Afrika Islam
Interview by DJ C Edited By Cee For (from website: www.urbanflavours.com.au/...frika.htm)
DJ Cee: Tell me about the Bosco Mezko, ultimate beats and breaks.

Afrika Islam: Yeah, fusion beats. That’s the first record I ever did, I did it in my bedroom. Bambaataa asked me to make a plate, for the Zulu Nation, for what we had to do, and I did it on a pause button, on a cassette tape.

DJ Cee: And that’s how the whole ‘Ultimates’ and ‘Streets Sounds’ ame about?

Afrika Islam: Right, because we were playing plates, we were playing dub plates. They were kind of like a secret weapon. You could take all the records you had, and it wasn’t a matter of Pro Tools and all the technology they didn’t have then, you had to do what you had to do. It was either like splicing tape or pause buttons,
I chose to use the pause button, it was more accurate and accessible. So you got the first couple of dub plates coming from the ghetto style, but it’s lived on I guess.

DJ Cee: But when ‘Ultimates’ came out you guys weren’t happy?

Afrika Islam: I wasn’t happy, not necessarily ‘you guys’. Bambaataa was thrilled, because it was all his records. They were secret records to me, sorry, simple as that. Those records were secret, they were Zulu records. Those are the records we used when Flash battled Bambaataa who battled Herc who battled Theodore. When the Big 3, everything was on your records, your technique, so records were everything. So when they started coming out, I was happy only because we could get new copies and we didn’t have to use the originals, but I was totally sad that other sucker DJ’s worldwide, who wanted to get into the culture, were able to acquire records that we cut. And all of a sudden they were using them and they started going into the studios using them, they gave them to the world to use, and it wasn’t a ‘world’ thing, I believe.

DJ Cee: What were the big clubs in New York in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s?

Afrika Islam: The Black Door, the T Connection, the Bronx River Centre, the home of hip hop, the home of gods, Herc had a place called The Heavilow , and a lot of clubs, quite honestly, were outside venues. There was also Harlem World, the Celebrity Club, there was also the place that Malcolm X got shot, we actually partied there, the Autobarn Ballroom. We had Hip Hop parties there, and I had no idea I was on the same stage where he died. But you now, that’s where the parties were being done. Then they went further downtown to Manhattan from the uptown parties in the Bronx, like McGrills and then the Roxies . The Roxies as a club in New York City spun off by a lady by the name of Kool Lady Blue. That club was actually themecca that brought together Andy Warhol, Bianaca Jagger and Horstens , Keith Herring and Jean Michele Bastant , along with the graffiti artists that were going at that time, and the breakdancers like the Rock Steady Crew. It’s the place where DST meets Herbie Hancock. It was actually the home club for Madonna, so she came from the Roxies as well. So you know, Buffalo Girls, Supreme Team, it was the first place Run DMC played, the first place the Fat Boys played. It was about 4000 people, it was a huge roller skating rink that turned into a club on a Friday and Saturday night.

DJ Cee: The DJ’s, going back to the ‘70’s…

Afrika Islam: Going back to the ‘70’s, my forefathers, those that were pre- the word Hip Hop, like Grandmaster Flowers, P DJ Jones, Disco King Mario, and it was Kool Dee and Tyrone, there was also Love Bug Starski. Because all the style that Fatman Scoop has and basically what I took was really from Love Bug Starski coming out with that DJ rocking the mic stuff. There was Cassonova Fly which became Grandmaster Caz and the Cold Crush, of course there was Herc at that particular time. But I guess the biggest at the time were Grandmaster Flowers and P DJ Jones, there was also Reggie Wells, and these were R&B club DJs that took their sound systems to the park. (Beep of a mobile phone in background). That’s my Dad, that’s Afrika Bambaataa paging me, telling me I left somebody out.

DJ Cee: Tell us about your Dad, Afrika Bambaataa. And didn’t you program the drums on ‘Planet Rock’?

Afrika Islam: I programmed the drums on the 808 which he gave me, he asked me to do it off of a King Shorty record, which was a calypso record. And I just tried to get the feeling of what the calypso rhythm was, and I knew where he was coming from, that’s why the soca records that we were playing that were so uplifting and brought in this magical style, that’s where that boom, boom-boom-boom boom (beat boxes) came from, that’s calypso. That’s what happened. Now when it got taken out of my hands and you add in the synthetiser and King Arthur, Arthur Baker puts his funk on top of it, you get the match of that beat along with Super Sperm beat, along with Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans Europe Express’, I guess we put a little funk into Kraftwerk. But Kraftwerk was always a part of the Hip Hop culture, and people should always realise that. That electronic music from Dusseldorf, Germany affected us kids in the South Bronx, I guess we knew that they were funky and maybe half of the world didn’t understand it.

DJ Cee: What about your radio show in the early ‘80’s? Did DJ Red Alert used to work for you?

Afrika Islam: Well, I can’t say he worked for me but he was my assistant. It was called the Zulu Beat show, and it was the first Hip Hop show on radio, only because we played pure Hip Hop. What I did, I got on the air because of a guy by the name of Earl Chin, who was on a station called WHBI which was a language station. Different ethnic groups had their own shows on, so he put me on the air, it became the Zulu Beat show, I put on live Hip Hop like the battles between Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee Starski, or the Cold Crush Brothers against Fantastic Romantic. I put on real Hip Hop, it wasn’t like I was playing Hip Hop records. I put on pure Hip Hop. Rock Steady Crew battling the New York City Breakers, the musicthat was being played, so that’s what I put on. And then a couple of Hip Hop records that were considered Hip Hop records, but just were breaks and some of our favourite records, like a fusion beat record, which was cut up and edited and made for radio to sound like a mix. Because at that time, radio stations had huge turntables, that had stop and start buttons, and the control centre looked like something out of a 1964 science fiction movie, with big knobs and everything.

So that’s what the Zulu Beat was, and we caught Mr. Magic by maybe three or four months before he got on the air. Now Mr. Magic was on the air but it wasn’t the Rap Attack, he was doing his show on the air but it was playing R&B. Mr. Magic was from Brooklyn, where it was much smoother and onto an R&B type feel, and we played raw Hip Hop. We’re from the Bronx, he’s from Brooklyn, that’s what happened. Yes, Red Alert was my assistant, he went on to do Kiss FM, Mr. Magic went onto do the Rap Attack on WBLS, and I went to LA to do Ice-T.

DJ Cee: What were the big radio stations in LA?

Afrika Islam: They had KDAY, it was full 24 hour Hip Hop and funk. They played everything from Zapp to James Brown, from Egyptian Lover, Unknown DJ, they played Lakeside, they were playing Shalamar, and they were playing all of that, plus the funk, the dancesongs that were more prominent, like the Lisa Lisa and Cult james, they were playing all of that on KDAY. I didn’t get there until the mid-‘80’s, but KDAY must have been on the air before I got there. They played all Hip Hop, all the time radio, and all elements of the Hip Hop scene, or Hip Hop music, the slow records, the fast records, everything.

DJ Cee: Electro?

Afrika Islam: Electro funk, booty music, people have different terminologies for it, but its all a part of Hip Hop.

DJ Cee: How did the West Coast embrace you, especially due to the cultural differences from coast to coast of the States?

Afrika Islam: Most of their records were based off of ‘Planet Rock’, so they took it like I was king. And I taught Egyptian Lover how to program, and everything he programmed after that was based on ‘Planet Rock’ anyway. The same thing with Luke and Marquis down in Miami, the 2 Live Crew, that’s off of ‘Planet Rock’ too. ‘Whoomp (There It Is)’ was based off it too. The uptempo records happen simply because it was in hotter climates, and when you have the hotter climates, people want to dance uptempo

It wasn’t until we did ‘6 In The Morning’ that we brought the beat down, but that song came with a rap that was about the police coming to your house at six in the morning to raid your house to take you to jail. It was about a guy named Larry Davis, which is a true story, the cops came to his house and he shot back. But Ice rapped about a story that was based partially on something that happened in New York City, so when the record came out, people assumed it was about Larry Davis shooting three police officers and getting away. Therefore, that’s how Ice got accepted. It was one of the first records that really had a negative connotation to it, like ‘We’re gonna beat the bitch down in the @#%$ streets’, noone said that, most people were shocked to hear that. Before then, everything was Doug E Fresh, The Show, Kurtis Blow, it was more happy records. The only meaningful record at that time was ‘The Message’, Melle Mel.

DJ Cee: Tell me about how you hooked Dr. Dre and Eazy E up with a beat machine?

Afrika Islam: They were the Wrecking Crew at that time, it wasn’t really Eazy E coming into this gangsterism, when Ice did it, then Eazy started shooting over to do it. I had a DMX (beat machine), I gave the DMX to Eazy, and me and Dre were friends because we were DJ’s. If you listen to the beats it’s kind of obvious, ‘6 In The Morning’ was ‘Dopeman, Dopeman’ which was ‘Gangsta, Gangsta’. Same beat. But that’s what friends are for, that’s just the way history is, but if I get credited for gangsta rap or if Dre gets credited for it, it’s the way the West Coast was. I saw it what saw it for. My team was Ice-T and the Rhyme Syndicate, Zulu Nation, and Dre’s team was, you know as he created, was NWA. You have the G-Funk and the gangsta rap that came from the West Coast, but you also have Too Short in Oakland that was talking pimp stories all the time. So he was down tempo at the same time, so it wasn’t just us. It seems like Master P took from the same mixing pot, and Sir Mix-a-Lot took from the up tempo mixing pot. So a lot of the influences, at least I had something to do with it because of the ‘Planet Rock’ aspect.

DJ Cee: What ended up happening with the West Coast community, is it united or are they just in it for the money?

Afrika Islam: At this point, this is the generation where Snoop has TV shows and Dre is a millionaire and living on his past merits, which is great, and they’re giving him a lifetime achievement award and he’s probably only 39 or something. You have Eazy E and Tupac unfortunately being dead. You also have two or three radio stations on the air that all play Hip Hop and R&B, you have Cube doing his movies, so it’s kind of set now. So you have people that have grown and diversified into different aspects of the business, because they filled places and voids that other people weren’t doing at that particular time. And then you have all these other artists that want to be recognised and want to get into the music scene. So I can say, collectively, they’ve done a great job in putting in the administration and making it happen, and there are just a lot of artists in America that want to be recognised, West Coast, East Coast and definitely down South. I give it up right now to the South, they have the image now, the light is on them. It’s from New York, it shined from there to the West Coast, and it shined down South, and that’s where it’s supposed to shine right now. It’s time for it to shine in Australia and Berlin, and Japan, and eventually those markets are shining themselves, so we want to welcome those markets into the world as well.

DJ Cee: Tell me about Flash and how he changed his name?

Afrika Islam: Well he was DJ Flash and then when he got together with the three MC’s, which was Melle Mel, Kid Creole and Cowboy, they were the ones as a unit who created this ‘Clap your hands to the beat, throw your hands in the air, somebody say Ho!’. They did it, they invented it, it was part of their songs, part of their routines. But if it wasn’t for them saying Flash’s name, he wouldn’t have been known, he would have been an unknown DJ. Even though he was DJing as DJ Flash and the Disco B, it was Flash and his partner that did all the parties. There’s a theory about the Grandmaster thing. It was because there was a Grandmaster Flowers, he was a big DJ that had a big sound system, he was from Brooklyn. There was another sound system, The Disco Twins, they were from Queens. Then it was P DJ Jones and he brought out his system. So Flowers and Flash played together, I believe, and that was where the Grandmasterthing came from. Either way, no matter how he got to be Grandmaster, he’s my Grandmaster, because he’s the one who actually taught me how to do the spinbacks and the pitty pats and the scratch, he taught me that.

DJ Cee: With your background and history, you should be up there with Flash and be as big as he is.

Afrika Islam: A I wasn’t into the recording and everything, as far as being a DJ, you know Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. I was the go-to man, Bam was the leader of the Nation and I followed what had to be done, and Ice was the leader of the West Coast Rhyme Syndicate/Zulu Nation, that’s my partner, and I had to make sure I had everything in order for the unit to run. Being second in command didn’t bother me, but sometimes I had to wear many hats and change positions, but the work got done. I can produce, I do have the Grammy’s, I do have the Oscar’s. I’ve been able to change different hats and do Mr. X with Westbam in Germany, which is techno and electro and bringing that back, I’ve been able to do something called the Black Pimps with Tyreed Cooper (?), who’s one of the greatest Hip House DJ’s of Chicago. I’ve done a couple o of things. I’ve teamed up with the big boys in Melbourne, teamed up with my boys from the Soul District. How can anybody be mad at the career that I’ve had? I’m gonna see my teacher, I’ll let him know ‘thank you very much’ in a humble way.


Kevin Sekweyama (ksekweyama@hotmail.com )