Born Kevin Donovan in the Bronx on April 10, 1960, Afrika Bambaataa Aasim took his name from a 19th-century Zulu chief. Beginning in 1977, Bambaataa began organizing block parties and break-dancing competitions around the Bronx. His excellent turntable techniques led many to proclaim him the best DJ in the business (though Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc were more innovative), and his record debut -- as a producer -- came in 1980 with Soul Sonic Force's "Zulu Nation Throwdown." The single was a rallying cry for the Zulu Nation, a group of like-minded Afrocentric musicians which only gained fame in the late '80s but had influenced the rise of hip-hop crews throughout the decade.
Aside from more production credits on several later singles during 1980-81, Afrika Bambaataa didn't become an actual recording artist until 1982. He signed with Tommy Boy Records and released his first single, "Jazzy Sensation," early that year. "Planet Rock" followed in June and quickly exploded. Recorded with the help of producer/dancefloor authority Arthur Baker and assimilating the melody of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express," the single hit number four on the R&B charts (but missed the pop Top 40) and joined the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" as one of the early classics of hip-hop. (Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" followed just three months later.) In the single's wake came dozens of electro groups and recordings, though none touched the quality of "Planet Rock" -- except, perhaps, Bambaataa's own follow-up, "Looking for the Perfect Beat." Out of those electro groups came several predominant dance style of the 1980s and '90s: Detroit techno, Miami bass, and, to a more limited extent, Chicago house.
Freed somewhat by his new-found popularity, Afrika Bambaataa began branching out in 1984, recording "Unity" with help from James Brown and "World Destruction" with John Lydon (as Time Zone). That same year, Bambaataa delivered an album debut of sorts, Shango Funk Theology, recorded as Shango with Material personnel Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn. A virtually LP-length single titled "Funk You!" appeared in 1985, after which Bambaataa recorded his proper album debut, Beware (The Funk Is Everywhere). He left Tommy Boy in 1986 after an album compilation of "Planet Rock" mixes, and signed with Capitol. The first album release for the label was 1988's The Light, recorded as Afrika Bambaataa & the Family, which included contributions from George Clinton, UB40, Bootsy Collins and Boy George. Three years later, Bambaataa's third album 1990-2000: Decade of Darkness was released on Capitol, coinciding with his career retrospective Time Zone, released on his own Planet Rock Records. ~ John Bush, All Music Guide