Hip Hop History 101: Afrika Bambaataa Breaks Down the History of the Universal Zulu Nation

Afrika Bambaataa breaks down the history of the Universal Zulu Nation




by – Davey D

First thing we wanna do is offer up our congratulations to Hip Hop’s
oldest and largest organization, the Universal Zulu Nation. They are
set to celebrate their 29th Anniversary this weekend [November 8-10]
where they will be paying tribute to soul music and funk music God
fathers, Sly Stone, James Brown, and George Clinton. They will also
pay tribute to Hip Hop’s seminal figures Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster
and Afrika Bambaataa.. For those who are unfamiliar with the
Zulu Nation, they began as an organization founded by Afrika Bambaataa
at Stevenson High School in the Bronx. Back than it was simply known
as ‘The Organization’.

Bam who once lived the gang lifestyle and was a Gang Lord was trying
to change his ways and saw the newly formed group as a way out. Bam
who was known for reading and staying up on the teachings of Elijah
Muhammad and other African American leaders, changed the name to Zulu
Nation after watching a movie of the same name that told the tale of
the well known South African tribe.. Bam was inspired by their
resistance to Dutch settlers. As Hip Hop became popular, the group
became known as the Mighty Zulu Nation and as later the Universal Zulu

The story behind the evolution of UZN is significant. Back in the
days Zulu’s struck fear in many who lived outside of their Bronx River
Housing Project strong hold. While they gave birth to Hip Hop’s first
B-Boys and B-Girls, the group for the most part was made up of former
gang members. Many of them from the Notorious Black Spades which once
reigned terror throughout the Bronx in the early to mid 70s. It used
to be a really big deal for cats to hang out at Bronx River and not
get stuck up. It was a sign of toughness and brought much prestige.

Many of the early crews tried to associate themselves with Zulu Nation
for protection from roving bands of stick up kids and other gangs
turned crew. It was in this backdrop that Bambaataa and other
conscious brothers spent a lot of time teaching and preaching and
working with Zulu members to bring about positive change. Bam often
talks about how he would do simple things like bestow titles like
‘King’ and ‘Queen’ upon Zulu members in an attempt to instill pride
and confidence. His feeling was that if you treated people like
royalty then they would turn around and act like royalty in their
actions. As Bam’s recording career blew up, he saw too it that many
of folks who were from the streets got an opportunity to go on tour
with him and the Soul Sonic Force. Sometimes they were employed as
roadies. Other times they worked as security. Again Bam’s main
objective was to see to it that local cats got a chance to see there
was a much bigger world outside the Bronx.

Change didn’t happen over night, but today the testament to all that
hard work is the fact that there are vibrant Zulu chapters in more
than 20 countries all over the world with estimated membership of over
10 thousand. They have come to embrace and preserve Hip Hop’s key
elements and have exemplified what is often considered Hip Hop’s 5th

To me the beauty of it all is seeing what was once considered a
‘ruthless gang’ evolve’ to a group that has strived and succeeded in
serving the community. There are all sorts of stories about Zulus
ridding their housing projects of drug dealers and many of the older
guys spending time mentoring younger people. There are stories about
Zulus escorting women to and from their apartments as well as looking
out and helping those in need. This of course is in addition to
various Zulu chapters that have involved themselves in local politics
including the fight to Free Mumia and get him a new trial. We also
can not overlook the fact that it was Zulu Nation members who put out
some of Hip Hop’s first records as well as among the first to
establish Hip Hop’s first radio shows. Who could forget Zulu Beats
with Afrika Islam on WHBI. It’s a shame that there hasn’t been more
of a public celebration and acknowledgment of this organization and
its accomplishments. In any case, props to them on their 29th
anniversary.. For more information and a run down of this week’s
schedule check out…http://www.zulunation.com/events.html

by Davey D
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