Top 15 Afro-Punks

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3. Tom Morello

 

Punk rock and hip-hop have always been intimately connected—they're both hectic and pissed off, and often used as a platform for airing social grievances. The hugely talented Rage Against the Machine guitarist saw the interplay between these two art forms and fused them together through innovative techniques. Morello's most legendary contribution to the annals of music is his scratch guitar stylings, which fuse Thurston Moore's erratic noise experiments and Grandmaster Flash's sharp turntablism. From the first deafening blow of Morello's F# on Rage's radical 1996 hit "Bulls on Parade," there is no mistaking that he was informed by the Geto Boys as much as Minor Threat. Although Rage has not released new music since 2000 cover album Renegades, the guitarist has kept busy playing guitar for several years with the supergroup Audioslave, releasing political folk music as the Nightwatchman, performing a few reunion shows with Rage and collaborating with rapper Boots Riley on their Street Sweeper Social Club project. 

 

2. Don Letts

 

This dub-loving rude boy left an indelible impact on the earliest purveyors of punk rock in the U.K. and has since been one of the subculture's most valued historians through films and books. Letts started out running the now-legendary Acme Attractions fashion boutique in the early '70s. Next to Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's SEX, Acme was the hottest shop in the U.K., attracting clients like the Clash and the Sex Pistols. Because most punk bands hadn't recorded any albums yet, Letts, whose parents were immigrants from Jamaica, used to blast reggae and dub at the store. Eventually, he became the house DJ for the Roxy—London's version of CBGB. Letts is often credited as the first person to expose the burgeoning punk scene to artists like Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, which is important considering how many bands would go on to combine punk and reggae. The Clash was so indebted to Letts, they put him on the cover of their 1980 EP Black Market Clash. Later when Mick Jones was pushed out of the Clash in 1983, he joined Letts to form the eclectic group Big Audio Dynamite, which is still active today. Letts also compiled and directed punk's first documentary, the 1978 film The Punk Rock Movie. His documentary on the Clash, The Clash: Westway to the World, garnered him his first Grammy in 2003. Letts continues to be a diplomat and historian for punk, hosting a radio show on the BBC and filming punk-related documentaries. 

 

1. Bad Brains

 

Who else could sit at the top spot of this list? Bad Brains aren't just the most important Afro-Punk band, they might be the greatest punk band. Like the Velvet Underground, the Brains have never been chart toppers. But their influence is pervasive and undeniable. Legendary punks like Ian Mackaye and Henry Rollins looked up to lead vocalist H.R. (which stands for Human Rights) like he was a superhero, even following his suggestions to start their own bands. The Beastie Boys were so enamored with these Rasta punks, they made sure their group's initials were B.B. too. This D.C. band's 1982 self-titled debut is considered by many to be the first definitive hardcore album. But their later material, such as 1989's Quickness, is just as strong, delving deeper into reggae, metal and funk. Since they began as jazz-fusion musicians, Bad Brains approached punk with a greater set of technical skills than their peers. Their virtuosity allowed them to take punk rock to levels of speed and ferocity that it never reached before and has yet to reach since.

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