In 1990, LA Times reporter Robert Hilburn said this of rap music: “It was ten years ago that the Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ became the first rap single to enter the national top 20. Who ever figured then that the music would even be around in 1990, much less produce attractions that would command as much pop attention as Public Enemy and N.W.A?”
This was back in the golden age of hip hop, when artists were still reinventing the genre with ever new record that was being released. Yet, despite the groundbreaking influence “Rapper’s Delight” had, it was still viewed as a disco-inspired novelty record. Now over thirty years since its release, the significance of that song has grown more apparent. The Sugarhill Gang hadn’t just made a silly song, they’d figured out how to craft pop music out of this budding street art. One year later, Kurtis Blow would top them by releasing, “The Breaks” the first hip hop song to sell a half million records. He would also become the first rapper to sign to a major label. This was only the beginning of rap’s close relationship to pop and mainstream music.
Doug E Fresh’s legacy is a little more obscure. He helped to popularize beatboxing, even earning the name “The Human Beat Box.” But while beatboxing didn’t stand the test of time, it was an essential part of the early language that formed rap while still in its infancy, just like rapping a capella on street corners and spitting verses over funk albums at block parties.
Other artists emerged in the late 80s and early 90s that helped shape rap more into the slick pop music it is now, as well as the loose, artistic bare bones underground art other rappers would continue to refine. Regardless, rap was never as raw and untarnished as it was when it was still in the hands of the forefathers.
Oddly, Sugarhill Gang founding members Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright and Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien will not be performing this Friday as part of the Sugarhill Gang. According to recent the recent documentary, “I Want My Name Back,” the duo lost legal rights to the band name and instead tour as “Rapper’s Delight.” Silvia and Joe Robinson, owners of their former label, Sugar Hill Records, currently own the rights to the name and have a different group of guys performing in their place.
The Sugarhill Gang (with Robinson, not Master Gee and Wonder Mike) play the Mountain Winery on September 14th at 7:30pm. Tickets are $35-$55.