Anything made by hand or by machine or by lies is "fabricated." Fabrication is that dubious domain where invention can slide toward, and couple with, duplicity. Or not. Sugarhill Gang, one of the first groups to put hip hop on vinyl,... [more]
Anything made by hand or by machine or by lies is "fabricated." Fabrication is that dubious domain where invention can slide toward, and couple with, duplicity. Or not. Sugarhill Gang, one of the first groups to put hip hop on vinyl, knew this slippery slope just too well.
With luck on their side, the three guys who made up the Gang were literally plucked from a pizza counter in New Jersey. Sylvia Robinson aka Little Sylvia, a veteran in the world of R & B, started Sugarhill records with her husband Mickey Baker. The label was designated for "younger" sounds. So in a sense, the Sugarhill Gang was the result of a producer's niche-marketing strategy. But was the group's fabrication the making of something beautiful or the making of a lie?
The lyrical stylings of Big Bank Hank (Henry Jackson) provided Robinson with the seeds of what she thought would be a hot novelty act. She was excited by the lyrics she'd heard Hank rapping in the pizza joint, lyrics that unfortunately belonged to a group Hank managed called the Mighty Force Emcees. But instead of pulling the Emcees into the picture, Robinson recruited two other unknowns, Master Gee (Guy O'Brien) and Wonder Mike (Michael Wright). The Emcees never knew what didn't hit them, and the Sugarhill boys never knew what did. In 1979, the single 'Rapper's Delight' became a smash hit with mainstream listeners, who most likely had never heard hip hop before.
It isn't hard to account for the song's success, because it certainly was a rapper's delight. It's an amazingly catchy tune that samples the bass line from Chic's "Good Times." By today's hip hop standards, the structure is simple and the rapping is fluffy. But the hand claps and the upbeat horns remain infectious. 'Rapper's Delight' is a party anthem that revels in good-natured silliness. When Wonder Mike proclaims, "I said a hip hop the hippie the hippie to the hip hip hop, and you don't stop the rock it to the bang bang boogie," he wasn't saying anything really, but nobody cared.
The problem the Sugarhill Gang faced was one of authenticity. Though they opened mainstream doors, many in the hip hop scene considered their sounds inferior. Sugarhill Gang scored a number of successes by simply reworking popular songs or recording prepackaged material -- in fact, songs like 'Apache' and 'Showdown' were also recorded by Robinson's own West Street Mob. While the idea of 'borrowing' from pre-existing material is certainly not condemned in hip hop, the Sugarhill Gang was borrowing content. And using borrowed rhymes just wasn't cool. The trio's reputation as Sugarhill Records' house band haunted them all the way to an early grave.
By the mid-80s, the Sugarhill Gang was pretty much out of the scene. However, their historical significance shouldn't be overlooked. In the story of hip hop, the Sugarhill Gang plays the role of gatekeeper; they opened the floodgates of the new musical revolution. Without them, Grandmaster Flash might have been stuck spinning old records in his bedroom. [show less]