Hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa's records are the most important in the history of the genre; the patient zero whose breadth of genres influenced, knowingly or not, every subsequent DJ and hip-hop producer. While Cornell University continues to digitally archive Bambaataa's 40,000+ record collection, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist will embark on a five-week tour this fall using records strictly culled from Bambaataa's collection.
"I would consider Bambaataa to be one of the three biggest musical influences in my life, along with Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Mantronik," Shadow tells Rolling Stone. "He was a DJ with a vision and a sense of purpose, with a desire for social change. He wanted to use the music to help foster a revolution, and the reverberations of this concept are still being felt today, and probably will be forever. His ability to embrace and incorporate all different types of music and art, and contextualize them with a hip-hop mentality, is what the entire culture is based on."
Dubbed the Renegades of Rhythm tour, the producer/DJs will start the tour at Toronto's Guvernment on September 1st, criss-crossing North America before ending the unprecedented outing on October 9th at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom.
The pair were initially contacted by art curator Johan Kugelberg, the man responsible for brokering Bambaataa's collection to Cornell and a fan of the duo's previous 45 RPM records-only live sets. Shadow and Cut Chemist were first asked to do a mix to honor the pioneering DJ's legacy, which transformed into the idea to do a live set with the actual records from his collection. The two DJs visited a Queens, New York storage facility, where the records were kept before being transferred to Cornell, to choose which records they'd take on tour. "As is usually the case when I'm spending long hours dealing with a large volume of vinyl, it was freezing cold, I was sitting on the floor, and food was scarce," Shadow says. "Such is the nature of the quest."
"We were seeing ground zero for not just our generation, but many generations of music to come," adds Cut Chemist. "His taste shaped hip-hop and modern music. Not to mention that these were the actual copies of the records that saw the original park jams in the Bronx at the very beginning. If these records could talk, imagine the stories they could tell. That's what we'll try to make them do with our set."
Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow's savant-like knowledge of records helped them choose which vinyl to pick, but the DJs also relied on visual cues — namely, the more beat up a record was, the more it was played — to help piece together a proper sampling of the collection. There were also numerous genres, including soca, calypso and dancehall, that were instrumental in the musical development in New York, which the duo picked up, but "needed a refresher on."
"Our focus was three-fold," says Shadow. "Bambaataa as artist, including his seminal Tommy Boy releases; Bambaataa as collector and break discoverer; and Bambaataa as musical missionary for social change."
"We tried to take anything that was sampled and made famous in rap records we all grew up with," adds Cut Chemist. "We also chose anything directly connected to him whether it was related to him as an artist or if he made an appearance on it. We want to represent Bam's legacy as a recording artist and as a musical tastemaker."
Shadow says the show will consist of six turntables, two mixers, a drum machine that he'll play live and vintage gear from the late Seventies to early Eighties as a homage to Bambaataa's most influential period. "But the main emphasis will be on the mix itself," says the DJ. "We're out to tell Bambaataa's story in music, via the records he owned and made." For the two producers, it's as much about paying homage and detailing the life of Bambaataa through his records as it is about rocking a party. ""It is a final opportunity to experience the very same grooves that incited a revolution," says Shadow.
Both DJs vividly remember hearing Bambaataa for the first time when they were 11. While Shadow used a portable tape record to record Bam's landmark song "Planet Rock" off the radio — "I still have the tape of it somewhere" — Cut Chemist recalls the music video for Bambaataa's 1983 track "Renegades of Funk." "Watching that video at 11 years old was a religious experience for me as it encompassed all the elements of hip hop and science fiction," Cut Chemist tells Rolling Stone. "It left the impression that made me believe that hip hop was the way of the future."
Fast forward three decades, and Cut Chemist can trace Bambaataa's collection directly to his own career. "Aerosmith could live next to Kraftwerk and James Brown as long is it made you 'get in touch with your God self' and move," says the DJ. "I've patterned my career as a DJ after that very concept. I play world rhythms, latin, electronic, to the fundamental hip hop sounds of Jurassic 5. I've always tried to tell people that hip-hop isn't one type of music; it's all kinds of music and how it's presented. The music made you think while it made you move."
For the upcoming tour, hip-hop fans will recognize some of the tracks played out, only because they have since gone on to be permanent fixtures in the hip-hop sample firmament. But if Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow accomplish their goals, this will transcend an "old-school" set. "An 'old school' set to me usually entails the idea that there will be no new ideas or concepts happening, but just "Hey, remember this one?' type of party," says Cut Chemist. "That's never been how Shadow and I roll. Were looking forward to seeing how we can flip certain now-famous songs and breaks into a new context while staying true to Bambaataa's legacy and taste for that music."
Tickets for the tour go on sale Friday, June 20th.
DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's "Renegades of Rhythm" Tour
9/1 Toronto, ON - Guvernment
9/3 Boston, MA - House of Blues
9/4 New York, NY - Irving Plaza
9/6 Philadelphia, PA - Theatre of Living Arts
9/8 Washington, DC - The Fillmore Silver Spring
9/9 Baltimore, MD - Baltimore Soundstage
9/11 Charlotte, NC - The Fillmore Charlotte
9/12 Atlanta, GA - The Loft At Center Stage
9/14 Orlando, FL - House of Blues
9/16 New Orleans, LA - House of Blues
9/18 Austin, TX - ACL Live
9/19 Dallas, TX - House of Blues
9/20 Houston, TX - House of Blues
9/22 Louisville, KY - Mercury Ballroom
9/23 Chicago, IL - House of Blues
9/24 Minneapolis, MN - Skyway Theater
9/26 Denver, CO - Ogden Theatre
9/27 Aspen, CO - Belly Up Aspen
9/29 Las Vegas, NV - Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas
10/1 San Diego, CA - House of Blues
10/2 Anaheim, CA - House of Blues
10/3 Los Angeles, CA - Hollywood Palladium
10/7 Portland, OR - Roseland Theater
10/8 Seattle, WA - Neptune
10/9 Vancouver, BC - Commodore Ballroom