Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Afrika Bambaataa/Zulu Nation/Cosmic Force [extended]

  • "Zulu Nation Throw Down" [Paul Winley 12-inch, 1981] A-
  • Planet Rock -- The Album [Tommy Boy, 1986] A-
  • Beware (The Funk Is Everywhere) [Tommy Boy, 1986] B
  • The Light [Capitol, 1988] B
  • Looking for the Perfect Beat 1980-1985 [Tommy Boy, 2001] A-
  • Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light [Tommy Boy, 2004] **

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

"Zulu Nation Throw Down" [Paul Winley 12-inch, 1981]
Half jingly song-chant and half rap, this starts out so flat that even the rap sounds off-key. But soon the harmonies begin to seem natural, as in "ethnic" music tuned to its own scale, or maybe Kleenex/Liliput. And Lisa Lee, resident young lay-dee of this "Funkadelic of the microphone," must have been a tobacco auctioneer in some earlier lifetime, and a Shirelle after that. Virtually irresistible. A-

Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force: Planet Rock -- The Album [Tommy Boy, 1986]
In retrospect, the sheer dumb catchiness of the Kraftwerk hook sweetens one's love-feh relationship with the title tune, and the way "Lookin' for the Perfect Beat" digests, funkifies, and elaborates the winning earnestness of "Planet Rock"'s technofuturism was electrohop's transcendent moment. With the ambitious but unconvincing "Renegades of Funk" filling out side one, you'd figure this for a convenient way to store two classics. But though side two does skip both Bam-Brown's "Unity" and Bam-Rotten's "World Destruction" (because neither bear the Soulsonic Force name, I suppose), two of the previously unreleased tracks are anything but filler. And while one features Melle Mel/Doug Wimbish and the other Trouble Funk, nobody ever said Bam doesn't need help, least of all Bam--there isn't a more public-spirited natural leader on the frenetically competitive rap scene. Which is probably why his groups avoid the male-bonded braggadocio that supplies so much of rap's emotional energy. A-

Afrika Bambaataa and Family: Beware (The Funk Is Everywhere) [Tommy Boy, 1986]
Selected producers cut Bam's electro leanings with the prescribed heavy guitars, and musically this tops the UTFO albums, say. But neither leader nor followers give up the rhythms or reasons of a ranking MC, and I'm grieved to report that only "Kick Out the Jams" overcomes the formlessness of personality his detractors have always charged him with--it's got Bill Laswell all over it. B

Afrika Bambaataa and Family: The Light [Capitol, 1988]
No kind of sellout, not even a mishmash, just a great DJ trying to reproduce the anything-funky ambience of his parties, go go to reggae to disco to rap. Unfortunately, the ability to hear still ain't the ability to create. On the John Robie-coproduced disco side, "Reckless" (UB40 with dance hook) and "Something He Can Feel" (Nona Hendryx and Boy George back from limbo together for the first time) are pretty great; so's "World Racial War" (Professor Griff please copy) on the Bill Laswell-coproduced funk side. None of them saves the party from approaching mishmash. B

Afrika Bambaataa: Looking for the Perfect Beat 1980-1985 [Tommy Boy, 2001]
What's the name of this nation? Zulu, Zulu. I've never loved electro like Bam the Prophet and miss J. Lydon's "World Destruction," but here at the irreducible least are two of the greatest records of the '80s. The 1982 Arthur Baker space jam "Looking for the Perfect Beat" you know: synth figures and drum rumbles and startling scratches echoing a hooky title cadence that's varied and layered around everyday rapping--rapping that finds all the earth it needs in the patch of grass outside the rec room. Cosmic Force's "Zulu Nation Throwdown" you've maybe read about: floating over its clattering trap set and nothing-but-a-disco rhyme-trading on Lisa Lee's spunky minute of fame, it defines the inspired innocence of first-generation old-school and allows me to retire the 1980 Paul Winley 12-inch that's been my most-played vinyl since I went digital. Cosmic Force disappeared posthaste, replaced by the likable Soul Sonic Force, who pass the mic on tracks that range from competent to classic and invite James Brown and Melle Mel to the party. But I'll never forget "These are the devastating words that you never heard before/I'm Lisa Lee, huh/I got rhymes galore/So young ladies out there and from the heavens above . . . " And now here comes Chubby Chubb. Lisa Lee is gone forever, and so are her girlish ways. A-

Afrika Bambaataa and the Millennium of the Gods: Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light [Tommy Boy, 2004]
Electro party for the party's sake, like back in the day ("Got That Vibe," "Take You Back"). **