Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force "PLANET ROCK - THE ALBUM" (Tommy Boy Records, 1986)

Afrika Bambaataa, founding member of a New York street gang, who changed his lifestyle after a visit to Africa, gathered hip hop artists in the 70s to form the Zulu Nation. He started DJing on block parties and finally produced the single "Zulu Nation Throwdown" in 1980. In 1982 he released "Planet Rock", a single that (along with Grandmaster Flash's "The Message") became the first big hit of hip hop. The 1986 album with the same name contained two more previously released 12"s and some new tracks. Bam was responsible for records throughout the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, collaborating with different artists like James Brown, George Clinton, Westbam and Gary Newman. Up to today his music exerted influence not just on the hip hop culture, but on many modern electronical styles as well.

Please not that I reviewed the 2005 CD release and I do not know how big the sound differences are to the original material.

PLANET ROCK Very minimal electro beat and hardly a bass. Bam seems to get inspired by a wide range of musical styles, and here he borrowed some from Kraftwerk's "Trans Europa Express" theme (and supposedly work from Ennio Morricone and Captain Sky-although I personally can't affirm that). Doesn't exactly catch one's ear nowadays but was a major influence and the first track of electro funk (I would call it the blue print for modern elektro). After the main part this 12" version provides with some instrumental beats for selfmade raps. 7.5

LOOKING FOR THE PERFECT BEAT With this track they added more synthies to their arrangements and also created some more short catchy themes, that just hook into your brain and haunt you for days. They screw around a lot with the raps, sounds and beats, drag them through vocoders, slice them in pieces and put them back together in a new order. Addictive party track that despite its length never gets boring. Besides: If it's on Mister Magic's playlist, it has to be real good... 9.0

RENEGADES OF FUNK Cool bass drum and rattling hihat dominate the opening. Then come in the brass samples and an Axel F like melody. The teachers of funk praise individuals who changed things, and with tracks like that they show that they are not just about music, but want to spread political and social messages. Change things. Like renegades. This track was later covered by Rage Against The Machine. 7.5

FRANTIC SITUATION One dominating snare here, that is not even distracted by Arthur Baker's sample mayhem. What I miss is a catchy theme, only at the end we are introduced to a synth melody with a fat bass, but unfortunatelly it is getting faded out very quickly. 6.0

WHO YOU FUNKIN' WITH? Starts with laughter and scratching. The rap dominates this hard, percussive piece and for a good part it does without support by bass or synthesizers. I like this weird mooop-sample that interferes with the raps from time to time. Later you get kind of a feverish chorus with a funky guitar and intimidating bass. Energetic dark trip. 8.5

GO GO POP Female vocals and cheering pop synthies start this piece to bring in some variety. Less raps, but the sound hacking continues. Freestyle disco hip hop with bongos, cowbells and a funky bass. 6.5

THEY MADE A MISTAKE Back to a more rap containing track. Hot tempered rhythm, dry bass and not much catchy melody phrases, although around the four minute mark I found a nice shy synth theme. Of course, just because it's the last track doesn't mean they wouldn't show us a little more of their ability to cut and paste beats and sounds. 6.5

[Artwork] The front cover is very 80s style and some funny mix of science fiction, Village People and Wrestlemania. The booklet of the CD gives us some historical notes about the development of the record and its influences and some ominous appeal that basically tells you to get your ass up and do something positive for the world (I hope writing this review does count). 7.5

Conclusion This record cannot be too highly praised for its influence on electronic music and hip hop/ rap records to this day. But the interesting thing is that it mostly still works today. Play "Looking For The Perfect Beat" on a party and you will get your dancefloor filled. Another achievement is that there are really a lot of things happening throughout the album. They just don't get tired to throw some new stuff into the mix and see what happens if you stretch and cut and filter and mutilate it. Great fun, epochal work. Overall Rating: 7.38

July 2007