Hip Hop History: The Behind the Scenes Story of Sugar Hill Gang

This is another throwback interview that highlights some important Hip Hop History. It’s the story behind the legendary Sugar Hill Gang and what led to the two original members Master Gee and Wonder Mike leaving the group and the type of misleading the public shenanigans that took place with respect to the label…This interview was done back in 2006..It was done by Christopher Milan Thomas of AllHipHop.com in a piece entitled Sugar Hill Gang: And You Don’t Stop…Check it out… 

wonder Mike-Master Gee I Want My Name BackIn the annals of Hip-Hop history, the reputation of The Sugar Hill Gang has been tarnished by the controversy surrounding band member Big Bank Hank’’s unauthorized use of Grandmaster Caz’’s rhyme book. The pioneering rap crew has been called “inauthentic” and labeled as “Jersey rap puppets” in the mainstream media.

In an AllHipHop.com exclusive, two of the group’s original members, Master Gee and Wonder Mike, address the criticism they’ve received over the years and air out some long-held beefs, not surprisingly, with former band mates like Big Bank Hank and the alleged shady practices of Sugar Hill Records. Currently juggling between music and traditional nine-to-fives, the duo is working on an independent album, and plan on releasing it by the end of the year.

Fan or not, these MC’s guided Hip-Hop through it’s infancy in 1979 with “Rapper’s Delight” and sent the genre into the mainstream. Read on for a candid, brutally honest interview with Hip-Hop icons.

AllHipHop.com: The Smithsonian recently premiered a Hip-Hop exhibition, and it’s now in full swing. Although you weren’’t at the inauguration, were you guys approached at all for the project?

Master Gee: Through our management, we’ve been getting in touch with the people running the exhibit, and they are actually looking for things to be donated for it. From what I heard, it’s going to be a huge exhibit commemorating the whole beginnings of rap music. I’’m getting ready to donate a custom-made tour jacket that has “Master Gee” on the front and “Sugar Hill” in the back. It’s a frozen-in-time kind of piece. I heard [Grandmaster] Flash donated a hat and a mixer, so I’m trying to keep it in the same form as that.

Wonder Mike: I might contribute a newer jacket so I can get that s**t out of my life. I’m looking to entirely move on. That’s a part of my life that is over. After 26 years, f**k that, it’s finished. I love all the fans and the recognition and the place I have in history. The rest of it, they can keep.

AllHipHop.com: Since 1982’’s 8th Wonder, the music stopped. What gave you been doing since?

Master Gee and Wonder Mike

Master Gee and Wonder Mike

Master Gee: When I left in ’85, I got involved in the magazine industry, doing sales as a cold caller, going door-to-door. I was mentored very well and then I started my own company selling magazine subscriptions for the last ten years. I stopped recording and touring with them since ’85. With me stepping away from the group, [The 2nd Master Gee] felt that it was his opportunity to go on the road and take my place. He was involved in all the sessions, but he never performed on any of the hits, “Rapper’s Delight,” “Apache,” “8th Wonder.” That’s all me.

Wonder Mike: I had a ten-year break from music from ’84 to ’94. When we disbanded, I went and started a painting company doing interiors and exteriors and all that.

AllHipHop.com: A lot of people, including myself, weren’’t even alive when you made history with “Rapper’s Delight.” I know you were very young when you made that record. What were you doing at the time it was recorded?

Master Gee: I was 17 when I made that record, and I was just getting ready to go into 12th grade in high school. I was DJing at the time, and that brings me to a misconception that a lot of people have about us. A lot of people think that we were put together to record the record and we didn’t have any history. I was doing parties and rapping several years before getting discovered and doing “Rapper’s Delight.” I met the guy that turned me on to [Sugar Hill Records founder/producer] Sylvia Robinson, and them while doing a party for his girlfriend. When Sylvia approached us with the idea of doing the record, I thought it was pretty clever.

 

Wonder Mike

Wonder Mike

Wonder Mike: “Rapper’’s Delight” was recorded in August and May [of that year] was the first time I ever heard of Hip-Hop. My cousin brought over a boom box and there were these guys from New York rapping on the tape and I was like, “What is that?” This is rap, baby. So, I listened to it and I started making rhymes at my job in my head. That’s how I came up with the “Chicken tastes like wood,” s**t. I asked my cousin to join his group and the rest is history.

AllHipHop.com: What was the initial reaction you had to the track when you first heard it?

Master Gee: Because of the fact that I was DJing and rapping in peoples’ basements and dance halls, we ended up rapping to [Chic’s] “Good Times” at almost every party. That was our anthem that we used to turn the party out. Not the guitar part [mimics riff] but the actual break. The first songs that we did [as the Sugarhill Gang] were all songs that we used at the party. “8th Wonder” was a break, “Apache” was a break, “Good Times” was a break. My favorite break of them all was “Catch A Groove.” If you buy the Sugarhill Gang album, it’s the beat to the song called “Sugarhill Groove.”

AllHipHop.com: What was the vibe like in the studio when you recorded the vocals to “Rapper’s Delight?”

Wonder Mike: It really was cool. I had a sense of history in the making as it was happening. In terms of global recognition, it happened a lot faster than I thought it was. The vibe in the studio was like, “Wow, I think we got something here.” Before the demise of Sugar Hill and all the bulls**t, it was a good feeling.

Master Gee: It was a great experience because it was so new. My father was a recording engineer, so I had been in studios before but recording rap music was new to me. It was a very exciting thing because nobody was doing it, aside from King Tim [III] who had the “Fatback” record.

AllHipHop.com: Do you ever feel like a pioneer?

 

Master Gee

Master Gee

Master Gee: To a certain degree, yes. We kinda created the rap star. Before us, there was no rap star. Young people didn’t aspire to be a rapper and we gave the people another choice in our environment to become successful. You either had to be an athlete, an entertainer of some sort or, if you were lucky enough, involved in business. Once we became successful recording artists that happened to rap, we opened up a whole new avenue for people to be successful in.

AllHipHop.com: I want to build on that and ask you who are some of your favorite rappers that are out now?

Wonder Mike: I listen to some, as long as they don’’t glorify killing other brothers. I’m 48 years old. I grew up and they were shooting water cannons on our people and sicking dogs on them, beating women down and setting kids on fire. I can’t really listen to violence and black-on-black crime s**t.

Master Gee: I like Busta Rhymes because he’s so creative. I’m really feeling Common. He’s so unique. I know, technically, there had to be a start for these people to come out and, I just happened to be the person who got the opportunity to start it. I don’t look at it like, if it wasn’t for me, there wouldn’t be them. Somebody had to get it going, and I’m that person, Mike and I. And Hank.

 

Grandmaster Caz

Grandmaster Caz

AllHipHop.com: What’s up with Hank? Your myspace page promotes the two of you and Big Bank Hank is notably absent from it. People may not know that Hank used Grandmaster Caz’‘s rhymes for most, if not, all of his Sugar Hill raps. Do you think he’’s been getting a rough deal as far as how he’s been portrayed, historically?

Master Gee: The truth is the truth, man. He didn’’t write the lyrics. He’’s a hell of a performer, totally awesome when it comes to performing lyrics, and his voice is so classy. As far as the lyrics go, he didn’’t write them. You gotta give credit where credit is due.

Wonder Mike: I love Hank. He’s like a brother to me. But every man has to make his own decisions. I decided to leave the group when I did, and he decided to stay on.

AllHipHop.com: Speaking of that, you both performed “Rapper’s Delight” with Grandmaster Caz in place of Hank, and you have each said that it was one of the best performances you’ve ever done, maybe even, the best of all time?

Master Gee: Absolutely. You see, we got clumped together with [Hank’s failure to write his own lyrics]. At first, people were trying to say that none of us wrote our stuff; we were called inauthentic. We ran into Caz on a number of occasions and we had a lot of friction with him. Eventually, we had to come to terms and sit down with Caz and his people and let them know, when [“Rapper’s Delight”] came out, we didn’t know that stuff wasn’t his. Hank was coming from The Bronx, and Mike and I came from Jersey and we didn’’t know what was going on in The Bronx at that time. To say that we were down with it, or privy to it, is a falsehood. So we wanted to legitimize the whole thing and give [Caz] the opportunity to do his s**t. That’s why it was such a great performance. I’’ve performed “Rapper’s Delight” 10,000 times, but to hear this person perform his own lyrics is indescribable. No one knows your lyrics like you do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHyARPH8i3U

Wonder Mike: We did that about five times at different venues. I think that it would be a big thing if he came on the road and did “Rapper’s Delight” with us. I still got a lot of love for Hank, but this would be, like, setting things straight a little bit. Hank is the voice on “Rapper’s Delight” and that won’t change, but Caz is the writer and he raps the lyrics different from Hank. Hank has a very forceful, aggressive style. But Caz says them in a smoother, slicker way. When I heard it for the first time, I was like, “Damn. That’s the way it’s supposed to sound.”

AllHipHop.com: But, how does Hank feel about this?

Master Gee: He’s gotta give credit where credit is due. It is what it is, man. If somebody wrote my lyrics and they finally got the credit for it, I would have to give them their props too. That’s what Hank’s gotta do. I mean, we all know each other and time has made it possible for the truth to be told. What me and Mike are doing now is working to get out and let people see the real deal, because some people aren’t even sure about who’s who. They think that this other guy is Master Gee. Fortunately, because our music is timeless, the public is going to have the chance to see what is the truth. They need to see Wonder Mike and Master Gee perform so they could see the song done the way it’s supposed to be done.

AllHipHop.com: Ok, I’m going to play devil’s advocate. Grandmaster Caz performing “Rapper’s Delight” is not the way it was originally performed, do you agree?

Master Gee: [It isn’t], but Grandmaster Caz is also the person who wrote the lyrics. Now you get the chance to see the original lyricist and the original performers do the song. I would love to see me, Hank, Wonder Mike and Grandmaster Caz perform “Rapper’s Delight.”

AllHipHop.com: Could you ever see the 2nd Master Gee perform the song with you also?

Master Gee: No. First of all, you’re not supposed to use someone else’s name. There was never an agreement made between him and I. As far as performing, he didn’’t write the lyrics, he didn’’t record the songs. He’’s not really entitled to say that he’’s me. There’s only one original member performing as the Sugar Hill Gang right now, and that’s Hank. The rest are stand-ins and they’re duping the public. When people go out to see them, they’re not getting the real deal.

AllHipHop.com: You guys have gotten a rough deal as far as the history of the Sugar Hill Gang has been portrayed. But, if it weren’t for you guys, a lot of people would be out of a job; do you know what I mean?

Wonder Mike: A lot of these people that hate on us weren’’t there when all these R&B groups pulled the plugs on us and turned the lights off during our performances back in the day. We had to set their punk asses straight. We opened up for them and then we ended up headlining in a month. We kicked the damn door in for Hip-Hop and now everybody else is coming in to eat. Nobody f**king recognizes that. No one showed us any respect; we had to take the damn respect.

AllHipHop.com: Do you have any regrets about the Sugar Hill experience?

Wonder Mike: One time, we came out and surprised Busta Rhymes while he was on the Vibe show. We came out while he was doing an interview and he gave us a hug with tears coming out of his eyes. The next thing I knew, Sugar Hill was suing him for using Hank’s lyrics for “Whoo-Hah! Got You All In Check.” Come on, man, that’s just dumb. The same thing happened backstage at the second VH1 Hip-Hop Honors Awards with the Beastie Boys. They were jumping around like little kids, excited and happy to see us. Then, here came Sugar Hill again, suing them a few weeks later for something else that they used. All that happy, teenage, horses**t I used to say in the past about Sugar Hill [Records] is out the window. I will never go back to them. It will be all good once people know that we’re not with those clowns anymore.

Master Gee: Listen man, our music is a part of everyday life. Somewhere in the world, everyday, our music is being played. I can’t be mad at that.

Concert dates and tour info can be found at www.myspace.com/mastergeenwondermike.

Remembering Rappers Delight-30 Years Ago It Was Born

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Remembering Rappers Delight-30 years Ago It Was Born

by Davey D

Sugar Hill Gang came to life 30 years ago

Sugar Hill Gang came to life 30 years ago

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.

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

What is Hip Hop? A Historical Definition Of The Term Rap pt1

A Historical Definition Of The Term Rap pt1

microphoneWhat is rap? Depending on who you ask and from which generation the word  ‘rap’ will take on different meanings. At one point in time ‘a rap’ was a set of excuses a con artist handed you in an effort to deceive you.

In the 70s rap were the words a person used when trying to persuade you. This particularly applied to the persuasive efforts of a young man trying to obtain sexual favors from a female..

Today rap means saying rhymes to the beat of music making it’s one of the four major element within hip hop culture. Because the other elements which include deejaying, breakdancing and graffiti aren’t as widespread, the words Hip Hop and Rap have been used interchangeably over the years..

The truth of the matter is the word rap wasn’t always used to describe this activity. The act of rhyming to the beat of music was initially called emceeing. The term rap first became associated with Hip Hop around 1979 with release of two records in ’79. The first was called King Tim III [Personality Jock] which is considered Hip Hop’s first record. This was track put out by the Brooklyn based Fatback Band. This song was said to be inspired the old rhyme styles of popular Black radio disc jockeys of the 50s and 60s  like Jocko Henderson, Jack The Rapper, Magnificent Montague and Daddy O to name a few. These Black radio deejays would eventually go on to influence pioneering club deejays like DJ Hollywood..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcTP4cvXSP0

Suagrhillgang-old-225The second song that popularized and associated the term Rap with Hip Hop  was the landmark song Rapper’s Delight by Sugar Hill Gang. I’m not quite sure how Sugar Hill came up with the term ‘Rap’. Some say it was already being bantered about within the mainstream media who were then mystified by this new phenomenon.

Others say that the term was coined by older folks within the community in this case Sugar Hill record label owners Sylvia and Joey Robinson who saw similarities between young hip hoppers from the ’70s and the word manipulators of earlier generations where the term rap was used..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljUnyv5XUA8

H-rap-brown-yellow

H Rap Brown

Ironically within the song Rapper’s Delight contains a well-known rhyme which appears to have been borrowed from the former Black Panther and SNCC chairman H.Rap Brown now known as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.The rhyme in question appears in Brown’s auto biography written in 1969 called  ‘Die Nigger Die‘. It spoke about his militant approach toward solving some of the ills afflicting Black America. Within his book he spoke about how he obtained his name ‘Rap’. He detailed that when he was growing up in Louisiana people used to play a variety of word games including one called The Dozens.

The purpose of the game was to totally destroy somebody else with words. He noted that in his neighborhood and bear in mind we are talking about the early 60s, there would be close to 50 guys standing around competing against one another in this rhyme game in which people talked about each others mothers. The winner was determined by crowd reaction… Rap Brown got his name his name because he was considered to be one of the most skilled…

In his book H.Rap Brown gives some examples of his rhymes…

I fucked your mama
till she went blind.
Her breath smells bad,
But she sure can grind.

I fucked your mama
for a solid hour.
Baby came out
screaming, Black Power.

Elephant and Baboon
learning to screw.
Baby came out looking
like Spiro Agnew.
[Spiro Agnew was former Vice President under Richard Nixon]

Brown also explained another verbal game called Signifying. He noted that this was verbal game which was more humane than The Dozens because instead of dissin’ someone’s mother you would dis your opponent. He also explained that a skilled signifier knew how to skillfully put words together so you could accurately express your feelings. He concluded that signifying could also be used to make some one feel good. He dropped a rhyme which was used in the movie ‘Five On The Black Hand Side‘ and later immortalized several years later by the Sugar Hill Gang.

Yes, I’m hemp the demp the women’s pimp
women fight for my delight.
I’m a bad motherfucker. Rap the rip-saw the
devil’s brother ‘n law.
I roam the world I’m known to wander and this .45
is where I get my thunder…

The fact that H.Rap refered to his .45 caliber gun may have inadvertently been a precursor to what we call gangsta rap. (This of course is being said with tongue in cheek)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkbKKnKg7dk

Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes

As was mentioned earlier the term rap has changed from generation to generation. In the 70s the term not only meant the art of persuasion but it was also used to describe the monologue talking styles used by singing artists like Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Bobby Womack, Lou Rawls and Millie Jackson. Albums like Isaac Hayes’ ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ and Millie Jackson’s ‘Still Caught Up’ best personified these styles called ‘Love Raps’.

The art of rappin’ with respect to hip hop was characterized by one’s ability to syncopated to a beat. Ideally an emcee rapped from the heart. His rhymes were spontaneous, not memorized or read aloud from a written document.

Of course we now know that most of the great pioneering emcees like Mele-Mel, Grand Master Caz and Kurtis Blow to name a few, all rehearsed and pre-wrote their rhymes. But the approach was to present yourself as if the rhymes were coming off the top of the dome. ..

Ideally a rap is a group of rhymes that are thrown together so everything has meaning. Nothing said is frivolous. It reflects the here and now and ideally the lifestyle of the one rapping. Rap’s ideally projected the emotions and feelings experienced by the rapper. Ultimately and historically an artist rapped for no one but himself. His rap was a call for attention to himself.. He was ideally saying..’Hey look here I am world-Somebody hear my song!’.

And the beat goes on an on an on
It don’t stop rocking till the crack of dawn
when the people hear me rock the funky rap song
The whole damn world wants to hum along
Cause I’m e-lectricic..I’m bigger than life
An everyone calls me Jesus Christ
To The beat y’all check me out..
To the beat y’all check me out..

-Davey D-
Double D Crew..’78

c 1984.. The Power Of Rap..
By dave ‘Davey D’ Cook