What was the first ever hip-hop album?
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What was the first ever hip-hop album?

The genre we know today as hip-hop had a slow and steady build-up over several years and decades, with each generation hitting new milestones. However, the 1980s was an integral decade for the culture and was the era during which hip-hop not only established an official identity but began to receive acceptance as a legitimate art form. Various landmark moments occurred during the ’80s. However, one of the most essential was the release of the first hip-hop album.

Before the early-’80s, rap records primarily got released as singles with a simple A-side B-side format. Copious amounts of prevalent songs were put out unofficially as mere unmarked white labels. However, as the 1970s ended, MCs became more professional and small hip-hop-orientated record labels began attempting to produce EPs and albums. This shift led to one group releasing what is now regarded as the first hip-hop album ever.

This era of hip-hop saw effectively zero solo artists, but instead an eclectic range of various crews, all with their own style and aesthetic. Whether it was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five or the Funky 4 + 1, people were sticking together. With graffiti artists and breakdance crews also emerging from the streets it was a melting pot of outfits.

The early-’80s saw one group begin to dominate rap culture. With the force of a music and marketing genius, this collective has a lot of milestones to its name, and it is none other than The Sugar Hill Gang. A product of Sugar Hill Records, the crew was assembled from scratch by the label’s vice president, Joey Robinson, who, as an executive at the New Jersey-based establishment, cleverly capitalised on the growing popularity of hip-hop just across the Hudson.

Joey Robinson, alongside his mother, Sylvia Robinson, cherrypicked three local MCs to form the group. Wonder Mike (Michael Wright), Big Bank Hank (Henry Jackson) and Master Gee (Guy O’Brien), all of whom were from Englewood, New Jersey. The trio took over the airwaves within months of releasing their first record, ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ which spread like wildfire, getting played at block parties and clubs all over New York. Following the groups’ overwhelming success, the label decided it would be a good idea to release a body of work. As such they put out what is considered the first hip-hop album of all time, Sugar Hill Gang.

Although this was the first LP-length project that contains hip-hop, many would dispute that it is the first rap album ever. The reason why some may refute this statement is because Sylvia Robinson thought people needed more time to be ready to buy an entire rap music project. So alongside a handful of songs in the style of ‘Rapper’s Delight’, the group also produced a healthy amount of R’n’B ballads and instrumental disco. As a result of this, many would put forth another album.

Several would suggest that the 1982 project, The Message, released by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five is in fact the first hip-hop album. From start to finish the LP consisted of rap music and was devoid of any R’n’B. However, although this body of work could be considered the first album produced by the culture. It was also released through Sugar Hill Records so, irrespective of which project one asserts was the first, Sylvia Robinson is responsible for the first hip-hop album ever released.