When Hassan Campbell told the world he’d been sexually abused as a child by Afrika Bambaataa, it rocked the hip-hop community. The allegations were quickly backed up by three other men, who all said Bambaataa had abused them, as well.
With these accusations fresh in everyone’s minds, Bambaataa’s former bodyguard, Shamsideen Shariyf Ali Bey, supported the claims, saying they were not isolated cases, estimating that the legendary founder of hip-hop has molested “hundreds” over the past 40 years.
Bambaataa’s lawyer, Charles Tucker, brushed off all the accusations, telling the New York Daily News, “This is not a crime story. This belongs in the gossip section. This is not Bill Cosby.” He’s right about one thing, this is not Bill Cosby. This is Jerry Sandusky.
The story of Sandusky, the former Penn State coach who will be spending the rest of his life behind bars for raping a plethora of young boys, has a number of eerie parallels to what may very well be Bambaataa’s story when all is said and done.
Sandusky created a charity, The Second Mile, which began as a foster home for troubled boys, and grew into a foundation with a supposed intention of helping troubled boys. Nearly all of his sexual assault victims were affiliated with the “charity.”
According to a Lacasa Center article, this kind of emotional manipulation is a common practice among child abusers. “‘Neighborhood’ abusers build trust with the child and often with the family members or parental guardians. Perpetrators entice children and families with perks, special outings, or advantages that the family unit cannot, or does not, provide. Once trust is established, the abusers begin to test the sexual boundaries of the child.”
As unpleasant as this is to write, let’s think about some of the foundations of hip-hop. One of the biggest credits to Bambaataa’s name was that he created a safe space for local kids who would have otherwise possibly found themselves wrapped up in gang violence. While that seems like a truly great thing, and we’ve always spoken about it as a truly great thing, the charges against him have to leave us wondering if his motives weren’t entirely altruistic, and if, much like Sandusky, he was setting up an easy way to gain trust with young boys, and the community.
Also much like the Sandusky case, we’re now hearing that people close to Bambaataa knew about the abuse. In an interview with Troi Torain, aka Star (best known as one half of Star and Bucwild), Bambaataa’s former bodyguard, Shamsideen Shariyf Ali Bey, admitted, “I can say I walked in on stuff and said, ‘What the fuck is going on?'” He added, “There are things that I saw that confirmed it for me. Everyone knows these allegations go back to the early ’70s.”
My only question for Shariyf Ali Bey is the same question many of us had of former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, and many of Paterno’s assistants who were later found to have known of Sandusky’s abuse – If you knew this was going on, why didn’t you do anything to stop it?
The abuse is horrific, ignoring the abuse is just as bad, as it allows it to continue.
Some within hip-hop are still attempting to deflect all of this. KRS-One came to Bambaataa’s defense, as a recent Vibe article noted that in a lengthly statement, KRS called the allegations “slander and disrespect,” adding, “Instead of using one’s mind and time to gossip about Afrika Bambaataa, I think we should look closely at what it means to hate. There is no forgiveness, justice or healing on any level when hate is involved. Hate is also a federal crime, as well as a spiritual disease. There is no victory with hate, and hate is what is leading the charge against Afrika Bambaataa; not justice or even healing or reconciliation.”
For someone who likes to call himself The Teacha, he couldn’t be more wrong.
This is where we as members of the hip-hop community come in. For as important a figure as Bambaataa was in the founding of hip-hop, we cannot let our appreciation for what he created wash away his alleged evils. Some will cry out that he’s innocent until proven guilty. There’s a problem with that, however, as New York’s statue of limitations for sex abuse cases bars child victims from pursuing criminal charges, or civil litigation, after their 23rd birthday. Essentially, if a child is sexually abused, they have to be able to understand what happened to them, come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t their fault, and be strong enough to go after their attacker, all while still a child.
Bambaataa’s victims are currently trying to pressure state lawmakers to reform that law, but as of now they have no legal recourse.
Another issue with the process is that even if the New York State laws are changed, and these cases find their way to trial, convictions for rapes are incredibly rare. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), out of every 100 rapes only 32 get reported to the police. Of those 32, only seven lead to an arrest, and only two spend a single day in prison. This means a large number of rapists are walking free.
The Universal Zulu Nation, which originally came to the defense of their founder, has now cut ties with him, saying they’re currently seeking new leadership for an “in-depth reassessment.”
We must also seek out an in-depth reassessment, but for us that reassessment should be of hip-hop’s history. We all have a tendency to view the things with love through rose colored glasses, but it’s time to take those glasses off and admit that there may have been some major acts of malfeasance by one of hip-hop’s founders.
History is something that constantly evolves as we learn new stories from sources we were originally unaware of, or had ignored. Even today there are aspects of wars fought long ago, slavery, and civil rights movements, that are just now coming to light. Our history books are constantly being rewritten as we continue to gain a better understanding of the past.
There are a lot of history books about hip-hop. Maybe it’s time to start rewriting them, and rewriting them with an honesty we haven’t wanted to deal with before.
While the cases against Bambaataa may never see the inside of a courtroom due to New York’s statute of limitations, we shouldn’t use that as a reason to turn a blind eye. We need to keep talking about this, because if we stay silent, and refuse to have a real conversation, we become enablers, not just in this case, but in all future cases, as it will show abusers everywhere that as long as they create something we appreciate, we’ll allow them to get away with anything.
Note: If you, or someone you know, has experienced sexual abuse, there are places where you can find help, including the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which you can reach at 1-800-656-HOPE.
NY Daily News: Hip hop producer Afrika Bambaataa molested ‘hundreds’ of kids, bodyguard says: ‘There’s always a boy in his house’ http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/afrika-bambaataa-molested-hundreds-boys-bodyguard-article-1.2626593
NY Daily News: Zulu Nation distances self from Afrika Bambaataa, announces focus for abuse victims http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/zulu-nation-focus-abuse-vics-wake-bambaataa-scandal-article-1.2628094
NY Daily News: EXCLUSIVE: Hip hop legend Afrika Bambaataa accused of sex abuse by three more men: ‘He is a pervert – he likes little boys’ http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/afrika-bambaataa-accused-sex-abuse-men-article-1.2603875
Vibe: KRS-One Issues A Lengthy Statement Clarifying His Defense Of Afrika Bambaataa http://www.vibe.com/2016/05/krs-one-issues-afrika-bambaataa-statement/
Lacasa Center: Why Victims Don’t Tell: Sandusky case sheds light on complexities of sexual abuse http://www.lacasacenter.org/why-victims-dont-tell-sandusky-case-sheds-light-on-complexities-of-sexual-abuse/