1980, Music

Sugarhill Gang (1980)

I know just about zilch about the history hip hop which means I know nothing about the history of record labels and producers thinking they know better how to market the genre of hip hop. But I know a fair amount about how they did that to other genres which, I hope, gives me some insight into this ridiculous album.

Before I begin I should also point out that, for reasons that are unknown to me, the version of this record on my streaming service has a version of “Rapper’s Delight” which is 5:05, which does not correspond to the “single version” listed by Wikipedia, nor the 12″ “short version, nor the “long single” version, nor the legendary actual album version, nor the version listed on RYM. So I have no idea which edit this is, or why the album I’m listening to does not contain the full version of its most famous track. This is dumb.

Now let’s get to other dumb things about this record: legend has it producer and label head Sylvia Robinson thought rap couldn’t sell so, for this record, one of the earlier hip hop albums in history – as it was a singles medium, before this point, evidently – we have a hip hop album which contains three tracks with rap in them. The other tracks are smooth soul bordering on disco with no evidence that I can find of the Sugarhill Gang performing on them in any way. It’s hard to understand how this is a Sugarhill Gang album, if the featured artist is absent from half of it. But, you know, music fans are too dumb to notice or care, right?

Regardless of what I don’t know about the history of hip hop, I know “Rapper’s Delight” is one of the watershed moments – it was the first rap Top 40 and, presumably, in its actual full length, it is the most thorough demonstration most people would have heard of rap. As I noted before, the version of this I am listening to has an extremely excised version of that. Also, the sequencing is backwards, as the “Reprise” featuring the female rappers is the second track. Some sources list this sequence as the normal one, others have what appears to be a more correct sequence. I don’t know which came first. Anyway, the rap here has definitely aged poorly, like when they namedrop nursery rhymes, but it’s easy to see why it would have had such a massive influence on people, especially those not living in cities which had hip hop performances or labels.

Did I mention that the rappers aren’t credited for their lyrics? This is another outrageous aspect of this whole package. The producer gets in some writing credits, of course. It’s nice for her.

This album is a mess and a bit of a fraud. I’ve been wavering back on forth on whether I should just outright pan it or acknowledge that half of what is here is borderline revolutionary (if not outright revolutionary). And I’m going with this: three of the tracks here are extremely important but the whole package is a mess and also extremely problematic. (The arrogance of music producers thinking they should control everything and get paid because…do they think they work harder or something?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.