Remembering Rappers Delight-30 Years Ago It Was Born

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Remembering Rappers Delight-30 years Ago It Was Born

by Davey D

Sugar Hill Gang came to life 30 years ago

Sugar Hill Gang came to life 30 years ago

With all the sudden deaths that have affected us this year-from Michael Jackson to Roc Raida to Mr Magic to local KPOO radio legend Clarence ‘Swig’ Swiggins its been hard to sit back, catch a breath and notice some of the landmark dates that have impacted our culture. My boy Bruce Banter from playahata.com hit me up to remind me that today was the 30th anniversary of Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang.. Wow that’s a long time…

I’m not sure of the exact date if it was October 13th 1979, but I do recall when I first heard the song it was definitely in the fall of 1979.  I think almost everyone who was around at that time has a ‘This is how Sugar Hill Gang’ impacted me story. 

I fondly recall, that Rapper’s Delight re-energized what appeared to be a dwindling culture at least as far as the emceeing/rap aspect was concerned. Prior to SHG, I recall going to parties and cats would be on the mic rapping and rapping and rapping all night long. Some groups had nice routines. Others tried to put structure into what they were doing, but for the most part, many of those parties had dissolved into cats just having massive freestyle sessions on the mic to the point that it was overkill. The block parties as I recall were dying out and many of the more established acts had moved to the clubs. If you went to a jam, gone were cats flowing on the mic nonstop all night long. Groups would do a set and although they didn’t have records, each act, whether it was the Cold Crush Brothers, the  Crash Crew or Funky 4 Plus 1 More all had signature routines that folks went to go see.

The summer leading up to the release of Rappers Delight was interesting because, I recall hearing stories about how icons like Grandmaster Flash had moved on to ‘blending’ records and playing at discos versus being at parties cutting breaks and beats.  Chic’s Good Times which is what helped propel Rappers Delight was a massive hit and anyone who even thought about rapping loved flowing over the long Niles Rodgers bass laden break.

Also that summer I recall the Fatback Band’s joint ‘King Tem III Personality Jock. It was a cool novelty record, but dude sounded nothing like the emcees who you heard on tapes or saw at the early jams. He sounded like a radio disc jockey. Years later, we found out that the rap was a throwback to the rapping and rhyming that was around before Hip Hop as we know it.  Black radio DJs always rhymed-People like Jocko henderson and DaddyO are a couple that come to mind.  Many of these jocks did so as they would introduce songs.  So while King Tem III struck a chord, it didn’t shake things up the way Rapper’s Delight did  a few months later.

In my mind Hip Hop was kind of dying until Rappers Delight emerged and then all hell broke loose. The possibility of being able to make a name for yourself and reach the stars via recording a record got everyone back to writing rhymes and taking a renwed interest in emceeing. 

The other thing I remember was that hardly anyone had ever heard of the Sugar Hill Gang. There was initial confusion because we all knew Sugar Hill was a section in Harlem,  but one of the rappers in the song Big Bank Hank was calling himself Casanova Fly. There were only two people who used that name Casanova. One was Grandmaster Caz  of the Cold Crush and the other was a ‘hardrock’ cat named Tiny who headed the Casanova Crew over on Webster Ave in the Bronx.. A lot of cats thought it was him rapping , which caused confusion  because why use the name Sugar Hill when he was up in the Bx and not Harlem. ?  It was just a matter of time before we all found out that SHG was a crew that was put together and the Casanova references was due to Hank borrowing Caz’s rhyme books.  I will post up the interview we did with Caz where he breaks all this down.. Its an interesting situation. All this lead to a couple of other questions

1-Why them and not use some of the more established, better known crews like Flash or Cold Crush or Theodore and Fanstatic Romantic 5?

2-Why use the word ‘rap’? Prior to the release of ‘Rapper’s Delight’, what became known as rap was emceeing or rhyming. Rap was what you did when you were hollaring at a female.

In anycase Rappers Delight was the song that let the world know what was occuring in New York and subsequently people all over the planet jumped in the fray and added their own seasoning to the mix…. At the same time it also represents the beginning of a culture being diluted and overtly influenced by a music industry which was dying at the time.  Folks forget the music industry had raped a soulful music expression that was popular in the clubs and completely watered it down to a commercialized ‘disco form’.  In 1979 while Rappers Delight was blowing up..you also had alot of people running around and tagging on walls ‘Disco Sucks’.  The industry needed somethinfg to help it bounce back. Rappers Delight wasn’t the answer in 79, the person who saved the industry was a cat named Michael Jackson, but thats another story.

Happy birthday Sugar Hill Gang and Rappers Delight.

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What is Hip Hop? A Historical Definition Of The Term Rap pt1

A Historical Definition Of The Term Rap pt1

microphoneWhat is rap? Depending on who you ask and from which generation the word  ‘rap’ will take on different meanings. At one point in time ‘a rap’ was a set of excuses a con artist handed you in an effort to deceive you.

In the 70s rap were the words a person used when trying to persuade you. This particularly applied to the persuasive efforts of a young man trying to obtain sexual favors from a female..

Today rap means saying rhymes to the beat of music making it’s one of the four major element within hip hop culture. Because the other elements which include deejaying, breakdancing and graffiti aren’t as widespread, the words Hip Hop and Rap have been used interchangeably over the years..

The truth of the matter is the word rap wasn’t always used to describe this activity. The act of rhyming to the beat of music was initially called emceeing. The term rap first became associated with Hip Hop around 1979 with release of two records in ’79. The first was called King Tim III [Personality Jock] which is considered Hip Hop’s first record. This was track put out by the Brooklyn based Fatback Band. This song was said to be inspired the old rhyme styles of popular Black radio disc jockeys of the 50s and 60s  like Jocko Henderson, Jack The Rapper, Magnificent Montague and Daddy O to name a few. These Black radio deejays would eventually go on to influence pioneering club deejays like DJ Hollywood..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcTP4cvXSP0

Suagrhillgang-old-225The second song that popularized and associated the term Rap with Hip Hop  was the landmark song Rapper’s Delight by Sugar Hill Gang. I’m not quite sure how Sugar Hill came up with the term ‘Rap’. Some say it was already being bantered about within the mainstream media who were then mystified by this new phenomenon.

Others say that the term was coined by older folks within the community in this case Sugar Hill record label owners Sylvia and Joey Robinson who saw similarities between young hip hoppers from the ’70s and the word manipulators of earlier generations where the term rap was used..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljUnyv5XUA8

H-rap-brown-yellow

H Rap Brown

Ironically within the song Rapper’s Delight contains a well-known rhyme which appears to have been borrowed from the former Black Panther and SNCC chairman H.Rap Brown now known as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.The rhyme in question appears in Brown’s auto biography written in 1969 called  ‘Die Nigger Die‘. It spoke about his militant approach toward solving some of the ills afflicting Black America. Within his book he spoke about how he obtained his name ‘Rap’. He detailed that when he was growing up in Louisiana people used to play a variety of word games including one called The Dozens.

The purpose of the game was to totally destroy somebody else with words. He noted that in his neighborhood and bear in mind we are talking about the early 60s, there would be close to 50 guys standing around competing against one another in this rhyme game in which people talked about each others mothers. The winner was determined by crowd reaction… Rap Brown got his name his name because he was considered to be one of the most skilled…

In his book H.Rap Brown gives some examples of his rhymes…

I fucked your mama
till she went blind.
Her breath smells bad,
But she sure can grind.

I fucked your mama
for a solid hour.
Baby came out
screaming, Black Power.

Elephant and Baboon
learning to screw.
Baby came out looking
like Spiro Agnew.
[Spiro Agnew was former Vice President under Richard Nixon]

Brown also explained another verbal game called Signifying. He noted that this was verbal game which was more humane than The Dozens because instead of dissin’ someone’s mother you would dis your opponent. He also explained that a skilled signifier knew how to skillfully put words together so you could accurately express your feelings. He concluded that signifying could also be used to make some one feel good. He dropped a rhyme which was used in the movie ‘Five On The Black Hand Side‘ and later immortalized several years later by the Sugar Hill Gang.

Yes, I’m hemp the demp the women’s pimp
women fight for my delight.
I’m a bad motherfucker. Rap the rip-saw the
devil’s brother ‘n law.
I roam the world I’m known to wander and this .45
is where I get my thunder…

The fact that H.Rap refered to his .45 caliber gun may have inadvertently been a precursor to what we call gangsta rap. (This of course is being said with tongue in cheek)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkbKKnKg7dk

Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes

As was mentioned earlier the term rap has changed from generation to generation. In the 70s the term not only meant the art of persuasion but it was also used to describe the monologue talking styles used by singing artists like Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Bobby Womack, Lou Rawls and Millie Jackson. Albums like Isaac Hayes’ ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ and Millie Jackson’s ‘Still Caught Up’ best personified these styles called ‘Love Raps’.

The art of rappin’ with respect to hip hop was characterized by one’s ability to syncopated to a beat. Ideally an emcee rapped from the heart. His rhymes were spontaneous, not memorized or read aloud from a written document.

Of course we now know that most of the great pioneering emcees like Mele-Mel, Grand Master Caz and Kurtis Blow to name a few, all rehearsed and pre-wrote their rhymes. But the approach was to present yourself as if the rhymes were coming off the top of the dome. ..

Ideally a rap is a group of rhymes that are thrown together so everything has meaning. Nothing said is frivolous. It reflects the here and now and ideally the lifestyle of the one rapping. Rap’s ideally projected the emotions and feelings experienced by the rapper. Ultimately and historically an artist rapped for no one but himself. His rap was a call for attention to himself.. He was ideally saying..’Hey look here I am world-Somebody hear my song!’.

And the beat goes on an on an on
It don’t stop rocking till the crack of dawn
when the people hear me rock the funky rap song
The whole damn world wants to hum along
Cause I’m e-lectricic..I’m bigger than life
An everyone calls me Jesus Christ
To The beat y’all check me out..
To the beat y’all check me out..

-Davey D-
Double D Crew..’78

c 1984.. The Power Of Rap..
By dave ‘Davey D’ Cook