Hoteps and hip-hop: Bambaata molestation claims expose hip-hop’s homophobia

Kevin Donovan’s (aka Afrika Bambaata) peace crusades, which turned mostly teenage gang members into partying b-boys, basically cemented hip-hop culture across New York’s boroughs, starting with the most dystopian of all: the “boogie down” Bronx. 

International hip-hop awareness group Universal Zulu Nation (formed in 1973) was his peace and “right knowledge” alternative for the warring gangs that became hip-hop’s ready army, spreading its aesthetic all across the world. In the early 1980s, Bambaata would become a music influencer via his group, the Soul Sonic Force. Forty-odd years later and Bambaata, hip-hop’s foremost figurehead, has hit something of a reputational rock bottom.

On March 30, Ron Savage told a New York City radio host, Star of Shot97.com, that in 1980 Bambaata molested him several times. It was a claim that Savage had made before in his self-published 2014 book Impulses, Urges and Fantasies. Three other men, former affiliates of Zulu Nation, have since come forward with similar claims.

These claims have, interestingly, brought the unrelenting homophobia in hip-hop to the fore. A need to protect hip-hop’s reputation as a culture ‘’untainted by homosexuals’’ has foreshadowed concern for Savage and other accusers. All of the culture’s foremost “hoteps” have come to the fore, either in vociferous defence of “Bam” or to stick it to the “Godfather of Hip-hop”.

KRS-One, a friend of Bambaata’s, took to his website to say: “I have already said, ‘I really don’t give a fuck about all that!’ I don’t apply my mind to gossip and slander.” 

Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian directed attention to Bambaata’s denials of having known his accuser. “I’ve been in the presence of these guys,” said Jamar. “For you to say you don’t know this brother [Ron Savage] at all, that’s ridiculous.”

Akin to KRS-One, these allegations were, for Jamar, a distraction to hip-hop. “You’ve got all these new-age people that are almost happy people that it happened … they are going to … say: ‘See, you’ve been promoting a culture all this time that was very homophobic, but look, the Godfather of Hip-hop is gay, allegedly.’”

At a street-side press conference held by some disgruntled affiliates of Zulu Nation, Captain Tyza Ryach spoke of a lecture he was holding “against homosexuality and anything that’s plaguing the black community”. 

In his defence, Bambaata has been incoherent at best, first denying outright that he knew Savage and then suggesting in a Fox 5 interview that the man may have moved in Zulu Nation circles.

The homophobia and misogyny among hip-hop’s anachronistic old guard probably has to do with the misguided need to protect its mythology as the playground of “alpha males”. 

More evolved rappers with direct or ideological links to Zulu Nation, such as Q-Tip and Chuck D, have been conspicuous in their absence.

Remember Q-Tip’s numbered tweets that made Iggy Azealia blush in inauthentic entitlement? Where is his timeline when Bam needs to be defended or shamed?

Where is Chuck D, for example? When the scandal was peaking, Chuck, who had engaged in his share of victim-blaming when the Bill Cosby allegations resurfaced, could only pronounce on the deaths of Prince and Afeni Shakur.

It’s okay to choose the side of males when black legends are facing trial by public opinion; or to defend the culture against appropriation. But when the possibility of male-on-male molestation rears its head, hip-hop’s voices of conscience clam up. 

This only feeds the hyper-masculinity that manifests as entitlement to women’s bodies and rampant rape culture within hip-hop.

The end result is that as hip-hop moves beyond 40 years of existence, the limits of hotepism and how that has failed to make hip-hop a gender inclusive space will always come back to bite its head, in the most unexpected of ways.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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