Planet Rock to Duck Rock
With the very odd timing of Rollin D’s Ready Your Ropes and the sudden passing of Malcolm McLaren at the age of 64, it is fitting to repost Planet Rock to Duck Rock. R.I.P Malcolm McLaren
“if you don’t know the history of the author then you don’t know what you’re reading”KRS1…
Lets try to talk about 80′s impresario Malcolm McLaren and his Duck Rock video album released in 1984 without personal attacks on the mans character, after all, none of us know him personally… so… here goes… We’re using points system. For every negative comment that’s 1 point added to the overall score. The person with the least amount of points accumulated wins. Let’s try at least!
1. Don’t get it twisted
A huge blackman walking down a New York City street in a Sex Pistols tshirt in the early part of the 80′s is unusual. But then again Afrika Bambaataa is not your usual guy. The man is larger than life with even larger ideas. One of these ideas is the Zulu Nation. Zulu is alive and well in NYC in the 80′s, it has been alive since its conception in 1973. Bambaataa had won a trip to Africa as a prize in a writing contest.
He had also seen the film Zulu starring Micheal Caine and was inspired by the Zulu’s resilience against the British Colonialists
Bambaataa was a name adopted from Zulu chief Bambatha who led a rebellion in South Africa in the early 20th century.
Originally the Zulu Nation was a break dance crew consisting of the Zulu Kings and Zulu Queens. Bambaataa is founder of the Zulu Nation and true pioneer of the hiphop movement.
Hiphop stayed in the Bronx until the likes of Bambaataa took it out of the Bronx.
Fab Five Freddy made it possible for Bambaataa and others to play at Manhattan clubs like the Mudd before predominantly white audiences.
2. When is a Zulu chief not a Zulu chief?
Malcolm Mclaren, Ex Sex Pistols manager and then manager of Bow wow wow first learns of HipHop through Bambaataa. He talks of being in fear for his life at one of Bambaataa’s Bronx parties, clearly misled by what he had heard and read. The story in white circles at the time was that white people who went to parties in the Bronx were sure to be robbed or even worse, this according to Bambaataa was total nonsense. McLaren speaks of blagging his way through the black and Hispanic crowd posing as “CBS record label rep”, crawling under the dj table and pleading with Bambaataa to stand next to him for ‘protection’.
Bambaataa showcased more of his dj skills and growing Zulu Nation entourage at the Ritz alongside Bow Wow Wow, a band McLaren had put together to showcase the Vivian Westwood fashion line he was involved with promoting at that time.
3. Stealing things is a glorious occupation, particularly in the art world. (McLaren quote)
Within a year of McLaren puts together Buffalo Gals with the help of super producer Trevor Horn of the Art of Noise. Hiphop NYC style was about to hit the UK, the result of McLaren’s first attempt at a record is Duck Rock.
The Duck Rock video captures many styles and images, the exciting intro shows pre bling NYC 81 as the back drop to the World Famous Supreme Team’s classic chant “Do you like scccrrratchin? What izzit“? McLaren poses with horned beat box pushing his new image of leader of the duck school. The video’s music styles range from wild wild west square dance duck mockery, to world music flavours and early 80′s Bboy fusion. Here is a huge slab of NYC 81. Rock Steady and Mr Freeze breaking and popping to the chant of “duck duck duck“. Lil Normski also features in the video, then a 13 year old kid, smurfed his way onto UK TV screens. Many VHS tapes were worn out from the obsessive rewinding of those epic moments. Black UK kids (the early UK bboy scene was predominently black, white kids joined in later) immediately adopted the new phenomenon. Rock Steady gave young British kids their first lesson in b boying. School playgrounds filled with kids rolling on the ground trying to emulate what they’d seen in those brief moments. Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu (‘Natives’ was the term McLaren used on one song. Of course the Zulus are ‘natives’ of south africa but far too often the word ‘native’ is ‘primitive’ in disguise’) is ever present throughout this video “Zulu on a time bomb”. Leagues away from Bow Wow Wow.
In Julian Temple’s excellent documentary “The Filth and the Fury” the Sex Pistol’s lead singer John Lydon labeled McLaren as a ‘thief, who stole his ideas’. Another band member said McLaren was a blagger who knew many people in the music industry.
Throughout Duck Rock, McLaren takes on the role as head master and is not afraid to hand out the orders. We see McLaren getting impatient with a World Famous Supreme team member for getting his words wrong. In fact most of McLaren’s input in this film is handing out orders to dancers, double dutch girls, zulus… anyone. The cast of characters (mainly Africans, Hispanics and African Americans) are taking orders from McLaren in his head honcho role.” “FALL HEAD OVER HEELS, CLAP CLAP, ROLL BACKWARDS, GET DOWN ON YOUR HAND AND KNEES, MOVE FROM SIDE TO SIDE, LIKE AN ANIMAL”
Not so much lyrical, but more nursery rhyme. Not many lines to read between…hmmm maybe.
Hip Hop’s would be 6th element “Double Dutch” was also showcased on Duck Rock, but just didn’t catch on overseas even though Bambaataa included the double dutch girls alongside rappers bboys and graffiti writers on not so distant future tours to Europe.
4. Too cool for school… so skip it!
McLaren described Hiphop as ‘black people’s punk music’ claiming that they’ constructed their music from record industry rubbish that no one wanted’.
In actual fact Bambaataa was very well versed in many styles of music and adopted the moniker ‘Master of Records‘ because of this. Tracks that Bambaataa played often where bootlegged and sold for big money after Bambaataa started the initial buzz on a record.
5. What goes around…
Bambaataa joined forces with ex-Sex Pistol and PIL frontman, John Lydon (McLaren stopped him from using the name Johnny Rotten at one point) for the Celluloid record label flame thrower World Destruction.
Malcolm McLaren must be viewed as one who joined the gold rush when HipHop was there for the taking.
Q: Was Malcolm McLaren an innovator?
Q: Was Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation ideas at the core of Duck Rocks ‘Hip Hop philosophy?’
6. Faking the funk
Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock goes down in Hip Hop history by default, boldly walking straight through the Hip Hop front door, briefly showing a guest pass on the way in. In the early part of the 80′s, Hip Hop was young and hungry and was willing to leave that door open for anyone willing to feed her.
Buffalo Gals is a bonified hip hop song, simply because it featured Zulu Nation before most of us even knew what Zulu meant. In the very same way jazz musician Herbie Hancock adopted Hip Hop in the song Rockit and employed Grandmaster DST as his ticket, or Blondie’s song Rapture mentioning Grandmaster Flash, her ticket Fab 5 Freddy in the background with a spray can. Well damn that must be Hip Hop right? Grandmaster Flash accept’s Blondie into the Hip Hop realms on his Sugar Hill classic Adventures of Grand Master Flash on the Wheels of Steel when he cut up Blondie’s ‘rap’ “Flash is Fast, Flash is cool”.
Gwendolyn Chisolm, member of The Sequence (the Sugarhill label’s first and only all female rap group), adopted the name Blondie as her M.C. moniker. Another member of the group, Angie B later goes on to have commercial success as chart topping RnB star Angie Stone.
To McLaren’s credit, if there was no Buffalo Gals then there would have not been the classic ‘Hey DJ‘ by collaborators The World’s Famous Supreme Team.
7. “Hip hop music would have reached all those people anyway with or without us” (Beastie Boys quote)
Who can truly separate who has paid for a legitimate ticket to ride the hip hop train from who’s having a free ride?
It’s very possible that McLaren was stealing a free ride in the Zulu cabin. If this was the case, then McLaren’s entry blag would have DEFINITELY been ‘Oh I’m with Bambaataa!’, just like at those early 80′s Bronx parties.