"Planet Rock"

Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force

album cover

Hot Enough to Rock the Planet!

If there ever was a machine-based rhythm so funky its very DNA demands note-by-note dissection, this hyperkinetic robot dance is it. The snare drum that sits at the front of "Planet Rock" isn't like any recognizable acoustic instrument—it's a phenomenon of fizzy attack, with a long tail of bubbles trailing behind. The high-hat cymbals snap with a satisfying hiss. The kick drum is a whomp to the gut. These drums—pounded out on the now-legendary Roland 808 electronic beatbox, which became standard in hip-hop recording studios after this single—outline a pattern common to lots of early hip-hop. But there's a difference: The beat syncs up with elements of Kraftwerk's "Numbers," and the melody comes directly from the title track of the German group's Trans-Europe Express.

This integration of ideas is, of course, the core craft of the hip-hop DJ. Afrika Bambaataa, a pioneer from the South Bronx who took his name from a nineteenth-century Zulu chief, kicked the game up a few levels with this track, which has become an essential part of every club DJ's toolkit. The demonically inventive drum programming of "Planet Rock" spread beyond hip-hop, shaping such subsequent dance styles as Miami bass and Detroit techno. With conceptual help from Arthur Baker and keyboardist John Robie, Bambaataa blended the 808 riff and the Kraftwerk bits into a single groove, then added syncopated orchestra stabs and catcalling team vocals from the Soul Sonic Force crew. The basic "Planet Rock" pattern (as well as its exact drum sounds) has turned up on countless hip-hop records, and still the original stands apart—riveting from that first slammed downbeat, it's a hit of instant audio euphoria.

Genre: Hip-Hop
Released: 1986, Tommy Boy
Appears On: Planet Rock: The Album
Next Stop: EPMD: Strictly Business
After That: Cut Chemist: Live at Future Primitive Sound Session
Book Page: 43

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