“Rapper’s Delight” is a song recorded in 1979 by American hip hop trio The Sugarhill Gang. While it was not the first single to feature rapping, it is generally considered to be the song that first popularized hip hop in the United States and around the world. The song is ranked #251 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and #2 on both About.com’s and VH1′s 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs. It is also included in NPR’s list of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century. The song was also named as the Greatest Really Long Rock Song of all time by Digital Dream Door. It was preserved into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2011, calling it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
The song was recorded in a single take. There are three versions of the original version of the song: 14:35 (12″ long version), 6:30 (12″ short version), and 4:55 (7″ shortened single version). Ten years after its initial release, an official remix by Ben Liebrand entitled “Rapper’s Delight ’89″ was released.
The Sugarhill Gang
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is an American Rap music group, known mostly for its 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight,” the first rap single to become a Top 40 hit. The song uses an interpolation of the instrumental track from the hit “Good Times” by Chic as its foundation. The members, all from Englewood, New Jersey consisted of Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright, Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson, and Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien. The three were assembled into a group by producer Sylvia Robinson, who founded Sugar Hill Records with her husband, record mogul Joe Robinson. The group and the record company are named after the Sugar Hill, Manhattan neighborhood. The Sugarhill Gang never again topped the US charts, though it had a slew of European hits, such as “Apache”, “Eighth Wonder” (which was performed on the American music show Soul Train in 1981), “Rapper’s Reprise (Jam Jam),” and “Showdown” (with the Furious Five). In 1999, the trio reunited and recorded Jump on It! a hip hop children’s album. The group continue to tour. “Here I Am,” a track on their album sang by Craig Derry, achieved moderate success despite not being released as a single. Bob Sinclar collaborated with Wonder Mike and Master Gee on his 2009 release “Lala Song”. The Sugarhill Gang is also known as the Original Sugar.
BackgroundIn 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 20, 1979 and September 21, 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. 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. (Although it wasn’t sampled, it was re-created) 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. 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.’Wang said:
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.
History“Rapper’s Delight” peaked at #36 in January 1980 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart,#4 on the U.S. Hot Soul Singles chart in December 1979, #1 on the Canadian Singles Chart in January 1980, #1 on the Dutch Top 40, #3 on the UK Singles Chart, and #2 on VH1′s top 100 hip-hop songs of all time. Reportedly it became the first hip-hop single to go diamond (5 million copies), but it should be noted that Sugarhill was one of many small independent labels that were not willing to let outside accountants go through their books; thus, it has never been certified by the RIAA. In 1980 the song was the anchor of the group’s first album The Sugarhill Gang.
It was the first Top 40 song to be available only as a 12-inch extended version in the U.S. Early pressings (very few) were released with a red label, with black print, on Sugarhill Records, along with a 7″ 45rpm single (which is very rare). Later pressings had the more common blue label, in orange colored “roulette style” sleeves, while even later pressings were issued in the more common blue sleeves with the Sugarhill Records logo. In Europe, however, it was released on the classic 7-inch single format on French pop label Vogue, with a shorter version of the song. It was this 7″ single that reached number one in the Dutch chart. The song ranked #248 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
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