The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” becomes hip-hop’s first Top 40 hit

The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” becomes hip-hop’s first Top 40 hit

Hip hop’s roots as a musical phenomenon are subject to debate, but its roots as a commercial phenomenon are much clearer. They trace back directly to January 5, 1980, when the song “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip hop single ever to reach the Billboard top 40.

Prior to the success of “Rapper’s Delight,” hip hop was little known outside of New York City, and little known even within New York City by those whose orbits were limited to Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. The basic elements of hip hop—MCs rapping, DJs mixing and scratching, B-Boys break-dancing—were all in place by 1979, but you could not walk into a record store in Times Square and buy a hip hop album. Hip hop was something you had to experience live, in clubs and at parties in neighborhoods like the South Bronx and Harlem.

Those were the settings in which founding fathers of hip hop like Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow and DJ Kool Herc were busy making their names while the crowds at Studio 54 danced away the last days of the disco just a few miles to the south. Meanwhile, it was a businesswoman from New Jersey who put the two trends together to give birth to an industry. Her name was Sylvia Robinson, formerly a singer and later the owner of a small record label called All Platinum. After hearing a DJ rapping over records in a Harlem club, she set her son Joey to the task of finding someone who could do the same thing on tape. Joey recruited his friend Big Bank Hank from an Englewood, New Jersey, pizzeria, and Master Gee and Wonder Mike from the surrounding neighborhood. This was on a Friday. Sylvia named the newly formed trio after the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, chose Chic’s disco smash “Good Times” as a backing track and scheduled studio time for the following Monday.

What happened between that Friday and Monday is a subject of some controversy. It involves Big Bank Hank borrowing his lyrics almost wholesale from the notebook of Harlem MC Grandmaster Caz, whose name appears nowhere on the credits or royalty checks for “Rapper’s Delight.” What happened on Monday, however, was straightforward and revolutionary: the making of a record that began, “I said a hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie…” and ended up changing the course of music history.


29 Black Music Milestones: Sugarhill Gang Pioneers Hip-Hop

Formed in New York City in the late 70s, the Sugarhill Gang is one of the pioneering acts of hip-hop.

Their 1979 single, “Rapper’s Delight,” was arguably the first rap song to be played on the radio and the first hip-hop single to become a Top 40 chart hit, reaching No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 4 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Their self-titled debut album, originally released in 1980, reached No. 32 on R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and is one of the first full-length releases in hip-hop history.

The Sugarhill Gang never topped a Billboard chart or enjoyed the same acclaim that “Rapper’s Delight” brought, but they did have a few other respectable hits like “Apache,” “Eighth Wonder,” “Rapper’s Reprise” and “Showdown.”ARTIST MENTIONED

Over twenty years later, The Sugarhill Gang is not only an important piece of music history for its chart and sale success, it is still one of the biggest party hip-hop anthems to date thanks to lyrics like “throw your hands up in the air and party hardy like you just don’t care.”.

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Sugar Hill Records: “Rapper's Delight”

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Launched in 1979 by industry veterans Sylvia and Joe Robinson as a label for rap music (at that time a new genre), Sugar Hill Records, based in Englewood, New Jersey, was named after the upmarket section of Harlem and funded by Manhattan-based distributor Maurice Levy. Sylvia (born Sylvia Vanderpool) had a national hit in 1957 with “Love Is Strange” as half of the duo Mickey and Sylvia Robinson was a former promotions man. Together they ran the All-Platinum label with some success during the 1970s.

At Sugar Hill a core session team of guitarist Skip McDonald, bass player Doug Wimbish, drummer Keith Leblanc, and percussionist Ed Fletcher provided the compulsive rhythm for most of the label’s releases, including three milestone 12-inch (long-playing) singles in the genre that came to be called hip-hop. “ Rapper’s Delight” (1979) by the Sugarhill Gang was the first to make the Top 40 “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” (1981) was a 15-minute epic that sampled sections of Chic’s “Good Times” (1979) and showcased the new sound of scratching (created by manually moving a record back and forth under the record player’s needle) and “The Message” (1982) by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, a heartfelt account of life in the ghetto, showed the potential of hip-hop for conveying social comment.

The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” becomes hip-hop’s first Top 40 hit - HISTORY

On Jan. 5, 1980, the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip hop song to break into the Billboard Top 40. With that, hip hop’s run as a commercial phenomenon officially kicked off.

After Robinson saw a live hip hop show in 1979, she sent her son Joey to recruit some DJs and MCs for a studio recording. He came back with his friend Big Bank Hank and two Manhattan MCs named Master Gee and Wonder Mike. Sylvia dubbed them the Sugarhill Gang based off of the Sugar Hill area of Harlem, threw on the back track of the disco hit “Good Times” and let Big Bank Hank and the boys take over.

“I said a hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie…” didn’t break into fame without controversy, however: Big Bank Hank ripped his lyrics straight out of his former friend Grandmaster Caz’s notebook.

“[Hank] asked me if he could borrow my rhyme book, so I just threw it on the table,” Caz wrote. “I was kinda nonchalant about it, I’m not thinking anything is gonna come from it. And if it did by happenstance, then all right well, hey, he comes from us, so if there’s any trickle-down, it’ll trickle down to us. Who thought it was gonna become an international hit? And as far as trying to protect myself, we didn’t know about lawyers and publishing and writers and mechanical royalties or nothing like that. We weren’t part of the music industry.”

Even though Caz didn’t receive a dime for his work, he didn’t sue over “Rapper’s Delight.”

“I never went to anybody and demanded, ‘You owe me money, this is mine’ or anything like that. I never thought how deeply ‘Rapper’s Delight’ would come into play later on. Even when it became a hit back then I was like, ‘Yeah, ok, whatever,’ and kept it moving. We signed to Tuff City Records, and put records out ourselves.”

The Sugar Hill Gang: 40 years of Rapper’s Delight

“I’ve got these kids who can talk real fast” is how record producer and President of Sugar Hill Records’ Sylvia Robinson described Guy ‘Master Gee’ O’Brien, Michael ‘Wonder Mike’ Wright and Henry ‘Big Bank Hank’ Jackson back in 1979. She couldn’t decide which rapper she liked the most as they auditioned for her in cars or outside pizza joints. “I’ll put you all together,” she said, changing the landscape of music forever.

Rapper’s Delight by The Sugar Hill Gang was the first rap single to become a Top 40 hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. Sampling wasn’t really a thing back then and Chic’s Nile Rogers wasn’t best pleased about their use of Good Times these days he calls it one of his favourite tracks of all time and he’s in good company. Who doesn’t know the opening lines of this iconic track for goodness sake?

We caught up with Guy ‘Master Gee’ O’Brien and Michael ‘Wonder Mike’ Wright (Henry ‘Big Bank Hank’ Jackson sadly died of cancer in 2014, aged 58) at their homes on the East Coast of the US, where they’re “still going strong as a group!” they tell me. “We continue to do what we love and that’s being able to perform, giving our audiences and our die-hard fans an experience that they can enjoy and reminisce over for the rest of their lives.”

“It makes us all feel very blessed to be a part of a song that has stood the test of time.”

It could have been recorded yesterday though, don’t you think? In a world of crap pop where most ‘hits’ sound the same, Rapper’s Delight sounds as fresh as a daisy. I wonder how this massive milestone makes them feel? “Well, it makes us all feel very blessed to be a part of a song that has stood the test of time. Still to this day there’s a big demand for The Sugar Hill Gang. Thanks to Sylvia Robinson and the family for being a big part of making this rap industry come to life and for introducing it to the world.”

It can be argued that, following the global success of Rapper’s Delight, The Sugar Hill Gang were always more successful in Europe than back home in the US. They’ve performed at multiple festivals across the continent throughout their careers, always to huge crowds. Does it feel good to be touring and performing again now? “There’s no greater high in the world than to feel the energy of your fans screaming and directing all that positive energy towards you and to know that somewhere out there in that crowd you have put a smile on someone’s face who may have been having a bad day for what ever reason. We as humans are affectionate and passionate beings, so music is an important part of life.”

It’s been suggested for a long time that Rapper’s Delight was recorded in just one take. I wonder how true that it? And where did those opening lyrics come from? “Yes, it was with the one exception of one stoppage with Hank. The producers never stopped us,” Wonder Mike explains. “All the rapping was done in one take, but we cut it to 15 minutes.” “And I liked the percussive sound of the letter B, so those opening lyrics are basically a spoken drum roll. The part where I go, “To the bang-bang boogie, say up jump the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat.”

Sampling wasn’t really a thing back then and Chic’s Nile Rogers wasn’t best pleased about their use of Good Times these days he calls it one of his favourite tracks of all time

To date, more than 14 million copies of Rapper’s Delight have been sold and the group seem to have just as much energy as ever before. How many times do they think they’ve performed the song over the years? “Wow, that’s impossible to put a number on, but I know that again we are extremely blessed for Rapper’s Delight to still be in demand.” And what about favourite performances? There must be some standout gigs after 40 years? “I’m sure each of us have our own moment on stage which we’d call our “finest moment on stage together”, but for me it was Hong Kong!” Master Gee tells me.

A quick skim through the Snowboxx lineups of recent years demonstrates a who’s who of fresh musical talent, alongside stalwarts of the music industry such as Fatboy Slim. It’s impressive that The Sugar Hill Gang are still relevant now, as much as ever before, for their sampling skills. “We recorded all our songs back in the day with a live band but as far as sampling goes, there’s definitely not a lack of talent at the moment. It just proves that technology will always evolve and get better. But to make great music and great songs, there’s no replacing a real musician in the studio playing what’s in his hear and in his soul…”

Forty years on, there’s no rest for the wicked and the group continue to make new music. 2009’s ‘Lala Song’ with French DJ Bob Sinclar reached the number 1 spot in parts of Europe and they’ve just released a new track on the UK-based Defected Records label called Fever with Melle Mel and Scorpio. So what can we expect from their Snowboxx set, where the crowds are notoriously enthusiastic and up for anything? “It’ll be a non-stop, high-energy show that is guaranteed to leave you speechless.”

Background [ edit | edit source ]

In late 1978, Debbie Harry suggested that Chic's Nile Rodgers join her and Chris Stein at a hip hop event, which at the time was a communal space taken over by teenagers with boombox stereos playing various pieces of music that performers would break dance to. Rodgers experienced this event the first time himself at a high school in the Bronx. On September 20th-21st, 1979, Blondie and Chic were playing at concerts of The Clash in New York at The Palladium. When Chic started playing "Good Times", rapper Fab Five Freddy and the members of the Sugarhill Gang ("Big Bank Hank" Jackson, Mike Wright, and "Master Gee" O'Brien), jumped up on stage and started freestyling with the band. A few weeks later Rodgers was on the dance floor of New York club Leviticus and heard the DJ play a song which opened with Bernard Edwards' bass line from Chic's "Good Times". Rodgers approached the DJ who said he was playing a record he had just bought that day in Harlem. The song turned out to be an early version of "Rapper's Delight," which also included a scratched version of the song's string section. Rodgers and Edwards immediately threatened legal action over copyright, which resulted in a settlement and their being credited as co-writers. [2]  Rodgers admitted that he was originally upset with the song, but would later declare it to be "one of [his] favorite songs of all time" and his favorite of all the tracks that sampled Chic. He also stated that "as innovative and important as "Good Times" was, "Rapper's Delight" was just as much, if not more so."

Before the "Good Times" background starts, the intro to the recording is an interpolation of "Here Comes That Sound Again" by British studio group Love De-Luxe, a dance hit in 1979.

According to Oliver Wang, author of the 2003 Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide, recording artist ("Pillow Talk") and studio owner Sylvia Robinson had trouble finding anyone willing to record a rap song. Most of the rappers who performed in clubs did not want to record. It is said that Robinson's son heard a rapper in a pizza place, and the rapper was persuaded to come to a studio and record someone else's words while "Good Times" was played.

Chip Shearin said in a 2010 interview that at age 17, he was visiting a friend in New Jersey. The friend knew Robinson, who needed some musicians for various recordings, including "Rapper's Delight". Shearin's job on the song was to play the bass for 15 minutes straight, with no mistakes. He was paid $70 but later went on to perform with Sugarhill Gang in concert before backing up such artists as Janet Jackson and Marion Meadows as well as composing movie scores and teaching the business of music on the college level. Shearin described the session this way:

The drummer and I were sweating bullets because that's a long time. And this was in the days before samplers and drum machines, when real humans had to play things. . Sylvia said, 'I've got these kids who are going to talk real fast over it that's the best way I can describe it.'

There's this idea that hip-hop has to have street credibility, yet the first big hip-hop song was an inauthentic fabrication. It's not like the guys involved were the 'real' hip-hop icons of the era, like Grandmaster Flash or Lovebug Starski. So it's a pretty impressive fabrication, lightning in a bottle.

Sugar Hill Gang (1979- )

The Sugar Hill Gang, known as the first nationally popular African American hip-hop group, comprised three members: Mike Wright (Wonder Mike), Henry Jackson (Big Bank Hank), and Guy O’ Brien (Master Gee), all from Englewood, New Jersey. The group is best known for its 1979 hit single, “Rapper’s Delight,” which was also the first hip hop single to rank in the top 40 hits and to become part of a multi-platinum selling album. Rapper’s Delight is also credited with popularizing hip hop as a new musical genre.

Wright, Jackson and O’Brien were discovered and signed to Sugar Hill Records by producer Sylvia Robinson and her husband, record tycoon, Joe Robinson. Sylvia Robinson had become aware of the large block parties that sprang up in the New York area, which featured a new style of music defined as underground hip hop. Robinson met Wright, Jackson, and O’Brien at one of these parties where the three were performers and signed them to the Sugar Hill label. They were given the stage name, Sugar Hill Gang and soon afterward they recorded “Rapper’s Delight.”

With a recording contract and air time on radio stations, the group easily became the most popular hip hop group in the country. In 1979 they also became the first hip hop group to perform on American Bandstand. At the time “Rapper’s Delight” was ranked #36 hit on the U.S. pop chart and #4 on the Rhythm & Blues chart.
The lyrics to “Rapper’s Delight” sung by Big Bank Hank, were originally written by Grandmaster Caz, a former hip hop artist for Chic records. However, Grandmaster Caz did not receive any royalties for this. A lawsuit filed by Chic’s Nile Rodgers for copyright infringement was settled out of court in 1979.

Although “Rapper’s Delight” was an instant hit, the Sugar Hill Gang would never reach the top of the charts again. They released three albums: Sugar Hill Gang (1980), 8th Wonder (1982) and Jump on It (1999). Although considered to be a one hit wonder group, the Sugar Hill Gang opened doors for African Americans into the music industry through hip hop, a genre today dominated by African Americans. “Rapper’s Delight” is still a major influence today. Rolling Stone Magazines ranked it #248 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The group continues to tour today.

MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice scored mega hits with their respective singles "U Can't Touch This" and "Ice Ice Baby." MC Hammer spent lavishly and became one of the first well-known hip-hop stars to incur financial troubles due to money mismanagement. Vanilla Ice's rise to fame raised questions about authenticity in hip-hop and also the potentially expensive perils of using uncleared samples.

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There was a time when hip hop music had no presence on Top 40 radio. Today, that’s hard to imagine with rappers Drake , Cardi B and numerous others in steady rotation. Their songs reach millions of listeners through the airwaves, helping them retain and establish fans thanks to the frequency at which they are heard.

Consider for a moment that you or someone you know are a regular part of a station’s daily audience. And let us assume the reason you listen so often is to hear them play your favorite song by your favorite hip hop artist. How many times do you thank “Mother of Hip Hop,” Sylvia Robinson for that?

There is no punishment involved if you don’t. However, with awareness comes opportunity. It would be cool and incredibly respectful if even briefly we celebrated Robinson for her contribution. You may be in your car with the speakers turned up loud or tucked away with a radio device or headphones on not knowing Robinson has touched your life.

Sylvia Robinson produced “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugar Hill Gang , the first hip hop record to reach and achieve success via Top 40 radio. A singer and songwriter from Harlem, she was a notable recording artist in her own right. Known famously and simply as Sylvia, the success of her 1973 classic, “Pillow Talk,” would change hip hop forever.

During the era of Robinson’s breakout hit, Bronx DJ Clive Campbell, aka Kool Herc , is credited with the creation of hip-hop. His ’73 “Back to School Jam” at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. sparked a social and audible revolution soldiered by the youth and music makers of their community. Using two turntables and a pair of the same record, the innovative Herc would systematically play only the breaks of songs for people to dance to. These voiceless sound stances encouraged the poetically gifted to grab microphones and rhyme over those breaks.

According to legend, Robinson was introduced to rapping while attending a party with her son. Inspired, she recruited local rappers Big Bank Hank , Wonder Mike , and Master Gee to record a hip hop record for her and her husband’s imprint Sugar Hill Records.

Robinson, controversially, used the baseline from Chic ’s smash hit “Good Times” as their Herc-style break loop. With rhymes of their own and some borrowed from battle pioneer Grand Master Caz , aka Casanova Fly, Hank, Gee and Mike followed Robinson’s structured recording directions to create “Rapper’s Delight.” Dubbed the Sugar Hill Gang, their 1979 jam was an immediate success on Top 40 radio and introduced hip hop to casual radio audiences.

Much to Robinson’s “Delight,” the Sugar Hill hit is now a national treasure. It’s listed among Rolling Stone Magazine ’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” NPR’s 100 most important songs of the 20th century, and it sits at #2 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs.” In 2011, the United States Library of Congress preserved “Rapper’s Delight” in the National Recording Registry.

From here, Robinson’s historic Sugar got sweeter. Her Records introduced an esteemed list of hip hop pioneers and icons. Among their acts was Funky 4 + 1 , the first hip hop group to have a woman rapper, MC Sha-Rock the first all-woman hip hop group, The Sequence , comprised of Angie B, Cheryl the Pearl, and Blondie and The Treacherous Three , comprised Kool Moe Dee (“Wild Wild West”), Spoonie G (“Get Off My Tip”)–who was replaced by Special K (“I Got a Man,” “I’m Not Havin’ It”), and LA Sunshine.

Another of Robinson’s acts was the legendary Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five : DJ Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Keef Cowboy, The Kidd Creole, Rahiem, and Mr. Ness/Scorpio. Having already made names for themselves regionally, she signed the group to Sugar Hill Records in 1980. In 1982, they released megahit and all-time great social anthem “The Message.” Also listed on Rolling Stone ’s “500 Greatest” list and ranked #5 by VH1, it received preservation by the National Recording Registry in 2002. The group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Thankfully, Robinson lived long enough to witness this prestigious accolade while claiming her own.

In 2000, Robinson received the Pioneer Award at the 11th Annual Rhythm and Blues Award Gala. The “Mother of Hip Hop” died September 29, 2011 due to congestive heart failure.

Hip hop is alive and well on the radio, and it didn’t get there on its own. So if you’re listening to your favorite rapper perform your favorite hip hop song on a Top 40 station, when it ends turn down your speakers or remove your headphones. Use that moment of silence to be cool and incredibly respectful by simply saying, “Thank you, Sylvia Robinson.”

As part of NMAAM’s month-long celebration of hip hop, we’ve recently launched our Hip Hop Scholars platform to chronicle the genre’s past, present, and future with specially-curated content, playlists, exclusive merchandise, and more.

Hip-Hop History: Looking Back At The NJ Roots Of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ 40 Years Later

TENAFLY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Forty years ago, three guys in Englewood, New Jersey, made hip-hop history.

The Sugarhill Gang helped put rap on the map when their song “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip-hop track to hit the Billboard charts.

The song was produced by the late Sylvia Robinson and released by her Englewood label, Sugar Hill Records, on Sept. 16, 1979.

“Rapper’s Delight” has been credited for single-handedly launching hip-hop music into the mainstream.

Robinson’s only surviving son, Leland Robinson, says at the time, radio stations thought his mother was crazy to back the Bronx-born music genre.

“No one knew about rap music. No one knew about hip-hop. And she said that she had a vision and this is what she wanted to do and she did it. Forty years later, here we are,” he told CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez.

Sylvia Robinson handpicked the Sugarhill Gang, including Henry Jackson, better known as “Big Bank Hank.” He auditioned for her while working at Crispy Crust Pizza in Englewood.

Owner Craig Columbo’s family placed a plaque on the wall of the shop, commemorating the restaurant as the place the rap group was born. Columbo was just a kid, but he remembers.

“One day Sylvia came in through the door, asked him to rap, and signed him right there and that’s how it started,” he said.

Many fans, like Darlene Tomlinson, say the song’s infectious beat and catchy lyrics launched a love for hip-hop.

“It brings me back to when I was a teenager, when I was partying a lot and having fun with my friends,” Tomlinson said.

Rolling Stone named “Rapper’s Delight” the second-greatest hip-hop song of all time, only behind “The Message” by Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, which was also produced by Sylvia Robinson.

Leland Robinson, who’s continuing his mother’s vision at Sugar Hill Records, says his mother never got the credit she deserved.

“She’s probably saying, ‘I told you so. I told you,'” he said.

But through this song, her legacy will go on… and on and on and on and on.

Watch the video: The Sugar Hill Gang - Rappers Delight HQ, Full Version