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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 October, 2004, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Silver jubilee for first rap hit
By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Sugarhill Gang on Top of the Pops in 1979
The Sugarhill Gang's first record has had an enduring impact
The first major rap record, The Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight, hit the US charts 25 years ago - and has paved the way for a hip-hop revolution.

The success of Rapper's Delight came after the scene had grown on the streets of New York for several years. But it was not universally liked by fans or critics.

Purists dismissed the group as manufactured and said they did not represent the scene's true artistry - but most now agree it was hugely important.

Rapper's Delight was technically the second rap record, lagging a few weeks behind The Fatback Band's King Tim III (Personality Jock).

But it became the first to cross into the mainstream, entering the Billboard R&B and Disco chart on 13 October 1979.

Built on a sample of Chic's disco hit Good Times, it featured the vocals of trio Wonder Mike, Big Bank Hank and Master Gee.

Sugarhill label owner Sylvia Robinson discovered Big Bank Hank rapping behind the counter of a New Jersey pizza restaurant and asked him and his colleagues to audition in her car outside.

Jamaican DJ Kool Herc is credited with starting hip-hop turntable culture, built on breakbeats and the volume of the sound system
Fellow DJ Grandmaster Flash used technology to advance DJ culture, inventing the cross-fader and creating his own mixing desk
Afrika Bambaataa broadened the scope with electronic and rock influences

Their seemingly haphazard origins led to accusations that Robinson was seeking to cash in on the emerging live hip-hop scene.

But any suggestion the record was a novelty were to be proved spectacularly wrong.

It went multi-platinum, eventually selling more than eight million copies worldwide, and set the pace for the rap recording industry.

According to a forthcoming book, Chic were "absolutely amazed" when they first heard Rapper's Delight played in a New York club within a few weeks of Good Times being a huge worldwide hit.

Former Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers told author Daryl Easlea he believed the new version of their tune would be "only something that was distributed among DJs and not for sale".

"He was quickly on the phone to [Sugarhill owners] the Robinsons at the time saying, 'what on earth is this'?" according to Mr Easlea, author of Everybody Dance - Chic and the Politics of Disco.

Run-DMC were among hip-hop's other early pioneers
An out-of-court settlement followed, and Chic partners Nile Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards were given a sole writing credit after unconfirmed reports of a bag of cash changing hands.

By the time it made the US charts, hip-hop had been flourishing in New York as an underground culture for about five years.

Young music fans in the south Bronx discovered the emerging scene at "block" parties where legendary DJs such as Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash played a mixture of soul, funk, disco and rock records that inspired the movement.

Jamaican Herc is credited by many hip-hop historians as being the scene's most important founding figure.

He focussed on the instrumental and percussive "breakdowns" that were part of the make-up of a song. These elements came to be known as "breakbeats" or "breaks".

Herc recognised that dancers responded well to the breaks, and sought to extend them by repeating the break on a second turntable as the first one finished.

As the second break ended, he would then return to the first, creating a seamless - and potentially infinite - rhythmic pattern.

1974-1984: The "old school" years - from the birth of hip-hop at South Bronx parties to the arrival of Run-DMC
1984-1986: A two-year experimental period spearheaded by Run DMC's groundbreaking Raising Hell album
1986-92: Rap's "golden age", noted for the technical, stylistic and lyrical innovations of Public Enemy, KRS-One and De La Soul
The DJ was accompanied by a master of ceremonies - or MC - who used a microphone to greet or "rap" to the audience as the DJ played.

The scene attracted an inventive, athletic style of dancing - known as break dancing - performed by break-boys or B-boys. Graffiti art, a form that had emerged in New York in the early 1970s, also became integral to the movement.

BBC Radio 1Xtra black music expert Jacqueline Springer said Rapper's Delight was important because it was the first commercially successful rap record.

"It alerted the mainstream and broader white society that the genre was in existence," she says.

"It was a good record. People forget with the radio edit, but it was about 16 minutes long. When it first came out, it was played in its entirety.


"It samples a disco break and it adheres to the DNA of early rap. Now we want our rap to be a lot more frenetic, but this entertained the crowd and buoyed them along, and that stands as its testament."

Hip-hop expert and journalist Angus Batey said Rapper's Delight was not seen as representative of the newly-emerging live scene by die hard fans.

But its success, selling out quickly across New York and further afield, showed there was a big appetite for the recorded art form.

"In the long run, it's been seen as a classic," says Mr Batey.

"It was a pivotally important record that still sounds good today. I think it has weathered remarkably well."

Timeline: 25 years of rap records
11 Oct 04  |  Entertainment
Rap's maturity 20 years on
15 Jun 01  |  Entertainment
Rapper Jay-Z tops MTV nominations
27 Jul 04  |  Entertainment
Tupac's tale 'in his own words'
30 Sep 04  |  Entertainment
Black artists take over US top 10
06 Oct 03  |  Entertainment



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