Afrika Bambaataa Soulsonic Force|Afrika Bambaataa and Family 

Planet Rock: The Album|Beware (The Funk Is Everywhere)

In 1983, a former gang warlord transformed himself into a peaceful funk avatar, hip-hop pioneer, and DJ extraordinaire named Afrika Bambaataa and teamed up with the emcee crew SoulSonic Force (Pow Wow, Mr. Biggs, and G.L.O.B.E.) to release "Planet Rock". The 120 BPM masterpiece combined Kraftwerk and Morricone melodies, neo-tribal vocal chants, and metaphysical imagery to become one of the most influential records of the electronic age. That tune's immediate gravitas -- occupying a previously unrealized niche that somehow bridged Bronx B-boys with punky new wavers and downtown hipsters -- launched a pop culture revolution manifested by dancecore artists, West Coast urbanites, Detroit techno technicians, and Miami bassheads alike.

Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force would go on to release three more classic, almost-as-seminal singles: "Frantic Situation," "Looking for the Perfect Beat," and "Renegades of Funk," which all appear on Planet Rock: The Album (along with three lesser-known but still-funky tracks). But by the time 1986 rolled around, Bambaataa's revolution had already begat a counterinsurgency via new-schoolers like LL Cool J and Run-DMC, even as Bam attempted to broaden his reach by tinkering with DC go-go and hard-rock stylings. Beware (The Funk Is Everywhere) captures Bam at the peak of his celebrity, and while not utterly essential, even the weaker cuts could easily be added to 92.3's playlist today. And though it lacks the precise focus of Afrika's work with SoulSonic Force, Beware's two standouts, "Funk You" and "What Time Is It?", contrast skull-pounding electronic percussion-fests with old-schoolish raps from a seemingly endless list of Zulu Nation-affiliated rhymers. Bam's aspirations of global unity seem admirable in these pessimistic times, and though he never again equaled "Planet Rock," its techno-funk vibrations still reverberate today, in sources as disparate as Daft Punk and Lil' Jon.


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