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The Rehabilitation of Hip Hop Culture: Afrika Bambaataa

    The Rehabilitation of Hip Hop Culture:  Can Hip Hop Recover?   Part  3

    In The Rehabilitation of Hip Hop Culture:  Can Hip Hop Recover?  Part I and Part 2, I explored The 12 Steps for Hip Hop Recovery, concepts that could increase unity within the hip hop culture so it could return to the culture that Afrika Bambaataa created. To enhance your enjoyment of this series, I recommend that you read the segments in succession or, at least, read “the 12 Steps” by clicking here.

    Step – 2  We came to believe that our ability to educate and empower youths and adults around the world depends on our unity, and that unity depends on members of the hip hop culture respecting each other despite differences and personal preferences.

    Empowering and educating people worldwide seems like a lofty goal for the hip hop culture until you consider that  a)  there are vibrant hip hop cultures in many countries throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa  b)  the internet has made it possible for members of the hip hop culture all over the world to communicate with each other (a “gift and a curse” that will be discussed throughout this series)  c) hip hop’s ability to influence is demonstrated by corporations who use it to influence behavior of young people in this country. The only thing that could prevent hip hop from reaching and influencing people all over the world would be its lack of unity, but the hip hop culture in the United States could be an example of the type of unity needed by learning to respect each other and work together despite our differences.

    Unity is necessary for groups to function effectively, and this happens when group members are in agreement and work together. When individuals with different personalities and preferences join together to form a group, their only hope of functioning effectively is if they share an attitude of “what’s best for the group is what’s best for me.” This is also true for the hip hop culture, as its ability to function effectively depends on members “getting past” their differences and doing what’s best for the culture.

    Getting large numbers of people from different races and cultures to work toward a common goal can be difficult, but it’s exactly what Afrika Bambaataa did when he founded the hip hop culture and the Zulu Nation. We should emulate some of the strategies he used so we could increase the size of the hip hop culture, increase unity among its members, and increase members’ support of each other.

    Before founding hip hop culture and the Zulu Nation, Bambaataa was a warlord of the Black Spades, the largest street gang in the South Bronx in the 1970s, and although neither of these cultures are gangs, you can see how Bambaataa’s experiences as a gang member influenced their development. One such influence is the need for “numbers” (many people), as one meaning of Zulu is “strength in numbers.” As a warlord, Bambaataa was responsible for increasing the size of the gang, and it’s no coincidence that the Zulu Nation and hip hop culture have members all over the world.

    Bambaataa was known to forge relationships with other gangs, and he regularly crossed turf lines to recruit new members. Getting recruits from across turf lines resulted in some members being from different races and having different cultures, but Bambaataa’s leadership promoted unity which caused these members to “do what was best for the gang.” In lyrics from his song South Bronx, KRS ONE detailed an example of this leadership, as “remember Bronx River rollin thick” describes how many people from the Bronx River Projects traveled to other places with Bambaataa when he threw parties.

    Bambaataa also had the ability to instantly get up to 400 gang members to “move out” (attack) if he needed to, and this brings us to another type of unity that’s needed in the hip hop culture – the type of unity that involves members of the culture supporting, protecting, and, if necessary, “taking up for” each other. This type of unity is sorely needed because sending the message that there will be consequences for “fuckin wit” members of the hip hop culture can serve as a deterrent from attacks from outside and within culture. Now if you think that this is an extreme point of view, consider that another aspect of the Zulu Nation that was influenced by gangs is its belief about the use of violence for self-protection, which is “…we are at peace with those who are at peace with us, but if we are attacked by an aggressor or oppressor, then we believe and are taught that we should fight…”

    More and more recently, I’ve seen rap artists come under attack without members of the hip hop culture “coming to their defense.” In many of these instances, the attacks on rap artists have come from other members of the hip hop culture! This is ridiculous, and it’s something I couldn’t imagine Bambaataa allowing to happen.

    The disrespect of rap artists by other members of the hip hop culture may be the result of members of the culture being unable to accept each other’s differences and preferences. This intolerance can result in members disliking rap artists for reasons that include the artist(s) not being “lyrical,” the artist(s) glorifying violence, materialism, and misogyny, or the artist(s) only being concerned with earning money and too cowardly to speak up on social issues.

    Examples of some rap artists who’ve been attacked recently are Bobby Shmurda, Lil’ Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, Chief Keef, Lil Boosie, Gucci Mane, Kanye West, and Jay Z, and these attacks have come from outside and within the hip hop culture. Since these artists are members of the hip hop culture, they deserve our respect no matter what you think about them (personally) or their artistic expression.

    In lyrics from his song Dear Summer, Jay Z spit, “they like the drunk uncle in your family/you know they lame, you feel ashamed/but you love him the same,” and these lyrics describe the unconditional love that people have for family members. Members of the hip hop culture need to show the same kind of love (and respect) for each other, and we also need to “ride with each other” when we’re attacked because an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. Now if a member’s behavior is bringing harm or disrespect to the hip hop culture, this behavior should be addressed in a respectful and preferably private manner.

    Increasing unity within the hip hop culture will improve its ability to bring positive change worldwide, and it will help the culture recover or return to a former (and better) condition when it promoted peace, unity, love, and having fun. The culture still needs to be recovered from those who stole it and are using it in destructive ways, and in fact, before hip hop culture can educate and empower anyone, it has to be educated and empowered so it can emancipate itself from the control of corporations.

    The process of educating and empowering the hip hop culture will be discussed in the next segment of his series that explores Step 3 – We stopped blaming others for hip hop’s condition and committed ourselves to working together to recover the culture from those who currently control it.

    This article was influenced by concepts from the Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous Programs. The article was also influenced by the biography of Afrika Bambaataa and concepts from The Laws of the Universal Zulu Nation and The Infinity Lessons of Universal Zulu Nation.

    Ronald Crawford is a mental health professional and author of Who’s the Best Rapper? Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas that uses an analysis of rap lyrics to teach social skills. Connect with him on facebook or at [email protected] Books are available at