is a welcome blast from the past, a stiff upper lip in the face of the overproduced, homogeneous hip-hop that clogs today's radio waves. Afrika Bambaataa throws us back to the age of Grandmaster Flash and Kool Moe Dee, flashing more street cred here than most modern MCs could hope to muster after a straight year of cohosting TRL
For the R&B newbies out there, here's a quick history lesson: Afrika Bambaataa has been spinning records since your dad was in grade school, and he casts a broader shadow over rap and dance culture than Puff Daddy or Tupac. There likely wouldn't even be such a genre if it weren't for Afrika Bambaataa. His seminal Planet Rock is one of the most important records of the past millennium, and his influence can be heard (and felt) in everything from disco and rock to electronica. He's also been a lifelong advocate of peace and nonviolence, and has used music as a universal mediator for over 20 years. True to form, Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light is vintage Afrika. It has a message of tolerance and empowerment, an armada of guest MCs and a unique retro vibe that meshes dancefloor crunk with mix tape aesthetics. Most importantly, given the current climate of crotch-grabbing, attitude-fueled hip-hop, it's simply a lot of fun.
Each track straddles the timeline of the past three decades, one foot perched upon the minimalist electro-funk of the '80s and the other tapping squarely in the here and now. Bambaataa, a former DJ and producer renowned for his creativity and unpredictability, here utilizes every modern production technique available in a "kitchen sink" approach, making each of Dark Matter's tracks a global party. He cribs from the Middle East on opener "Got That Vibe", pays homage to Kraftwerk on "Metal" (featuring, among other Bambaataa devotees, Gary Numan), and invokes Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson on "Soul Makossa". "Take You Back" splits the difference between The Sugarhill Gang and garagey disco, while the title track's low-key throb and bursts of pure soul would make Parliament Funkadelic proud.
However, Bambaataa isn't all throwbacks. "Just a Smoke" is one of the most dextrous dance tracks I've heard in years, and "2137" could have been lifted from the last Blackalicious album. The man responsible for giving De la Soul and A Tribe Called Quest their start updates that timeless mid-'90s sound on "Shake "N" Pop Roll" and serves up some James Brown samples on the simmering "Pick Up on This". He even has time to extend the message on the smooth and funky "No Dope Fiends on the Floor", reminding us that an older, wiser Afrika Bambaataa hasn't lost sight of the vision that drove him from the streets to the turntables a quarter-century ago. As such, Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light is a history lesson at the speed of light. You never quite know where any given song is headed next, but you know you'll enjoy the trip.