In late September Toronto was witness to a rare evening of classic hip-hop that also served as a celebration of DJ culture. Dubbed “The Lost Art of Hip-Hop”, the show brought together two titans of the genre as Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa hit the stage at the Phoenix Concert Theatre to spin back-to-back sets that took the party into the wee hours.

Flash’s performance guided the crowd through a history of hip-hop and sampling, as he nimbly dissected, deconstructed, and rebuilt familiar tracks while showing the origins of others that you only thought you knew.

But before Flash began his lesson, Afrika Bambaataa fired up a packed house with a mostly classic Motown and R&B-flavoured set. But no matter what genre he might spin, Bambaataa’s style is about maintaining a non-stop party mix and continuously turning up the energy. There were no less than three breakdance battles happening simultaneously throughout his 90-minute set, culminating in a mass battle with the best of the evening in front of the stage.

Bambaataa remained near motionless throughout his set, as if the amount of artistic expression he was generating was enough of a statement. Face-to-face he’s just as stoic, speaking softly but with a conviction that well-serves his passionate opinions. In a darkened corner of the Phoenix I sat down with the man they call “Bam” to talk about the state of DJing and technology, plus how not having diverse taste in music causes “apartheid” in hip-hop culture.


Find out about more upcoming special hip-hop events here.

A Journal of Musical Things