Sugarhill Gang: how we made Rapper's Delight

‘I’d heard this word hip-hop and just started going: “Hip-hop hippie to the hippie to the hip-hip hop”’

Guy ‘Master Gee’ O’Brien, songwriter-rapper

When I was in 10th grade in New Jersey, I went to a party and heard someone talking rhythmically through a mic. “That’s rapping,” he said. “That’s what they’re doing in New York.” I had started DJ-ing to make some money and added rapping to my repertoire.

At this point, it was something we did at parties. Nobody thought of it as commercial. Then Sylvia Robinson, founder of the hip-hop label Sugar Hill, decided to make a record, and looked for talent in New Jersey, where she was living. Big Bank Hank rapped and made pizzas, so she auditioned him in front of the pizza parlour. I rapped in her car, then Wonder Mike was next. “I can’t choose,” she said. “So I’ll put you all together.”

Chic’s Good Times was great to rap to. The tempo was right and the bassline was high. That became the basis of Rapper’s Delight. The intro came from Here Comes That Sound Again by a British group named Love De-Luxe. There were no samplers at the time, so the backing track was laid down by Sugar Hill signees Positive Force, who played the Chic rhythm, which we rapped over. I was unknown, but figured if I rapped about “foxy ladies and pretty girls” it would get me more attention. It worked. My line about being the “baddest rapper” was wishful thinking, though.

Chic’s Nile Rodgers wasn’t happy, but he now says Rapper’s Delight is one of his favourite tracks. It is one of his most lucrative – we gave him a credit. Then it turned out that Hank’s rhymes had been written by another MC, Grandmaster Caz. We’ve given him credit in public and done shows with him, and he’s cool about it. But I’m sure it bothers him every time he hears it.

I thought we’d made the first rap record. Then I was at a party and heard the Fatback Band’s King Tim III, which featured rapping with singing. I thought someone had beat us to the punch. But they’d made it a B-side. Ours became a smash.

Watch Sugarhill Gang’s video for Rapper’s Delight on the band’s YouTube channel

Michael ‘Wonder Mike’ Wright, songwriter-rapper

At parties, guys would pass mics around for hours, so rapping for 20 minutes in a studio seemed like nothing. When we made the record we kept coming up with clever things and the producers never stopped us. The finished recording was 19 minutes long, all the rap done in one take, but we cut it to 15, making the intro shorter and cutting out some party noise.

My rap was part planned, part spontaneous. I wanted the start to be powerful and was inspired by that old sci-fi show The Outer Limits, which began: “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture.” So my introduction went: “Now what you hear is not a test, I’m rappin’ to the beat.” And, because I wanted to appeal everyone, I said: “I’d like to say hello to the black, to the white, the red and the brown.”

No one has ever been able to ascertain whether Lovebug Starski or the Furious Five’s Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins came up with the term hip-hop, but I’d heard the phrase through my cousin and just started going: “Hip-hop, hippie to the hippie, to the hip-hip-hop and you don’t stop.” The part where I go, “To the bang-bang boogie, say up jump the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat” is basically a spoken drum roll. I liked the percussive sound of the letter B.

When I was seven, I saw the Beatles’ film, A Hard Day’s Night, with all the screaming girls. When Rapper’s Delight hit, there was a lot of hysteria. We were in a record shop and the manager had to ferry us out through the back. I remember thinking: “Man, this is just like A Hard Day’s Night.”

• The Sugarhill Gang are at the Funk and Soul Weekender, Camber Sands, 12-14 May. The group then tour.


Interviews by Dave Simpson

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