Remembering Rappers Delight-30 years Ago It Was Born
by Davey D
With all the sudden deaths that have affected us this year-from Michael Jackson to Roc Raida to Mr Magic to local KPOO radio legend Clarence ‘Swig’ Swiggins its been hard to sit back, catch a breath and notice some of the landmark dates that have impacted our culture. My boy Bruce Banter from playahata.com hit me up to remind me that today was the 30th anniversary of Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang.. Wow that’s a long time…
I’m not sure of the exact date if it was October 13th 1979, but I do recall when I first heard the song it was definitely in the fall of 1979. I think almost everyone who was around at that time has a ‘This is how Sugar Hill Gang’ impacted me story.
I fondly recall, that Rapper’s Delight re-energized what appeared to be a dwindling culture at least as far as the emceeing/rap aspect was concerned. Prior to SHG, I recall going to parties and cats would be on the mic rapping and rapping and rapping all night long. Some groups had nice routines. Others tried to put structure into what they were doing, but for the most part, many of those parties had dissolved into cats just having massive freestyle sessions on the mic to the point that it was overkill. The block parties as I recall were dying out and many of the more established acts had moved to the clubs. If you went to a jam, gone were cats flowing on the mic nonstop all night long. Groups would do a set and although they didn’t have records, each act, whether it was the Cold Crush Brothers, the Crash Crew or Funky 4 Plus 1 More all had signature routines that folks went to go see.
The summer leading up to the release of Rappers Delight was interesting because, I recall hearing stories about how icons like Grandmaster Flash had moved on to ‘blending’ records and playing at discos versus being at parties cutting breaks and beats. Chic’s Good Times which is what helped propel Rappers Delight was a massive hit and anyone who even thought about rapping loved flowing over the long Niles Rodgers bass laden break.
Also that summer I recall the Fatback Band’s joint ‘King Tem III Personality Jock. It was a cool novelty record, but dude sounded nothing like the emcees who you heard on tapes or saw at the early jams. He sounded like a radio disc jockey. Years later, we found out that the rap was a throwback to the rapping and rhyming that was around before Hip Hop as we know it. Black radio DJs always rhymed-People like Jocko henderson and DaddyO are a couple that come to mind. Many of these jocks did so as they would introduce songs. So while King Tem III struck a chord, it didn’t shake things up the way Rapper’s Delight did a few months later.
In my mind Hip Hop was kind of dying until Rappers Delight emerged and then all hell broke loose. The possibility of being able to make a name for yourself and reach the stars via recording a record got everyone back to writing rhymes and taking a renwed interest in emceeing.
The other thing I remember was that hardly anyone had ever heard of the Sugar Hill Gang. There was initial confusion because we all knew Sugar Hill was a section in Harlem, but one of the rappers in the song Big Bank Hank was calling himself Casanova Fly. There were only two people who used that name Casanova. One was Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush and the other was a ‘hardrock’ cat named Tiny who headed the Casanova Crew over on Webster Ave in the Bronx.. A lot of cats thought it was him rapping , which caused confusion because why use the name Sugar Hill when he was up in the Bx and not Harlem. ? It was just a matter of time before we all found out that SHG was a crew that was put together and the Casanova references was due to Hank borrowing Caz’s rhyme books. I will post up the interview we did with Caz where he breaks all this down.. Its an interesting situation. All this lead to a couple of other questions
1-Why them and not use some of the more established, better known crews like Flash or Cold Crush or Theodore and Fanstatic Romantic 5?
2-Why use the word ‘rap’? Prior to the release of ‘Rapper’s Delight’, what became known as rap was emceeing or rhyming. Rap was what you did when you were hollaring at a female.
In anycase Rappers Delight was the song that let the world know what was occuring in New York and subsequently people all over the planet jumped in the fray and added their own seasoning to the mix…. At the same time it also represents the beginning of a culture being diluted and overtly influenced by a music industry which was dying at the time. Folks forget the music industry had raped a soulful music expression that was popular in the clubs and completely watered it down to a commercialized ‘disco form’. In 1979 while Rappers Delight was blowing up..you also had alot of people running around and tagging on walls ‘Disco Sucks’. The industry needed somethinfg to help it bounce back. Rappers Delight wasn’t the answer in 79, the person who saved the industry was a cat named Michael Jackson, but thats another story.
Happy birthday Sugar Hill Gang and Rappers Delight.