Alain here – Thanks for tuning into the Sonic Collective! For the month of June, 2020 we continue our exploration of Hip-Hop, and once again, it’s my turn to choose our album. After Scott Coates pulled the rug out from under my feet in May by picking the same album I was planning to review (A Tribe Called Quest) I was at a bit of a loss for what album to pick. I consulted with one of my best friends, a guy who is very attuned to Hip-Hop culture and its fascinating history, and upon his recommendation, I landed on Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock: The Album.
We first need to talk about who Afrika Bambaataa is, to fully understand why this album is so significant.
Lance Taylor, AKA Afrika Bambaataa, got his start in the New York party scene back in 1977, where he DJ’d Hip-Hop parties, brushing shoulders with other legends, such as Grandmaster Flash. He vowed to use Hip-Hop to reach out to angry or disaffected youth, drawing them away from the trappings of gang life. Afrika Bambaataa founded the Universal Zulu Nation, a collective of socially and politically aware rappers, B-boys, graffiti artists and other people involved in the emerging hip hop culture. The goal of the Zulu Nation was to build a movement out of the creativity of the next generation of outcast youths with an authentic, liberating worldview. The Zulu Nation can be credited with spreading Hip-Hop music and culture via house parties, block parties, gym dances and mix tapes, further cementing it into the social zeitgeist.
Afrika Bambaataa was also the founder of the Soulsonic Force, which originally consisted of approximately 20 Zulu Nation members. The personnel for the Soulsonic Force were groups within groups with whom he would perform and make records. Records such as Planet Rock.
Released in 1986, Planet Rock: The Album was a cornerstone album and one of the earliest successes in the genre of Hip-Hop. It attained gold status and generated an entire school of “electro-boogie” rap and dance music in its wake. Rick Rubin once said of its titular track, “One of the most influential songs of everything. It changed the world. There hasn’t been a song like it in Hip-Hop since.” Slant Magazine awarded the album #84 on its list of Best Albums of the 1980s, and the track Renegades of Funk was once covered by Rage Against the Machine.
Fun fact: Kraftwerk members received songwriting credits on Planet Rock. Bambaataa was heavily inspired by the band’s futuristic sounding electronic music, and interpolated portions of Kraftwerk’s songs, including “Numbers” and “Trans-Europe Express”. I bring this up because Kraftwerk was one of my picks from way back in 2015, an album I chose to review based on how influential they were. It all comes full circle, my friends.
Enjoy Planet Rock: The Album, and check back at the end of the month to hear what we have to say about it.