Photo Courtesy of FDRMX
“It was a very simple beat at first,” said the 50’s emotional educational video voice. “The beat grew more complex….The cadence picked up…. the expression grew into a more refined art form: percussion.” The crowd cheers, excited and impatient for that beat to start. “It began… in Africa.” The crowd goes nuts, the tracks of DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist pick up and the voice goes on to introduce: “Now brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve been waiting for….The beat!” The audience is in full swing now as DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist begin their set designed to pay respect and homage to Afrika Bambaataa.
Last night at New York’s Irving Plaza, the Zulu Nation chief and hip-hop originator’s genre-creating vinyl records were brought back to life through the spin partners DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, with the guest of honor himself in attendance to make it even more sweet. What they had actually just played to open their first of three forty minute sets was an original demo pressing of “Looking for the Perfect Beat,” the hallowed flipside of “Planet Rock,” the 1982 hip-hop breakthrough single by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force. In fact, all of the vinyl spun that night were records that Bambaataa had given radio airtime to in the early 70’s and 80’s, broadcasting Sly and the Family Stone, Jackson 5, Kraftwerk, and other such soul classics across the Bronx. The tour’s name, Renegades of Rhythm, was derived from Bambaataa’s own “Renegades of Funk” jam from 1983. DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist managed to demonstrate how these throwback records could be unified with unexpectedly similar grooves, such as Sugar Hill’s “Rapper’s Delight,” that “Miami Beat,” and even Yes’s “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
The real significance of the Renegades of Rhythm tour was that it was a history lesson in the origins and evolution of hip-hop. Bambaataa grew up in the Bronx River Projects, with unlimited access to his mother’s records, and was exposed at an early age to her efforts to promote non-violence in a community flush with local gang culture. A black activist, his mother influenced Bambaataa greatly, as he joined the Zulu Nation, taking his name from a Zulu chief who was prominent in South Africa’s early anti-apartheid efforts. The man himself watched the show from the balcony, and at the end came down to the stage to take a bow and salute DJ Shadow’s and Cut Chemist’s work.
Fans were stoked beyond belief. “Best gig of my life! Afrika Bambaataa was here, there were beat boys – can you ask for anything better?!” said Daniel, 28, from New Zealand. Stella, 31, from Brazil said, “I liked Shadow talking about Bambaataa and how he’s a fan, and I love both, so it was great to see Bambaataa.”
DJ Shadow (aka Josh Davis) and Cut Chemist (Lucas McFadden), two white turntable masters from California, felt it was not only right but necessary to do at least one show from their Afrika Bambaataa (Kevin Donovan) tribute tour in New York, and they managed two consecutive nights at Irving Plaza. If you missed them this time, never fear, you can catch them at their next stop, or any of the fifteen planned show dates left for the Renegades of Rhythm tour. Fans of these two should also check out the opening spin duo, Paten Locke and Edan, who successfully reved the audience up enough to get them dancing even before the headliners hit the stage.