Afrika Bambaataa’s Abuse Allegations Cast a Cloud Over The Universal Hip-Hop Museum
Dozens of people gathered at City Hall in New York City on Monday as part of a demonstration calling for Rocky Bucano to step down as Executive Director, President and Chairman of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum (or UHHM) because of his alleged ties with the Universal Zulu Nation. Journalist Leila Wills, who co-founded the advocacy organization Hip-Hop Stands With Survivors, organized the demonstration to advocate for survivors of child sexual abuse, including the alleged survivors of The Universal Zulu Nation founder Afrika Bambaataa. “[We want] Rocky Bucano to step down, because if they got a responsible person in there, then the Zulu Nation affiliation would go away automatically,” Wills tells Rolling Stone. “We are going to stay on the elected officials to stop our public dollars from funding that museum, from the mayor to the Bronx Borough president to the state legislators and congress. They are re-traumatizing survivors all the time with all that Zulu stuff.” Bucano has denied all ties to the Universal Zulu Nation.
In 2021, a John Doe filed a civil suit against Bambataa, real name Lance Taylor, and the Universal Zulu Nation, alleging that “from 1991, when the Plaintiff was merely 12 years old, to 1995, the Plaintiff was repeatedly sexually abused and sex trafficked at the hands of the defendant.” The complaint alleges that John Doe met Taylor in 1991 and began volunteering for the Zulu Nation at Taylor’s apartment in New York’s Bronx River Apartments. The complaint alleges that Taylor began assaulting him there and “would transport Plaintiff to other locations and offer Plaintiff for sex to other adult men,” where Taylor would allegedly watch the abuse.
Back in April 2016, four men first came forward about being survivors of Taylor, including Hassan Campbell, a now prominent YouTuber who alleged to New York Daily News that he was abused “numerous times” by Taylor at the ages of 12 and 13 and said “[Taylor] is a pervert… He likes little boys.”
Shortly after, Taylor released a statement claiming, “these allegations are baseless and are a cowardly attempt to tarnish my reputation and legacy in hip-hop at this time. He then appeared on The Ed Lover Show With Monie Love and questioned the motives of his accusers. “You need to ask the question, ‘Why now, and what is the hidden agenda behind this?’” Taylor said. “Is it because I’m still being relevant today, trying to do things that help people all across the world, trying to start a hip-hop museum?”
Back then, the project was in its infancy. Four years prior, in 2012, developers Youngwoo & Associates sought to transform The Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory into a mixed-use facility. They partnered with Taylor to include an “international hip-hop museum” in the space, which the New York Post article reported on in 2014. But renovation stalled on the Armory, and the museum eventually became a part of a waterfront residential development called Bronx Point in The Bronx’s Highbridge neighborhood.
Filings with the New York City attorney general, initiated in 2015, show that the original board for the museum consisted of three members: Rocky Bucano, his business partner Wesley Manjeet, and Universal Zulu Nation member Shawn “Cutman LG” Thomas. Thomas co-hosted SiriusXM radio show Zulubeatz with Taylor and has numerous pictures with Taylor out at events. Bucano is not a Universal Zulu Nation member, but in 1986 formed Strong City Records with Taylor’s DJ and Zulu Nation member, Jazzy Jay. Ronald Savage, who would later accuse Taylor of abuse, worked at the label. Bucano also shouted out the Zulu Nation during a November press conference about the museum’s plans to celebrate hip-hop’s 50th anniversary.
A representative for The Universal Hip-Hop Museum provided Rolling Stone with the following statement: “Mr. Bucano has never been a member of the Universal Zulu Nation. Additionally, “universal” in the museum’s title is not in connection with or in reference to the Universal Zulu Nation, nor is it in connection to the Universal Music Group, Universal Records, Universal Pictures, or any other such named organization. As used in the organization’s name, the adjective “universal” refers to the recognition of the culturally diverse nature of Hip Hop and the global impact the genre has had over the past 50 years.”
The Universal Zulu Nation hasn’t responded to the 2021 lawsuit, and the plaintiff is currently waiting on a default judgment after signing an affidavit swearing by his original complaint. Wills says that she’s spoken to other men alleging abuse by Taylor; she contacted three of the initial accusers after she heard them on The Star Report in 2016, sought out one of them after hearing about him through others, and says 11 other men have come to her after she started Hip-Hop Stands With Survivors, including John Doe. A few months before the civil suit, hip-hop pioneer Melle Mel told VladTV that “everyone knew” about the allegations against Taylor even before the four men came forward.
In a May 2016 video, Amad Henderson deemed himself the new head of the Universal Zulu Nation in a clip announcing Taylor’s “official removal.” But during a Universal Zulu Nation conference call which was leaked in September 2016, a defiant Taylor compared himself to other prominent people with abuse allegations, proclaiming, “If y’all worried about if Bambataa still here, get the fuck out.” He added, “you could look at all the other different situations from the Pope down, ain’t nobody left shit…Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, or Honorable Elijah Muhammad…none of they brothers left them ‘cause of BS … I ain’t goin’ nowhere”
This week, in response to Hip Hop Stands With Survivors’ claims, Bucano released a statement distancing his organization from the Universal Zulu Nation.
“The Universal Hip Hop Museum and Mr. Bucano condemn all acts of acts of violence and abuse. I would like to make it clear that Afrika Bambaataa has not had a role at the Universal Hip Hop Museum since 2016. I and the Univeral Hip Hop Museum are not party to any activities affiliated with the Universal Zulu Nation. I affirm that the Universal Hip Hop Museum is committed to its mission to empower, educate, and uplift communities,” the statement says. “While it is true that Afrika Bambaataa was a founding member of the museum, he was removed from any involvement with the museum as soon as the allegations surfaced. He has never been a board member, advisory board member or volunteer.”
But the Museum has promoted the Universal Zulu Nation several times since the allegations surfaced. In November of 2018, the Universal Hip-Hop Museum’s official Twitter account promoted a “UHH Radio” show featuring Afrika Bambattaa and Shawn “Cutman LG” Thomas, who was one of the original board members of UHHM (but no longer appears listed on the board). In November 2020, the account tweeted, “Happy 46th Anniversary to our Universal Zulu Nation family.” Wills also forwarded Rolling Stone an email from a Universal Zulu Nation mailing list last year, announcing a 49th-anniversary celebration of the Universal Zulu Nation at the Universal Hip-Hop Museum.
In November, Wills put together a 30-page report that she sent to the museum calling for them to oust Bucano and outlining his alleged ties to the Universal Zulu Nation. “The hip-hop world created an underground economy for poor kids like John Doe; the parties, the flyers, graffiti jackets, rapping and beatboxing on corners, selling tapes, and doing security were all ways poor kids could make money,” Wills wrote in the PDF, which she made public after the UHHM didn’t reply in her requested two-week timeframe.
A lifelong hip-hop fan who worked in the music industry for 10 years as a contractor for BMG and Viacom, she asked for information on who the current members of their voting board were (public information they were obligated to offer as a 501c3). Wills says that she was ignored by the UHHM until she reached out to their lawyer David Miller, who informed her last month that they had ushered in new board members (some of whom had allegedly been named that very day). On March 14, Wills received a letter from the Universal Hip-Hop museum expressing empathy for the survivors. Still, she was disappointed that it didn’t acknowledge her demand for Rocky to resign.
The DocuSigned letter, which Rolling Stone reviewed, detailed that the museum took “the allegations against Bambataa seriously,” noted, “we have read your report and express sincere empathy for the victims and their trauma,” and denied that Taylor had any current involvement in the museum. But their response wasn’t sufficient for Wills, who planned Monday’s demonstration calling for either Bucano’s removal or the halting of public funding for the museum. In 2021, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., now a UHHM voting board member, allocated $4.2 million from the borough’s budget to the museum. In April of the following year, the New York State Legislature gave the museum an $11 million grant. And last August, New York Mayor Eric Adams pledged 5.5 million to the museum.
The Universal Hip-Hop Museum credits itself as “The Official Record of Hip-Hop,” but Wills wants Hip-Hop Stands With Survivors to make their own documentation on the “tainted” story of the genre’s origins. “We’re going to make sure this is never written out of their legacy. We’re going to make sure predators are held accountable and that, no, it’s not okay to harm Black and brown men and women or kids.”
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