Hip hop dates all the way back to the 1970s, but one of the first smash hits from the genre was brought to us by the famous Sugar Hill Gang. The trio undoubtedly made history when their song ‘Rapper’s Delight’ made it into the Billboard Top 40. However, although the song was a hip hop smash, it was that funky groove that really helped the song stick in people’s heads. In this article, we are going to delve deeper and look into the origin of the track and see how it was made.
Released in 1979, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was recorded at Sugar Hill Studios in Englewood, New Jersey. Signed to Sugar Hill records which was based in New Jersey despite its name, the group was assembled from scratch by the vice-president of the record label, Joey Robinson. The label, cleverly capitalising on the growing popularity of hip hop just across the Hudson in the neighbouring city of New York, recruited local MCs to form the group. Wonder Mike (Michael Wright), Big Bank Hank (Henry Jackson) and Master Gee (Guy O’Brien) were all from Englewood, New Jersey.
Irrespective of their regional origin, under the pseudonym of The Sugar Hill Gang (Sugar Hill being a sub-section of the larger Harlem neighbourhood), they began recording their first hip hop track. A popular track in New York City clubs at the time, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ interpolated ‘Good Times’ by Chic into their first track. Chic were an extremely popular funk band and the band’s frontman Nile Rogers was a megastar.
Nile Rodgers, unsurprisingly, was around well before the emergence of hip hop. In 1972, Rodgers and his friend Bernard Edwards found a collective of session musicians that played the underground funk and blues circuit of New York and decided to form a band. Originally named The Big Apple Band, they made multiple demos but never got picked up by a label of any kind.
In 1976, Rogers and Edwards sought to explore avenues they hadn’t before, and after having seen English glam-rock band Roxy Music, Rogers was inspired to bring the aesthetic to funk. Quickly noticed by A&R’s at Atlantic after garnering heavy traction, the band, under the alias Chic, got a single deal for their song ‘Everybody Dance’. Continuing on at the label first came ‘Le Freak’, and then they revealed the lead single. Revealed to have been inspired by ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ and Blondie’s ‘Rapture’, ‘Good Times’ was an integral part of urban culture. it was popular with the roller skaters, breakdancers, and even Fab Five Freddy freestyled on it.
Crafting the perfect hit, Sugar Hill Records CEO, Sylvia Robinson used real musicians to re-create the ‘Good Times’ bass riff. In typical hip hop fashion, in the spirit of sampling and more, the entire track was made up of pieces from the Chic song. The song, released on 12” vinyl by Sugar Hill Records, seeming like it it was made and recorded by a group of New York City youths, spread like wildfire and was getting played at block parties and clubs all over the city.
The record was purchased so much it peaked at number 36 on the Billboard hot 100, making it the first ever hip hop song to break into the top 40. It snowballed from there as Robinson decided the group needed to shoot a video. They did, making it the first ever hip hop music video. ‘Rapper’s Delight’, with regard to the charts, performed far better in the UK, which was ahead of America in accepting rap music. People put this down to the Afro-Caribbean population. In Caribbean dancehall culture, it is referred to as DJing or toasting and was not an unfamiliar art form in the slightest. It peaked at number three on the UK Singles Charts.
This is the story behind Sugar Hill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ you can watch the music video for both Chic ‘Good Times’ and ‘Rapper’s Delight’ below.