Your family tree high upon the hill/ Has lost its leaves when the wind was still/ A melody of retreads and broken quills/ Chivalry stacked from high to just might spill," Bonnel writes in the surprisingly sanguine "Death Is Not the End." But, of course, Koski ups the ante: "The old man gave me something/ I guess he gave me something strong/ A taste for all my vices/ And disdain for all I'd done," says he in "Bitter Old Son." Never mind that Bonnel's grizzled voice still seems half-spent on Lucky Strikes and whiskey: It's the proper sound in music in which impoverished souls are redeemed only by the dulcet strains of violin, accordion, piano, mandolin, and pedal steel. While taking ample aural cues from Brits the likes of Shane MacGowan, Billy Bragg, and Slade the Leveller, the Filthy Thieving Bastards (rounded out by Utters bassist Spike Slawson, Camper Van Beethoven guitarist Greg Lisher, and producer Randy Burk on drums) nevertheless direct their eyes home, finding strength and despair from Hunters Point to Nob Hill, reminding us that this was once wide-open, lonely land. The Filthy Thieving Bastards support Throw Rag at "Incredibly Strange Wrestling" on Sunday, Jan. 11, at the DNA Lounge. The Rock 'n' Roll Adventure Kids open with bouts including El Homo Loco, the Mexican Viking, 69 Degrees, El Pollo Diablo, Rasputiny, and Jesus Cross at 9 p.m. Allan Bolte and Blag the Ripper (of the Dwarves) announce. Tickets are $16-18; call 626-1409 or go to www.dnalounge.com.