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The last few days have been tough for hip hop. Several men who alleged he molested them as children, have accused hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa of countless sex crimes. Then there is Bambaata's link with Dr. Dwight Malachi York, the founder of the Proud Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, a controversial group that harbored a deep secret of child abuse, but that also has been said to have inspired hip hop artists including not only Afrika Bambaataa, but also Doug E. Fresh, Erykah Badu and Outkast.
The question now is, how many people knew about the alleged abuses, and how many in the hip hop community have turned a blind eye and why?
About two weeks ago, Troi Torain, also known as Star of Hot 97 FM, interviewed a man who alleged that Afrika Bambaataa, the "Godfather" of hip hop culture, molested him in the late 1970s when he was fifteen and Bambaataa was twenty-three. The man's name is Ronald Savage, and he first made these claims in his self-published memoir titled, Impulses, Urges and Fantasies. (Ronald Savage is a father of three, a Judicial Delegate in the 12th Judicial District in the Bronx, N.Y, and a Former NYS Democratic Committeeman.)
Chuck Freeze of the Jazzy Five, who recorded and performed with Bambaataa and was friendly with Savage when the abuse allegedly took place, says Savage is no liar.
"Ronald was the kind of guy you could trust," says Freeze, whose real name is Charles Foushee. "A really good dude. Easy to talk to. Very intelligent. We had no idea about this — and we would not have tolerated it if we did. Do I believe it? Yes, I do."
Rapper Lord Jamar, a member of the hip hop group Brand Nubian (and a controversial figure himself) also confirmed that he knew Ronald Savage who went by the name "B-Stinger" while associated with the Universal Zulu Nation in the late 1970s. The Universal Zulu Nation is a hip hop awareness group formed and headed by Afrika Bambaataa.
The story began to pick up steam on April 6th when a second man came forward and provided an interview to Star at Hot 97 alleging that Afrika Bambaataa had a sexual relationship with him when he was seventeen years old. He alleges that Bambaataa asked him to recruit another young friend for sex acts as well.
On April 7th, an unnamed man posted a Youtube video alleging that Afrika Bambaataa molested him at twelve years old, and that members of the Zulu Nation knew about the abuse and protected and covered up for the hip hop legend.
On April 11th, the man who posted the earlier Youtube video came forward to be interviewed by Star of Hot 97. The man identified himself as Poppy a long-time Zulu Nation member and well-known New York street boss. Poppy alleged that Afrika Bambaataaa began molesting him at the age of twelve and the abuse lasted for years. When, asked if he knew of other young, male victims he responded by saying "half of Bronx River." He also, said that Mickey Bentson, manager of rapper/actor Ice T, knew about the wide spread abuse as well as top members of the Zulu Nation.
Poppy also said that while Bambaataa was in the hospital in 2013, the whispers in the Zulu Nation camp were that the rap icon was stabbed as a result of attempting to sexually assault a young man. He adds that there were also rumors that Bambaataa was arrested and jailed in Brazil, years ago for sexual misconduct with young boys.
Just as I was attempting to digest the above madness, I came across some disturbing tweets by Erykah Badu about young girls. Before I delve any deeper into the matter, I want to say that I love Erykah Badu. She was one of the first artists I saw in person and I've followed her career over the years. I've always liked her soulful and feminist perspective. This is why I was shocked and upset when, in a Twitter debate about high school girls wearing longer skirts so as not to attract unwanted attention from male classmates and teachers, she wrote that, "an older healthy non deviant male's attraction to flowering young women is as natural as a developing young girls attraction to young men."
Then in a stranger-than-fiction twist, a few days ago CNN contributor and professor Marc Lamont Hill tweeted about the unfolding Afrika Bambaataa story. He commented that the last time he saw Bambaataa he wondered why he was still publicly supporting Dr. Dwight Malachi York, founder of the Nuwaubian Nation and a man who among other charges plead guilty to forty counts of child molestation in 2004. Erykah Badu's current boyfriend, producer Carl Jones defended York on Twitter by responding to Hill, that the child sexual abuse charges were untrue despite York currently serving a 135-year prison sentence for the crimes.
So what the hell is going on in hip hop? I can't figure out if people in the industry have been ignorant or complicit of Bambaataa's years of abuse. Or maybe there is something within in the culture that makes children particularly vulnerable to these predators? (R. Kelly and Tyga come to mind.) Yes, there are child predators in every community and culture, however the parallels between hip hop and the Catholic Church are inescapable.
Hip hop, like the church is an institution that is extremely patriarchal and repudiates women as equal partners. In hip hop, like in the Catholic Church, it isn't uncommon for groups of men to spend vast amounts of their time outside of the company of women. Priests call it their order, men in hip hop call it their crew. Within these hyper-masculine communities, homophobia is embraced. They are the perfect breeding ground for sexual misconduct. You see, in communities like the Catholic Church and hip hop where homosexuality is the ultimate sin, shame is easily cultivated. And where there is shame, there is silence. Couple this stigma with two cultures that frowns upon police involvement and you have a perfect storm.
I don't know if this is what has happened, but for me it's not much of a psychological stretch. And I won't be at all shocked to see more Bambaataa victims come forward. In the meantime, I am encouraged by the brave men who have spoken their truth. For men, and in black men in particular talking about sexual assault is rife with social land mines. However, every time someone takes that powerful step forward they give someone else the strength to tell their story, until eventually like in the case of the three Afrika Bambaataa victims, the wall of shame begins to crumble.