Nile Rodgers | This much I know

The musician, 66, on being united in the disco era, his friendship with Stephen Hawking, and inventing hip-hop

I love New York, it’s given me everything. I grew up on the Lower East Side and it was such a diverse, multicultural neighbourhood. Irish, Poles, Italians, Jews, Latinos African Americans. I’ve probably missed someone!

My first memory as a conscious person is being outside my house. There’s a load of kids across the road and they’re all dressed as the Lone Ranger, which was a huge show at the time. My neighbourhood was a lively place! Anywhere I’ve ever gone in my life I’ve been able to assimilate and get along with people. I attribute that all to the environment I grew up in. I might have grown up in poverty, but New York gave me many riches. New York is who I am.

Disco was such an exciting time to live within. We were all united. There was no division. The women’s liberation movement paired with the gay liberation movement. Whites and blacks. We were all united, by music. God knows how it looked in the Midwest.

The Disco Sucks movement, where they held big events and burned our records, was racism. It wasn’t about them not liking the music; they were scared of the societal change that disco was bringing about. It got really weird when they tried to pit Chic against the Knack in a race for a number one single. They framed it as “disco vs rock”. Even though we used the same studio, saw each other every day, and were good friends – and their song My Sharona was about one of our friends, Sharona!

David Bowie was an inspiration to me. I’ve worked with everyone: Madonna, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan. But David Bowie really was fantastic. In truth, people hardly ever approach me to work with them. Pretty much everything comes from hanging out and chance meetings. Whenever me and Bowie would meet, we’d always end up talking about jazz. Really strange avant-garde jazz. He loved that stuff and he was such an ally for black rights. He was a fantastic human.

Music and science were my twin loves growing up. I guess music just spoke to me that little bit more, and so it became my life. But I’m still absolutely fascinated by science. Space is something I’m consumed by. What are we? How did we get here? I’m lucky that I know people at Nasa and the like, so I get invited to all sorts of conferences and big scientific gatherings.

I became friends with Stephen Hawking. His brain was enormous, and he was a total genius, but not enough people talk about how funny he was. He was one of the funniest men I’ve ever met. Was he a fan of Chic? I don’t know. I presume so. I never asked. It’s not like he ever asked me if I was a fan of his theorems, you know?

I accidentally invented hip-hop. I remember the first time I heard Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang. I was in a nightclub in New York called Leviticus and the DJ was playing a record that opened with the bassline from the Chic song Good Times. At first I thought they were playing it live in the DJ booth and I was really impressed. Then the DJ told me he’d bought the record that day in Harlem. I asked to see the sleeve, and when our name wasn’t on there, things got legal. It’s an amazing song though, and I’m really proud of our part in it.

Nile Rodgers headlines Liverpool International Music Festival (20-21 July)


James McMahon

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Nile Rodgers’s Meltdown review – a radical world party
The Chic supremo serves up a genial, all-inclusive musical feast, with Brazilian pop star Anitta leading the charge…

Damien Morris

10, Aug, 2019 @1:00 PM

Article image
Chic and Nile Rodgers to close Bestival 2014
The celebrated disco act follow their performance at 2012’s Camp Bestival with a mainstage slot at the event, joining Foals and Outkast as headliners

Guardian music

25, Feb, 2014 @9:57 AM

Article image
Chic & Nile Rodgers review – timeless party classics at the Nile high club
Sticking to beloved hits and backed by formidable vocalists, Rodgers has the audience dancing from the get-go on his biggest ever UK tour

Graeme Virtue

14, Dec, 2018 @3:19 PM

Article image
Nile Rodgers and Chic review – disco springs eternal
The ‘number one producer in the world’ puts on a breathless show packed with colossal hits that has everyone on their feet

Dorian Lynskey

04, Aug, 2019 @10:46 AM

Article image
Gloria Gaynor: ‘The Holy Spirit grabbed me by the collar in 1985’
The singer, 69, on hating parties, being saved by God, and why I Will Survive survives

Michael Segalov

06, Jul, 2019 @1:00 PM

Article image
From the archive: David Bowie at 40
In April 1987, the Observer Magazine asks if the Star Man is burnt out at this advanced age

Chris Hall

06, Jan, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Lily Allen: ‘Sex can still be an addiction’
The musician, 34, on compromising pictures, Piers Morgan, and why she spent time in a psychiatric ward

Rich Pelley

29, Jun, 2019 @1:00 PM

Article image
Music festivals guide 2012: Q&A with Nile Rodgers

The disco legend on his hippy childhood, Chic's first festival and vibing with Johnny Marr in Manchester

Louis Pattison

25, May, 2012 @11:20 PM

Article image
Nile Rodgers works with Keith Urban on 'EDM-country' project
Chic legend is in awe of Australian country star’s banjo playing

Guardian music

25, Jun, 2015 @7:09 AM

Article image
Disco's back as Nile Rodgers tops chart again
Daft Punk's new single breaks Spotify record and becomes a global hit – and it's all down to the magic of dance music pioneer Nile Rodgers

Edward Helmore in New York

27, Apr, 2013 @3:42 PM