Hiphoppa or not, everybody knows the song released in 1979 called “Rappers Delight” by Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright, Guy “Master G” O’Brien and Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson, together known as The Sugarhill Gang.
Many of us know, this was not the first single to feature rapping but it was the first song to popularize Rap music worldwide. Although, the true story behind what maybe has been the most famous rap song of all times, seems to be forgotten or even ignored more than often. The information about the story has been out in the open for a long time, yet I still notice people don’t really pick up on it. So I’d like to share a few facts and set things straight.
Here comes the truth behind Sugarhill Gang’s hit Rapper’s Delight.
First, Sugarhill Records was founded by Silvia Robinson in 1979. She had a few hits of her own back in 1973 as a part of the duo Mickey & Silvia, but by 1979 her own label was facing bankruptcy. One night she and her son Joey saw MC’s at a night-club and she saw this as the way to achieve new commercial success: “The DJ was talking over the music, and the kids were going crazy. […] All of a sudden, something said to me: ‘Put something like that on a record, and it will be the biggest thing you ever had’. I didn’t even know you called it rap”.
Big Bank Hank, the one who is known for rapping the Superman verse, actually wasn’t a real MC at the time. He was discovered by Sylvia Robinson when he was rapping for himself working at a pizza-place. When he ‘joined’ the Sugarhill Gang he stole the lyrics for his verses from an MC named Grandmaster Caz, a member of the legendary Cold Crush Brothers, which Hank was working for as a manager at the time. Normally these types of claims are arguable and hard to prove but in this case it’s obvious if you just take a closer look at the lyrics. For example, in his first verse, Hank declares: “I’m the C-A-S-AN the O-V-A and the rest is F-L-Y” which was Grandmaster Caz’s other name, and didn’t even bother to change the name of the original MC who wrote the lyrics! Later in the song Hank also claims that he’s “6 foot 1”, though video evidence shows otherwise. In a later verse, Hank says: “I’m the grandmaster with the three MCs“, which is odd because Sugarhill Gang only had three members. The Cold Crush Brothers had four. Case closed.
Not only Grandmaster Caz’s rhymes where lifted. Some sentences, like: “Well, I’m Imp the Dimp the ladies pimp. The women fight for my delight.” were stolen from Raheim from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
Another fact is that the members of Sugarhill Gang were discovered in Englewood, New Jersey. None of them had much credibility or were part of the crews who actually were Emceeing and/or Bboying at the notorious Block parties. MC Kurtis Blow said: “Kool DJ AJ, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Kool DJ Herc – and all of these guys where the real DJ’s and MC’s who were playing in New York! So when The Sugarhill Gang made it, the guys who had been doing this thing for real since the beginning felt like they were being ripped of, or you know, these guys are not a part of the Bronx, and they didn’t struggle to bring Hip Hop to this point”
To top it off, even the entire beat is made up out of samples used without permission. The intro to the recording is an interpolation of “Here Comes That Sound Again”, a dance hit in 1979, by a British group called Love De-Luxe. The rest of the song is obviously taken from “Good Times” by Chic. The writers of “Good Times” Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards threatened with a lawsuit and the credits on the song where changed from Silvia Robinson to their names.
So, it’s safe to say, Silvia Robinson and the Sugarhill Gang do deserve the credits for opening Hip Hop’s door to commercial success, but not the credits for the song itself.
– Be Loyal (Roy Becker)
Nadia: Here you can see a video of Grandmaster Caz’ MC Delight, a single released in 2000 on which he speaks on the incident. And a clip from Caz doing a freestyle in the documentary Beef, reclaiming his story.