The story was called “Afrika Bambaataa’s Hip-Hop” and the heroic protagonist was a young former Black Spades gang warlord with an awesome ‘frohawk and a face like a featureless stone. He was the leader of a loose-knit mostly teenaged crew known as the Zulu Nation, a group of former and current troublemakers who had created their own weird arts — music they played with turntables, dances they called breaking, art they made with spray cans and markers, and entertainment they made of stories and rhymes.
As the Reagan years with their resegregation and revanchist nostalgia drew on, Bambaataa appeared to his growing group of supporters in the downtown white intelligentsia as something of a homegrown musical Mandela, a prophet of reconciliation and peace, someone able to practically stop bullets with a record. When they asked him if there was a name for all the things that they were seeing his acolytes do, Bambaataa told them, “Hip-hop.” He began talking about the movement’s “four elements”—DJing, rapping, breaking, and graffiti writing. (He later added a fifth, knowledge.)
Charlie Ahearn, the filmmaker who had by this time had shot his classic movie Wild Style representing all the elements, figured that Bambaataa might have been improvising. “Hip-hop began with the four elements? It’s like, right. That wasn’t my experience,” Ahearn recalled. “It took a while for it to start to become an organized, central thing.”
In fact, what the kids were now calling hip-hop could be traced back nearly a decade before to a back-to-school party on August 11, 1973 (that Steven Hager was also the first to write about) thrown by Cindy Campbell and her brother, Clive “DJ Kool Herc.”