Sugar Hill Records was the label which picked up on the New York City street music that became hip-hop, captured it on record, and sold it to the world. It was in the perfect position to do so: the Englewood, New Jersey, company (which, curiously, took its own name from a district of Harlem) was as down-to-earth as grass, but fully equipped for success. A spin-off from Sylvia and Joe Robinson’s All Platinum group of labels, Sugar Hill had its own studio and house band; Sylvia was a talented singer and producer with an ear for a hit; and her son, Joey, Jr, was adept on the mic. Sylvia heard rap on the streets and quickly grasped its commercial potential, assembling the group Sugarhill Gang in 1979. Their debut single, Rapper’s Delight, was a smash, and hip-hop suddenly had an audience. A crucial part of hip-hop’s history, the label went on to enjoy success through to 1986, with hits by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, The Sequence, Melle Mel and other artists. Sylvia Robinson, who passed away in 2011, is known as the “Mother Of Hip-Hop”, and though the music has since gone through many changes, the records her label released can still get the party started – as these best Sugar Hill Records songs demonstrate with ease.
Listen to the This Is Hip-Hop At Fifty playlist here, and check out the best Sugar Hill Records songs, below.
10: Sugarhill Gang: Rapper’s Delight (1979)
Opening this list of the best Sugar Hill Records songs is the tune that started it all. Rapper’s Delight was released on 16 September 1979 and regarded as a one-off novelty hit – hey, these guys ain’t even singin’! Who knew that the music that eventually became known as hip-hop would prove as adhesive as superglue? This song’s deceptive salsa-ish intro burst into an interpretation of Chic’s Good Times, with Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee spitting bars over the top, talking about the beat and swagging about their skills at stirring up a party feel – the latter being a critical, if now largely overlooked, job of the original MC. Lyrical quirks such as “bang bang boogie” and “Hotel, motel, whatcha gonna do today?” remain resonant. Some like to point out that Sugarhill Gang were not the originators of the style, but they hit the chart first and landed on vinyl… nearly first. And nobody could deny that Rapper’s Delight still has a joyous flava.