With the release of just one single, 1982's "Planet Rock" by Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force, rap music leapt ahead from the drumbreak aesthetic of the '70s to achieve a man-machine fusion and prove -- for what is likely the first time ever -- that computers are just as funky as people (correction: just as funky as the people using them). The mood of the early '80s was ready to embrace, in the musical world, the same technological futurism that powered cultural phenomena like Pac-Man and Star Wars. Add to those the advent of affordable synthesizers, and it's a natural that computer funk would hit the streets during those years, and create one of the most influential styles of the past 25 years: electro.
No single encapsulates the electro era quite like "Planet Rock." A robotic funk workout with rigid breakbeats and a roster of inner-space handclaps and cymbal work, the track was mostly the work of three men: pioneer DJ Afrika Bambaataa, dancefloor authority Arthur Baker, and keyboard player John Robie. Baker and Bambaataa, fascinated with the success of Germany's Kraftwerk on R&B radio and in clubs, hired Robie away from his job in the club-remix firm Disconet to record a fusion of hip-hop with electronic pop. The results, indebted to the melody of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" and the rhythm track of the same group's "Numbers" hit from the previous year, cost only 900 dollars to make. It utilized one of the first Fairlight synthesizers in America, and was the first R&B record to use the Roland TR-808 drum machine. The rapping, though not up to later standards, does make an improvement on the rather lame rhymes and lack of rhythm from the first few rap singles to hit the market.
When "Planet Rock" came out in June of 1982, it revolutionized the hip-hop scene and put the Tommy Boy label on the map. Soon, urban producers were turning to synthesizers and keyboards, churning out dozens of electro hits like "Clear" by Cybotron, "Rockit" by Herbie Hancock, "Jam on It" by Newcleus, "Egypt, Egypt" by the Egyptian Lover, and "Jam the Box" by Pretty Tony. The electro fascination proved the launching pad for techno, house, and bass music.