Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
  And It Don't Stop
  Book Reports
  Is It Still Good to Ya?
  Going Into the City
  Consumer Guide: 90s
  Grown Up All Wrong
  Consumer Guide: 80s
  Consumer Guide: 70s
  Any Old Way You Choose It
  Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Xgau Sez
  And It Don't Stop
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Rolling Stone
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
Web Site:
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell:
  Carola's Website
CG Search:
Google Search:

Do the Do

Afrika Bambaataa is not universally admired on the frenetically competitive hip-hop scene. "What does he do?" skeptics ask, and not without reason. He's not much of a rapper or singer, although he's done both. He's not renowned as a writer or producer or arranger, although he has credits on some fine records. And although his deejaying has no equal for sheer catholicity of taste, he's not a premier scratcher or mixer.

But even those who don't admire Bam generally agree that they like him, and on the frenetically competitive hip-hop scene, that's an achievement. Polite, soft-spoken, even shy, he has a reputation for fairness. Through his involvement with the Roxy and the breakthrough hit "Planet Rock," the public-spiritedness at the heart of his Zulu Nation philosophy has multiplied. "Bambaataa's not so much a chief as a big man," is how one admirer described it. "Instead of centralizing wealth he recirculates it."

Though it may be true that Bambaataa doesn't do anything, it's worth remembering that the same charge has been leveled at one of his heroes, P-Funk's George Clinton. And auteurists should note that, almost alone among rap groups, the ones Bam works, with--Soul Sonic Force, Shango, Time Zone--avoid the male-bonded boasting that provides so much of the style's emotional energy. May his spirit prosper.

Village Voice, Jan. 3, 1984