Hold on tight hip hop fans, as Shanghai is featuring the international act, producer and DJ Afrika Islam from the US this week. a legend with a pedigree so impressive that editing it is as necessary as it is inadequate – producing hits like ‘Colors’ for Ice-T, who he still tours with; had the very first hip hop radio show, Zulu Beats, in 1981; played techno DJ sets at major festivals like Love Parade in Germany; did the very first hip hop tour of Asia (specifically, Japan) in 1983; and was perhaps the first major American DJ to tour China, when him and Ice-T played Shanghai and Beijing in 2008. Islam was in Robert Downey Jr film Less Than Zero; the cult hit Breakin’ 2: Electrc Boogaloo; and inspired legendary b-boy Crazy Legs to dance. He’s the real deal.
Hear about it straight from the man himself as he’ll be doing a Q&A session at The Apartment on Wednesday, March 1 at 730pm. There is no entry fee and he’ll be DJing at Le Baron on Thursday at 10pm with no entry fee.
Now kick back, relax, and find out more about this extraordinaire in the interview conducted by DJ B.O’s (Brian Offenther) Q&A series of counter-cultural artists below.
So what’s it like to be back in Shanghai?
Well, quite honestly man, I haven’t been able to find all my bootleg spots again. Most of my players that sold me my leathers and fake Rolexes, they’re out of business, or they’re having babies now. But hopefully I’ll meet up with my players down at The Apartment on Wednesday and Le Baron on Thursday, and see if I can get more DVDs of kung-fu flicks.
What do you remember about your last time in Shanghai?
They used to have better fried rice.
Any other insight?
Well the last time I was in the city I was here with Ice-T and Coco and some of the members of the Rhyme Syndicate, and we did a full show: me doing what I do on turntables, Ice [doing] what he does, and it was a good seed.
And before that I was here [in Asia] with the Rock Steady Crew, and we were putting down the seeds for hip hop culture in Asia as the first astronauts to land on the planet.
So you did the first hip hop tour of Asia in ’83…
…and then basically the first major hip hop tour of China 25 years later. Do you feel a special connection to Asia, or is it just about breaking new ground in general?
Well, actually because of the way we grew up in The South Bronx and watching kung-fu movies every morning, the connection with Asia and China has always been there. And that’s one thing. And then of course because of being a b-boy, and the fact that a lot of the moves that came from b-boying came from the kung-fu movies, that’s another direct connection. And any time you had 2 dollars, you used to get 6 chicken wings and French fries from the Chinese restaurant with some hot sauce. That’s another connection.
On Wednesday at The Apartment you’ll be doing an interview going over the history of your life. What do people recognize you from the most at this point? Anything you feel particularly proud of from your career?
Surviving getting out of New York without getting shot, probably.
As I look back at shit that I’ve done, I’ve been on kind of a “Marco Polo” thing, I think. I think I’ve been the Apollo astronaut, I think I’ve been the SS Nazi officers that landed on Mars in 1957 type shit. I think I’ve been a part of the secret space program that has colonized with the reptilians type thing. I’ve done a lot of firsts when I look back at it: as I said The Rock Steady Crew; [rap crew] The B-Boys; being “The Son of (Afrika) Bambaataa;” and taking hip hop to the west coast [of the USA]; the first hip hop radio show; being one of the first to take [hip hop] to England, to Europe; and then to export it to Japan; the first to get into the movies, east coast and west coast, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo on the west coast, and Beat Street and Style Wars [on the east coast] and everything that came from that; and first to have a major residency at The Roxy.
So I’ve done a lot of firsts: For the [DJ battle style] tag team to be named after me and Jazzy [Jay], because that’s what our style was, of being a tag team, and for others to take it from there; to moving to electronic music, and for me and Farley Keith from Chicago, and me being the first DJ to scratch on a house record; and then to get together with WestBam and do Mr. X and Mr. Y, and have a real hip hop DJ and a real electronic DJ play at Love Parade together on 4 turntables; to be a DJ inside of Body Count…Yeah, it’s been a lot of fucking firsts. If I have to look back and say “That’s what it is…” it’s all what it is. Sometimes you just have to say “Fuck the name.” And to say, quite honestly: is the talent in me, or is the talent in my name and a boast of what I’ve been trying to do? Ice-T calls it reinventing myself, but I’m just trying to prove to myself that I’ve been able to just do it. Not to reinvent, but just: Can I do it? And in a sense, that’s what I’m going to be doing out here.
On Thursday you’re going to be doing a DJ set at Le Baron. What should people expect? You have so many different styles and genres you’ve been a part of.
That’s one of the things I was saying about reinvention. I actually don’t try to dwell on anything I’ve done in the past, simply because I don’t want to rely on past achievements. I just want to play in the moment. And if I have “Apache” and if I have “Sex Machine” in my repoitare; and I also have “Turn Up the Bass” a Tyree Cooper song; and I also have “Planet Rock;” and I also have “Wordy Rappinghood;” and I also have “Caravan…” If I have all of that in my repoitare, along with a dope EDM break and a dubmash break, you’ll hear it all. Because, I’m from pre-hip hop. We made hip hop. We’re actually the true school, but we’re actually the builders and teachers of the school, and it’s a big difference when you’re a teacher of the school. You taught the formula, and you wrote the blueprint that others have taken and used.
Catch Afrika Islam live at The Apartment (47 Yongfu Road) on Wednesday 7.30pm, and at Le Baron (20 Donghu Road) on Thursday 10pm