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Planet Rock success in hip hop culture

Planet Rock

The South Bronx DJ pioneer, Afrika Bambaataa, release “Planet Rock” in 1982 on Tommy Boy records. Shattering the world of music and transcended Hip Hop into a multitude of new artists and songs. Afrika Bambaataa is apart of the Hip Hop’s ‘Holy Trinity’, with DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. Trans–Europe Express’, from which they borrowed the melody, and ‘Numbers’, whose rhythm track they re–recorded. First hip–hop/R&B track to utilize a Roland TR808 drum machine. Arthur Baker had some success helming the rap novelty hit ‘Rap–O–Clap–O’ for Joe Bataan. Tom Silverman subsequently asked Baker if he wanted to head up a project on his new Tommy Boy Records label. This turned out to be Afrika Bambaataa’s aforementioned ‘Jazzy Sensation’ (a cover of Gwen McCrae’s ‘Funky Sensation’, recorded with the Jazzy 5), which featured an early remix by Shep Pettibone. Baker then took the solo production reins for ‘Planet Rock’.

afrika bambaataaMaking of Planet Rock

Arthur Baker reflects on the making of planet rock. “Bambaataa wanted to use the keyboardist who had played on a record that he liked, and this turned out to be John Robie, who is now my oldest friend. John played everything by hand, nothing was sequenced on ‘Planet Rock’. I also used to hang out on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. Where I lived in those days, and I’d go into a record store called Music Factory with these brothers, Donnie and Dwight, to see what was selling. They were always playing ‘Numbers’ in there, also by Kraftwerk, which was really up–tempo. So, it was my idea to use a combination of those two numbers for Bambaataa’s next record.

Kraftwerk Numbers

Kraftwerk Trans Europe Express

The beat on ‘Trans–Europe Express’ was too slow.  Whenever I heard ‘Numbers’ being played at the Music Factory in Brooklyn I saw black guys in their twenties and thirties asking, ‘What’s that beat?’ So, I knew that if we used that beat and added an element of the streets. It was going to work.” John Miller, known as MC G.L.O.B.E, wrote all of the lyrics except for the choruses. According to producer Arthur Baker, the vocal effect on the “rock, rock, planet rock” section was made using a Lexicon PCM41 effects unit set to an extremely tight delay.


Due to the ground-breaking impact on Hip Hop, Rick Rubin is quoted as describing the song as “One of the most influential songs of everything”. September 1982, “Planet Rock” was just the third rap song on that chart peaking at #48 on the Hot 100. Followed “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang and “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow. Tommy Boy Records claimed that the song sold about 700,000 copies. Kraftwerk took issue with the group using the samples without permission and sued the record label. The settlement gave the German band a dollar for every record sold, leading Tommy Boy to charge more for the single to offset the loss.

afrika bambaataa planet rockLegacy

Planet Rock became the anthem of Zulu Nation founded by Afrika Bambaataa after a life–changing trip to Africa. Zulu Nation, later known as The Universal Zulu Nation, offer kids a more peaceful coexistence form of music as an alternative to gang life. The organization built up communities and connected black youth to its African heritage. 

Music Credit

Excerpts of “Planet Rock” from the album, Planet Rock (1982), written by Afrika Bambaataa, Arthur Henry Baker, and John Robie, and performed by Afrika Bambaataa and The Soul Sonic Force, used courtesy of Tommy Boy Records / Warner Music Group.  Used by permission of Downtown Music [41.66%]; o/b/o Arthur Baker and John Robie; Behind the Ropes [37.5%] o/b/o Williams, Miller and Allen, and Bambaataa Music [20.84], (BMI).


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