November 27, 2012

D.J. Bambaataa Lauds Cornell’s Hip Hop Archives

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D.J. Afrika Bambaataa, who was recently appointed to a three-year term as the University’s first ever visiting hip hop scholar, made his first appearance at Cornell since his appointment Tuesday. Along with hip hop dancer Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón, photographer Joe Conzo and moderator D.J. Rich Medina ’92, Bambaataa discussed the origins of hip hop and stressed the importance of maintaining the University Library’s hip hop archives.

As a visiting scholar, Bambaataa will visit campus several times a year to meet students and faculty, give lectures about hip hop culture and conduct performances. Bambaataa is credited as one of the founders of hip hop culture and is a nominee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, according to the University.

During his talk, Bambaataa argued that, despite many people’s assumptions that hip hop originated during the 1970s and 1980s, its rap music component came frommusical genres long before this time.

“Most people don’t know that rap has always been there,” Bambaataa said. “It has come in many different forms throughout our lifetime, and many of the songs that you might have heard before … may have just been the hip hop of that era or that time.”

Bambaataa said he was heavily influenced by several youth movements and street gangs of his time, citing the Black Panthers, the Weathermen activist group and the Black Spades, the latter of which he later joined. He credited the movie Zulu as the inspiration for his establishment in the 1970s of the Universal Zulu Nation, an organization for rappers, artists, dancers and others involved in hip hop.

Prof. James Turner, Africana studies, who introduced Medina, praised the University’s appointment of Bambaataa, saying it will help Cornell preserve the history of hip hop in its archives.

“[The Kroch Library staff’s] vision and commitment in going after this incomparable hip hop collection … on its own would be worthy of high commendation, but to companion the acquiring of the collection with attracting the legendary … Afrika Bambaataa to Cornell as a visiting scholar is an extraordinary achievement,” he said. “Maintaining the hip hop archives is critical to maintaining the hip hop legacy.”

Medina, who now serves on the advisory board for the hip hop collection at Cornell, called Bambaataa a “national treasure.” He credited Bambaataa with inspiring him to pursue a career in disc jockeying.

After graduating from Cornell with honors, Medina pursued a career in business, but he said he soon found that hip hop was his true calling.

Crazy Legs, a break dancer on the panel, is renowned for serving as the president of the esteemed Rock Steady Crew and for his community outreach. Crazy Legs said that, in addition to being influenced by Bambaataa’s work, he was introduced to hip hop culture through “jam sessions” at his home as a child.

“We would come into our house after playing all day, we’d be tired and dirty, and we’d hear this music and start doing the bus stop, which is the ‘Electric Slide’ now,” he said. “But as bad as it was, the music was all we really had as far as bonding and coming together with each other.”

According to Medina, Conzo is famous for taking the “baby pictures of hip hop,” many of which can be found in the Cornell hip hop archives.

Conzo said that he was introduced to hip hop culture accidentally when he began photographing emerging hip hop artists and developing the film by hand in a makeshift darkroom in his parents’ bathroom.

“I was into disco at the time, to be honest, and I tell people that I was kidnapped into this culture of hip hop before it was called hip hop,” he said. “What blew me away was hearing these teenagers, my peers, playing my father and mother’s records that I heard them play at home, but playing it their way.”

Following the lecture, Bambaataa and Medina performed a live show at the The Haunt nightclub in downtown Ithaca.

At the conclusion of the lecture, Bambaataa stressed the personal connection he feels to the hip hop genre.

“I just feel humbled,” Bambaataa said. “There is honor to be recognized and I hope that many more [artists] will be recognized.”

Original Author: Lauren Avery