Rapper's Delight by The Sugarhill Gang - Roots of Rap

Rapper's Delight by The Sugarhill Gang

The song that most historians of rap and hiphop say made the music acceptable on mainstream radio is Rapper's Delight by the The Sugarhill Gang. Although rap music had been around for several years and could be heard on local radio stations in New York and elsewhere on the East Coast, this track was a seminal song in the history of rap and helped introduce this genre to a global audience.

I said a hip hop
Hippie to the hippie
The hip, hip a hop, and you don’t stop, a rock it out
Bubba to the bang bang boogie, boogie to the boogie
To the rhythm of the boogie the beat
Now, what you hear is not a test I’m rappin’ to the beat
And me, the groove, and my friends are gonna try to move your feet
Rapper's Delight  

Rapper's Delight was released on September 16, 1979. The track was cut in one take and was built on a disco rhythm 'borrowed' from the tune Good Times by Chic. It was a song about three guys having fun, bragging about their sexual prowess, money and skills on the mic. There are many different mixes of the track but the original 12" single went on for almost 15 minutes. The radio edit runs 3:55.On January 5, 1980, the song became the first hip hop single ever to reach the Billboard top 40.

Rapper's Delight by The Sugarhill Gang

The Sugar Hill Gang

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. None of them had much credibility, and weren't part of the "crews" that were rapping and dancing at the block parties. Some members of the early hip-hop scene thought the group was a sham, but they were wrong. The track became very popular and revolutionized the music industry.

Sugar Hill Records

The Sugar Hill Gang was put together by Sylvia Robinson, formerly a singer and later an owner of the New Jersey label Sugarhill Records. Rap music was gaining popularity at New York City block parties. When Robinson heard someone rhyme over a beat at her niece's birthday party, she set out to record a hip-hop song for her label. She asked her son Joey to find someone who could do the same thing on tape. Joey,  just 18 years old at the time, was the vice-president of promotion for the label and recruited his friend Big Bank Hank from an Englewood, New Jersey, pizzeria, and Master Gee and Wonder Mike at one of the block parties. The trio was given the stage name Sugar Hill Gang and soon afterward they recorded Rapper’s Delight.

Rapper's Delight by The Sugarhill Gang

Sylvia Robinson

Below is a short documentary about Sylvia Robinson, the Godmother of Rap and Hip-Hop music and executive of the legendary pioneering label; Sugarhill Records. Robinson is credited as the driving force behind two landmark singles in the hip hop genre: Rapper's Delight and The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five that was released in 1982. Her record label also was home to other rap artists like Spoonie Gee, and a female group called Sequence.

Good Times

Rapper's Delight was the first rap song to use a sample. It was a sample from Good Time by Chic that was written by Chic's guitarist/producer Nile Rodgers and bass player Bernard Edwards. The trio didn't ask for permission because no precedent existed for using a sample. Rodgers heard Rapper's Delight for the first time when he was out at a club and the DJ played it. Rodgers and Edwards immediately threatened legal action over copyright infringement, which resulted in a settlement and were listed as the song's writers. Nile Rodgers tells the story of how Chic's Good Times became the basis for the this rap hit.

Grandmaster Caz

Later it also it turned out that Hank’s lyrics had been written by Grandmaster Caz when he was in Cool Crush Brothers. Sylvia Robinson came in the pizza shop where Big Bank Hank was working and heard him rapping Grandmaster Caz’s rhymes. She thought it was Big Bank Hank’s song and signed him to Sugar Hill Records.
Around the 1:32-minute mark, there’s a reference to Casanova Fly, which is Caz’s full stage name.
Check it out, I’m the c-a-s-an-the-o-v-a
and the rest is f-l-y
Caz and Hank discuss the controversy surrounding the lyrics.

Major influence

Although considered to be a one hit wonder group, the Sugar Hill Gang opened the floodgates for many rap records and hiphop have become one of the most popular musical genres, worldwide. This track made the year 1979 the most important year in the history of rap music. Although it wasn't the only rap single that was issued in 1979, it was the first commercially successful rap single and was covered many times.
Rapper’s Delight is still a major influence today. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the track at number 2 on its list of the 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time for bringing hip-hop out of the underground. In 2011, the song was preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress which includes work deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” In 2014 it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Source: Black Past, Daily Rap Facts, The Guardian, History, Wikipedia
Source image: Wikipedia

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