“It is not titles that honor men, but men that honor titles”. - Niccolo Machiavelli
Hip-Hop is an art for the youth, by the youth. If they are not safe, then Hip-Hop itself is not safe. This is an art that comes from the streets. I do not expect angelic behavior from all of its participants. If anything Hip-Hop teaches you about your own moral compass. Language and actions that you might think are unacceptable, I may not worry about or vice versa. Ultimately I believe that if the elders in Hip-Hop have the title of leaders, teachers, mentors and protectors of the community at large we have a duty to the youth that is greater than other alliances with adults. That is the case here. I don’t like Bill Cosby, but I love comedy forever. I don’t know what is going on with Afrika Bambaataa, but I will love Hip-Hop forever.
Today I want to formally resign from the Universal Zulu Nation (UZN). If you don’t know what the Universal Zulu Nation is I can only say: It is an organization that founded and organized what you know now as Hip-Hop. They have been the keepers and the custodians of the subculture since the early 1970’s. They have united many people across the world under the banner of Hip-Hop and they have been instrumental in negotiating peace treaties between rappers and other street organizations. It is impossible to quantify their value to the world of music, dance, art, or fashion- let alone the rap industry. So much of what you know, or what you think you know about Hip-Hop simply does not happen without the UZN. The founder of the UZN is Afrika Bambaataa. He is also known under the title The Amen Ra of Hip-Hop.
Recently many allegations from various individuals have named Afrika Bambaataa as a sexual predator. The things he has been accused of are not anything I plan to repeat right now. You can look them up for yourself.
I have been a public supporter and member since the early 1990’s. I have learned a lot from the UZN and been helped by the UZN on various levels over the years.
For the record, I do not know for sure that he is guilty of the accusations made against him. Anyone following these accusations against him can tell you it is very painful, bizarre and sad on many levels. It is also evolving in sporadic jumps and it is hard to keep track of things. As someone who runs a youth organization (the Hip-Hop Chess Federation Inc.) I must err on the side of protecting the youth even if I am not 100% certain Afrika Bambaataa is guilty. I want parents and children to know that I will always stand with them. They will always have my ear first. Virtually every cultural and spiritual tradition makes it a point to acknowledge the innocent and sacred nature of children. As someone who has worked with the youth for well over a decade, I cannot watch this in silence and consider myself a man of the people.
In April I dropped a book called Bobby, Bruce & Bam: The Secrets of Hip-Hop Chess. It is a book that highlights the connections of Hip-Hop, chess and martial arts as tools for self discovery and self mastery. I highlight a lot of other topics such as kids suffering from PTSD and how we can help them heal through music and chess.
Bobby Fischer, Bruce Lee and Afrika Bambaataa have stenciled images on the front cover as symbols of the roots of the fusion of the three art forms. I felt it was an honest tribute to their contributions to each art/sport. My book is the product of more than ten years of research and five years of direct work with at-risk, gang impacted and gang intentional youth in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and St. Louis.
He has personally helped me and I don’t want to be ungrateful, but I do not want to defend a child predator. That is what makes my separation from UZN painful but mandatory work.
I once interviewed Bambaataa for my book Lyrical Swords. I was on a panel with Afrika Bambaataa at Harvard University in 2001. About five years later I had a situation with KRS-One that almost led to a physical altercation at Stanford University. It got very intense on both sides. Were it not for the efforts of Shamako Noble, Davey D, Popmaster Fabel and the direct intervention of Africa Bambaataa the chances of one of us, or both of us getting hurt or worse was pretty certain. I have to say as a matter of record that I have spoken with Afrika Bambaataa on the phone only about 3-4 times. I have been in his presence about 2-3 times. There is nothing in any of my interactions with him that would lead me to believe that he has done the things he has been accused of. At the same time I have to admit that I never had enough consistent contact to know him on a deeper level. I am not mentioning these things to give you for more compassion for him. I just want you to see the complexity and enormity of what I had to personally reflect upon when making this decision to step away.
Right now, my 501c3 nonprofit organization, The Hip-Hop Chess Federation works with kids across The Bay area and we are expanding. We pride ourselves in creating safe, clean affordable spaces for young people to enrich their minds and build their physical skills with us. We have been around for ten years now and our work has been authentically impactful. We count on the trust of parents and teachers and school administrators to do all that we do. Their trust in our work is what makes our impact possible.
Looking at all of the allegations against Afrika Bambaataa I must say that all of it is deeply troubling. I have worked directly with a lot of teens who have been abused by trusted adults. I have seen the damage first hand. I cannot pretend to know exactly what is happening inside the UZN. However, something seems to have gone deeply wrong with Afrika Bambaataa and some of the top tier leadership.
That said, I want to say that I will no longer associate myself with the Universal Zulu Nation. I no longer consider myself a member. The father in me, the teacher in me, the protector of the youth that I strive to be cannot be in the proximity of the allegations made against Afrika Bambaataa and top tier leadership of UZN.
Further, my book will have a new title and new artwork. I am working now to change the title to Bobby, Bruce & The Bronx: The Secrets of Hip-Hop Chess. As an independent author, this is going to be costly for me and time consuming but I should have the new site and cover art complete within 60 days. Quite frankly I don’t have the money to make the changes, but I will find a way to get it done.
Moving forward I'm sure there will be many necessary conversations about what these accusations against Afrika Bambaataa mean. We will have to talk about Hip-Hop in many new ways. These accusations against Bam are forcing a lot of new conversations to happen that have not been happening. They will be excruciating for many of us. However, I think we may be looking at a purging of some of Hip-Hop’s toxic elements. Getting rid of them will refine the art form for future generations. Making that happen is more important to me than anything else.
Adisa Banjoko aka The Bishop
Founder, Hip-Hop Chess Federation Inc.