Members of the Zulu Nation Told Alleged Sexual Abuse Victim to Recant His Accusations against Afrika Bambaataa
Phone recordings suggest Ronald Savage was threatened and bullied after he alleged that the hip-hop icon molested him repeatedly when he was 15.
Photo via Getty Images/ Neilson Barnard.
[Update August 7, 2016 10 AM]: An audio recording of the call between Ronald Savage and Mickey Bentson was posted on YouTube by Irritated Genie Speaks. The clip has been embedded below.
When former music executive and Bronx politician Ronald Savage dropped a bombshell molestation accusation against one of hip-hop's most respected pioneers, Afrika Bambaataa, he knew it would send shockwaves through the industry and his community.
Savage expected some blowback from the Zulu Nation, the international hip-hop awareness organization that Bambaataa co-founded in 1973, and which counts a bevy of influential rappers as affiliates, including Biz Markie, Big Boi, Q-Tip, and Joey Bada$. Savage also anticipated some criticism from his fellow Zulu brothers, many of whom he grew up with in the Bronx River area of the Bronx. What he didn't expect was to be threatened, intimidated, and accused of lying.
But two taped phone calls between Savage and a pair of top Zulu Nation lieutenants—including Mickey Bentson, a sometimes-road manager for rapper and TV star Ice-T—suggest that Savage was subjected to veiled threats, bullying, and attempts to get him to retract his accusations against the hip-hop icon and Zulu Nation leader.
"You damn hurt everybody in our whole organization, bro—and we would not expect that from you," Bentson says in a 22-minute, expletive-filled conversation with Savage, a recording of which was obtained by THUMP. "[If it was] anybody else [but you] we'd be like, 'Man, fuck that nigga.' We'd tear that nigga's head off. Stomp him the fuck out, B. For real, B. He'd be missing in action." Over the phone with THUMP, Bentson confirmed that it was him on the call to Savage.
A life-long Zulu Nation member and former Democratic activist also known as "Bee-Stinger," Savage says he was one of the organization's youngest members when he joined in his teens. He went on to work in a management capacity with Zulu affiliate Doug E. Fresh, rappers Showbiz & A.G., and dance group Snap!. Savage rocked the hip-hop underground a few months ago when he accused Bambaataa, 59, of allegedly molesting him repeatedly when he was 15.
In a 2014 memoir called Impulse, Urges and Fantasies: Life is a Bag of Mixed Emotions, Savage wrote that he was molested in 1980 by a well-known musical pioneer; but he did not name Bambaataa publicly as the alleged perpetrator until a March 29 appearance on The StarChamber YouTube Channel, with radio host DJ Star. In the interview, Savage alleges that Bambaataa showed him pornography and pressured him into oral sex on several occasions at Savage's Bronx home as a teenager. Since Savage's accusations—which Bambaataa has publicly denied—three other alleged victims have come forward.
In a statement made to Rolling Stone in April, Bambaataa dismissed the allegations, calling them "baseless" and "cowardly." In June, Zulu Nation issued a public statement, apologizing to Savage and other "survivors of apparent sexual molestation by Bambaataa," praising the alleged victims for their "bravery," and announcing the removal of several longtime leaders, including Bambaataa.
Bambaataa's lawyer, Vivian Tozaki, declined to comment for this piece. Bambaataa could not be reached, and did not respond to messages sent via social media.
"Why are we hurting the brand that we have, man? This is a brand, B."—Mickey Bentson to Ronald Savage
According to Savage, 50, the heated call between him and Bentson occurred on March 30, a day after his appearance on The Star Chamber. Bentson flatly dismisses Savage's allegations, saying on the tape: "Anything a motherfucker did—he wanted to do it, man. Ain't nobody force nobody to do nothing, bro. Ain't nobody put no knife to their throat, didn't put no gun to their head—no one took no bat to their face. Niggas did what they wanted to do, man, because they wanted to do that."
Over the phone with Bentson, Savage shouts that he "was a fuckin' kid" when he was allegedly molested by Bambaataa.
"This is about what happened to me, what Bam did to me," Savage says on the call. "I had to get it out, and I want people to respect that, man. I been living with this shit. I been telling people. People knew over the years...but I protected Bam. I'm a victim. And I still protected him."
Bentson, currently on the road with Ice-T for the rapper's touring "Art of Rap" festival, repeatedly accuses Savage of trying to harm the Zulu Nation in the recording.
"I'm 57 years old, man," Bentson says. "Bam is 60 years old, man. Y'all are tearing us apart with the bullshit. If this was something that was on your mind, this shit should have been out 20 years ago, 25 years ago. Why are we hurting the brand that we have, man? This is a brand, B."
During the phone conversation, Bentson also accuses Savage of going public so he can sell more books to make money. Savage retorts: "See Mick, now you disrespecting me. This shit ain't about money. I don't give a fuck about that."
"Y'all know what happened, so stop covering for him," Savage continues. "That's the thing that makes me mad."
In a separate call with a man Savage identifies as Saladeen Walker, a longtime Zulu member who works for the organization's security team, Savage is similarly pressured to drop the allegations.
"I felt threatened."—Ronald Savage
"Bee-Stinger, do me a favor, man: write a retraction," the man says on the recording. "[You were] bugging out... You like my family. If something was to happen to you, I would feel really fucking bad about it."
In an interview with THUMP, Savage said he felt "threatened" by the call and hasn't talked to Walker since.
"When he said, 'I don't want nothing to happen to you'—when he said that to me, I felt like they were planning my murder," Savage said. "That's how I felt. That's what it was. I felt threatened."
Like Bentson, the man on the second call accuses Savage of trying to take down the Zulu Nation and pleads with him to recant his accusations against Bambaataa.
"Yo Bee-Stinger, could you just write a retraction for me, please?" he says. "Do this for Saladeen. Just say, 'Yo, I was bugging out. This never happened. And I'm sorry.' Just do that. So I can rest."
He also tells Savage he should recant so that people don't think he's a homosexual.
"For real, you making yourself seem gay right now," the man says. "You don't wanna have people thinking that... Come on, Bee-Stinger, do what's right."
When reached by his cell phone, Walker declined to discuss the recorded conversation with THUMP, and neither confirmed nor denied that it was him on the call with Savage—though the person on the recording does refer to himself as Saladeen.
In a phone interview with THUMP, Bentson said he has a copy of the recording of his call with Savage. He dismissed Savage's allegations against Bambaataa, saying: "I don't give a damn about that. None of us care about what happened 30 years ago." He also blasted THUMP for reporting on the taped phone calls.
"You doing a story on Zulu Nation? Something we created for 30 years? Are you crazy? You calling me and asking me questions?" he said. "I got your name. Are you crazy? You don't know me."
Asked to comment on the tape, Bentson said: "Here's my comment: suck my dick, fag."
Zulu Nation spokesman King EL One told THUMP in a phone interview that the organization's current leadership stands by Savage and other alleged victims. He said he hadn't heard the tapes.
"The Zulu Nation supports the victims," King EL One said. "We want to let the victims know, 'Hey, we're on your side. You're our family.'"
He added that he was unaware of any action taken against Bentson and Walker and believes they are still members of Zulu Nation.