As one of the artists who helped invent the music that exploded out of South Bronx block parties and Boys Club dances, hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa was already a New York legend in the late 1970s.
Ronald Savage was just a kid thrilled to be part of the burgeoning Bronx hip-hop scene when he met Bambaataa, whose 1982 hit “Planet Rock” helped turn rap into a global phenomenon. But the thrill of hanging out with the influential artist evaporated quickly, Savage says, when Bambaataa sexually abused him in 1980, inflicting deep emotional wounds that continue to torture him to this day.
The former music industry executive and author says he struggled privately with intimacy and struggled with suicidal thoughts for decades from the abuse that occurred when he was 15 years old, but he broke his silence in recent weeks with the release of a self-published memoir entitled “Impulse Urges and Fantasies” that includes the explosive Bambaataa allegations as well as a YouTube interview with urban radio veteran “Star” that has rocked the hip-hop world.
“I want him to know how much he damaged me growing up,” says Savage, 50, who was known as “Bee Stinger” when he was running with the Zulu Nation, the international hip-hop organization Bambaataa founded in the 1970s.
“I was just a child,” he told the Daily News. “Why did he take my innocence away? Why did he do this to me?”
Savage says he’s speaking out because he wants to change New York’s statute of limitations, which bars child sexual abuse victims from pursuing criminal charges or civil penalties after their 23rd birthday. He’s not looking for a payday, he says, but he does want relief from the secret that has haunted him from years -- and he wants to prevent children from suffering like he has.
“I think the statute of limitations is unfair for victims,” he says. “It took me all of these years to speak about this. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed.”
Savage, also a Bronx Democratic Party activist, says Bambaataa was 23 years old and already perhaps the best-known ambassador of the burgeoning Bronx hip-hop scene when the rap star molested him 36 years ago. Bambaataa abused him at least five times, Savage says, but he did not go to the police or tell anybody else, although he says that years later, he did confide in his mother, ex-wife and several former girlfriends.
“People don’t understand that you are scared. You’re scared if you tell on this person, what are they going to do to you, what you’re going to do to your family,” says Savage.
Bambaataa did not respond to requests for comment, but his lawyer Vivian Kimi Tozaki issued a sharp denial last week.
“Defamatory statements were published seeking to harm my client’s reputation so as to lower him in the estimation of the community while deterring others from associating or dealing with him,” she said, referring to Savage’s book. “The statements show a reckless disregard for the truth, were published with knowledge of their falsity, and are being made by a lesser-known person seeking publicity.”
Chuck Freeze of the Jazzy Five, who recorded and performed with Bambaataa and was friendly with Savage when the abuse allegedly took place, says Savage is no liar.
“Ronald was the kind of guy you could trust,” says Freeze, whose real name is Charles Foushee. “You could leave money on the table and know it would be there when you got back. A really good dude. Easy to talk to. Very intelligent.
“We had no idea about this — and we would not have tolerated it if we did. Do I believe it? Yes, I do.”
Zulu Nation “minister of information” Quadeer Shakur, who declined comment for this story, threatened to file a defamation lawsuit against Savage in a March 31 cease-and-desist letter. The organization, which promotes unity in the hip-hop community, also issued a statement that suggests Savage had concocted the allegations to generate sales for his book.
But Bronx court records obtained by The News suggest Savage told his ex-wife about the abuse years before he published the book, which he began writing when a therapist suggested he write down his experiences and anxieties. Savage got a restraining order against his ex-wife’s boyfriend, Daniel Harris, after Harris threatened Savage during a Dec. 3, 2010, phone call. Harris was later charged with violating the restraining order after a confrontation with Savage on a Bronx subway platform.
“I know about the Bambaataa thing,” the court records say Harris told Savage in July 2011. Savage believes Harris heard about the abuse allegations from his ex.
Savage told police that Harris followed him onto a train and punched him “sharply in the side,” according to the complaint. The case was set to go to trial in 2012 when a judge agreed to let Harris plead guilty to a harassment violation, a charge lower than a misdemeanor, as long as Harris stayed out of trouble for a year.
Two high-ranking Zulu Nation officials, meanwhile, recently called Savage several times and said they would help him get a sitdown with Bambaataa so he could confront his alleged abuser. And they vowed to help him get compensation for the alleged abuse.
“Name your price,” one says on recordings of the conversations reviewed by The News. “We can take care of this today. Cash money.”
Both men asked Savage to stop speaking to the media about the abuse allegations, although it is not clear that they are trying to buy his silence.
“I’m not talking about no $5,000,” the man says. “I’m talking about, let’s get a number, let’s say $50,000.”
“One hundred thousand!” Savage fires back, although he repeatedly adds during the conversations that he doesn’t want Bambaataa’s money.
Tozaki says Bambaataa has no knowledge of the conversations.
“Neither of the two men were given authority to speak on Bam’s behalf,” the lawyer says.
Star says Bambaata is eventually going to have to address the allegations himself.
“If Bambaataa wants to retain his credibility, he needs to step up and talk about what happened here,” says Star, the former Hot 97 and Power 105 DJ whose real name is Troi Torain.
Bambaataa — born Kevin Donovan in 1957 — was a warlord with the Black Spades street gang during the “Bronx is Burning” 1970s when he took a trip to Africa that changed his life. He returned to New York and transformed the Black Spades into the Zulu Nation, an organization to promote community and unity as well as the hip-hop arts — break-dancing, graffiti and music.
Bambaataa organized legendary parties in parks and other places that drew huge crowds and sparked the hip-hop scene that continues today. Bambaataa and other hip-hop pioneers — Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc, the Sugar Hill Gang, Fab Five Freddy — later took their sound downtown to the Village and the Lower East Side, where they partied and created art with punk rockers like Debbie Harry. By the mid 1980s, Bambaataa was performing around the world.
Savage was just 13 years old but he became part of the scene because he lived in the Castle Hill Houses in the Bronx, which had a large terrace that was the scene of many of hip-hop’s earliest events. Freeze remembers Savage as a “crate boy,” one of the kids who helped Bambaataa and other DJs haul in the crates of records that fueled the new art form.
“It was just about fun, hanging out, listening to music,” Savage says.
Savage’s friendship with Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation had its advantages.
“I had a big name on the street. I was the youngest of the Zulu Nation. Nobody bothered me back then because nobody messed with the Zulu Nation,” he recalls.
Savage says the first sex assault took place at Bambaataa’s apartment, where Savage sought refuge after cutting school. Bambaataa fondled himself and Savage that day, then invited another man to join in, Savage says. During the second incident, Bambaataa allegedly ordered Savage to perform oral sex on an older Zulu Nation member.
“I hated myself,” Savage says. “I don’t even know why I did that. I don’t even know how he got me to do that. It was like I was hypnotized.”
Savage says he eventually stopped the abuse by pulling away from his former hip-hop hero.
“He came to my house. I pretended I wasn’t there and that’s how it began to stop,” Savage says. “But by that time I was already messed up.”
Savage avoided Bamabaataa after that, but he didn’t leave hip-hop. He later worked for several years for Strong City Records, a Bronx-based hip-hop label, before he joined Dick Scott Entertainment, a management company whose clients included New Kids on the Block. Savage headed the company’s hip-hop division, working with Doug E. Fresh, Snap and other acts.
Now Savage says he will turn his energies to reforming the New York statute of limitations, which advocates for sexual abuse survivors say denies victims justice.
“I promised myself before I die, I’m going to let the world know what happened to me,” he says.
“They need to get rid of the statute of limitations. How can anyone who has not been a victim say when somebody is ready to speak about this?”