Honorable Mentions: Treacherous Three “Feel the Heartbeat,” Funky Four Plus One “That's the Joint,” T-Ski Valley “Catch the Beat”

Kevin Donovan, a.k.a. Afrika Bambaataa, was just 24 years old by the time this record—the first release listing him as an artist—hit the streets of New York City on Tommy Boy Records. By the time he had already lived many lives, from record collector and DJ to member of the Black Spades street gang. After winning an essay contest that sent him on a trip to Africa, Bam formed the Universal Zulu Nation, giving youth from the Bronx a chance to channel their energy and creativity into more positive pursuits like DJing, rapping, an graffiti writing, as opposed to gang warfare. Legendary DJs Red Alert, Afrika Islam, and Jazzy Jay were all early Zulu Nation members.

Throwing block parties and park jams was the top priority, and making records was definitely a secondary pursuit. But when he connected with Tom Silverman, who founded the Tommy Boy label in 1981—an imprint that would go on to bring talents like De La Soul, Queen Latifah, and Naughty by Nature to the world—Bam decided to take a group of MCs from the South Bronx’s Soundview Houses into the studio. He challenged MCs Master Ice (“twice as nice”), Mr. Freeze (a.k.a. “Chucky Chuck”), Master Dee (“what it be?”), and AJ Les (“at your request”) along with DJ Jazzy Jay to make a record based on Gwen McRae’s club smash “Funky Sensation,” which had been released on Atlantic Records that same year. Renaming it in their DJ’s honor, they called the song “Jazzy Sensation.” Side A of the orange-labeled Tommy Boy 12” was the “Bronx Version” while the lackluster “Manhattan Version” on side B featured backing band the Kryptic Krew and Tina B singing the same hook as on Side A. Without Bam or the Jazzy Five it lacks the excitement and flavor that made the 9-minute-plus “Bronx Version” a classic. “All the ladies in the house—The ladies! The ladies!” That’s because their call-and-response lyrics were all stage show routines that they’d perfected in park jams and rec centers across the Bronx. Sadly the “kings of the body rock rap” never recorded together again—reportedly due to business disputes. But this immortal release ensures that their jazzy sensation will be felt for many years to come.
Rob Kenner