Journalist Leila Wills led dozens in a protest at New York City’s City Hall on Monday (March 27) calling for the resignation of Universal Hip-Hop Museum leader Rocky Bucano. Bucano, who serves as executive director, president and chairman of the museum, is believed to still be affiliated with the Universal Zulu Nation and Afrika Bambaataa, who has been accused of sexually abusing and trafficking children during his time as head of the world-renowned organization.
Wills—a former music industry contractor and co-founder of Hip-Hop Stands With Survivors—spoke with Rolling Stone about how Bucano’s continued support of the Universal Zulu Nation has affected those allegedly abused by Bambaataa and his associates. According to Wills, Bucano’s removal and their efforts to stop taxpayers’ dollars from going towards funding the Universal Hip-Hop Museum, are necessary measure in her advocacy of the alleged victims.
“[We want] Rocky Bucano to step down, because if they got a responsible person in there, then the Zulu Nation affiliation would go away automatically,” Wills told the publication. “We are going to stay on the elected officials to stop our public dollars from funding that museum, from the mayor to the Bronx Borough president to the state legislators and congress. They are re-traumatizing survivors all the time with all that Zulu stuff.”
Bucano has refuted his alleged ties to Bambaataa and the Universal Zulu Nation, pointing to the Universal Hip-Hop Museum’s disassociation with Bambaataa several years ago as proof that the he and the museum have taken the allegations against Bambaataa and the Universal Zulu Nation seriously.
“The Universal Hip Hop Museum and Mr. Bucano condemn all acts of acts of violence and abuse,” reads a statement released in response to the demonstration led by Wills. “I would like to make it clear that Afrika Bambaataa has not had a role at the Universal Hip Hop Museum since 2016. I and the Universal Hip Hop Museum are not party to any activities affiliated with the Universal Zulu Nation. I affirm that the Universal Hip Hop Museum is committed to its mission to empower, educate, and uplift communities. While it is true that Afrika Bambaataa was a founding member of the museum, he was removed from any involvement with the museum as soon as the allegations surfaced. He has never been a board member, advisory board member or volunteer.”
Bambaataa, born Lance Taylor, was first accused of sexual abuse of minors in 2016. In reports by the New York Daily News, four men spoke out about being groomed and trafficked by the Hip-Hop icon at ages as young as 12-years-old. Taylor’s accusers include Hassan Campbell, a popular social media personality who claims he was abused on numerous occasions. Bambaataa has denied Campbell and the other alleged victims’s allegations and questioned the motive behind their accusations, which he deemed “baseless” and “cowardly.”
However, the victims’ claims resulted in Bambaataa falling out of favor with the Universal Zulu Nation, which removed him from its leadership, and Universal Hip-Hop Museum denouncing his alleged actions shortly after. Or so it seems.
According to Wills, the museum has celebrated the Universal Zulu Nation and promoted content featuring Bambaataa on numerous occasions following its supposed distancing from the Hip-Hop pioneer. This includes posts by the museum’s official Twitter account acknowledging the anniversary of the Universal Zulu Nation and an email list promoting a Universal Zulu Nation celebration at the Universal Hip-Hop Museum.
In November 2022, Wills called for Bucano’s removal from the Universal Hip-Hop Museum leadership in a 30-page report detailing Bucano’s alleged ties to the Universal Zulu Nation, as well as the damage caused to the alleged survivors by its members. “The hip-hop world created an underground economy for poor kids like John Doe; the parties, the flyers, graffiti jackets, rapping and beatboxing on corners, selling tapes, and doing security were all ways poor kids could make money,” she wrote in the report, which she released following the museum’s failure to issue a response, as requested.
Rumors of sexual misconduct have continued to swirl around Bambaattaa and the Universal Zulu Nation, with additional victims coming forward with claims of being molested. In 2021, a civil suit was filed against Bambatta and the organization by a John Doe, who says Bambaataa “sexually abused and sex trafficked” him beginning in 1991, when he was 12-years-old, and ending in 1995. According to the suit, he met Bambaataa while becoming a volunteer for the Universal Zulu Nation, which was headquartered at Bambaataa’s Bronx River Apartments. The victim says the abuse first began at the headquarters and was later taken to various locations by Bambaataa, who would allegedly offer the victim to other men to have sex while he watched.
Wills says she and Hip-Hop Stands With Survivors has made it their business to shed light on the actions of abusers and ensure they pay for their indiscretions, regardless of cultural standing or contributions. “We’re going to make sure this is never written out of their legacy,” she vowed. “We’re going to make sure predators are held accountable and that, no, it’s not okay to harm Black and brown men and women or kids.”