Along with Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa is a card-carrying member of hip-hop's holy trinity. Back in the genre's baby years, Bam helped bring competing Bronx streets gangs together in the name of musical unity, and cut the seminal electro track, 1982's “Planet Rock,” which helped inspire the Miami bass genre and dozens more spin-offs.
The influence of electro soon spread westward, with future stars Ice-T and Dr. Dre both embracing the sound on early singles, and artists like Egyptian Lover and Arabian Prince forging local reps on the scene. So ahead of Bambaataa's show this Friday at the Gibson Amphitheatre — also featuring Grandmaster Flash and some version of the Sugarhill Gang — here are our top five classic electro rap cuts, behind “Planet Rock” of course.
World Class Wreckin' Cru
You all know this one: A youthful Dr. Dre cuts his hip-hop chops producing electro songs for the clubs, while also posing on record covers in tight-leather garb and possibly wearing make-up. But while Dre's early fashion moves were subsequently ridiculed, the Cru's grooves endure. For bonus referential kicks, the track includes the line, “Calling Dr. Dre to surgery.”
4. “Pack Jam”
The Jonzun Crew beamed down their electro sound from another galaxy; the group's debut was titled Space Is The Place and they preferred space-man regalia. Their sound was futuristic, too, with the electro staples of synth lines and manipulated voice samples. In terms of trivia, the Crew also included Maurice Starr, who later created New Kids On The Block.
3. “Tibetan Jam”
Ice-T is rightly remembered as a pioneering gangsta rap figure, and a torch-bearer for hip-hop freedom of speech. But Ice's first rap moves were on the electro tip. The double-sided single “Reckless/Tibetan Jam,” cut with Chris “The Glove” Taylor and Dave Storrs, has a pre-gangsta Ice boasting about his crew's speaker-box ability: “We will control the bass! We will control the treble! We can change the sound-waves from piercing highs to thundering lows!”
2. “Techno Scratch”
Knights of the Turntables
With an original line up comprising Little Rockin' G, Madmixer RMG, C-Breeze, Cooley D and Snowman, early-'80s west coast electro turntablists Knights of the Turntables didn't just have a slick collection of monikers, they also cut a number of sought-after electro anthems. “Techno Scratch” might be the jewel in the Knights' crown; rap lore states that it was originally intended to be used as a battle record by the crew. Today, it still sounds like a top blast of electronic beats embellished with vintage scratch attacks.
1. “Hip-Hop, Be-Bop (Don't Stop)”
A club classic no electro playlist would be complete without, “Hip-Hop, Be-Bop (Don't Stop)” from New York City producer Man Parrish wins because of its anthemic keyboard riffs. Parrish's future career never lived up to the appeal of his early-'80s work, but he did get to retire having remixed Michael Jackson and briefly managed the Village People. For hip-hop listeners, though, Parrish will always be the man who crafted this unabashed classic of the electro form.