Whether you love or hate rap, you cannot deny its influence on our popular music and lives today. And Friday, rap lost a true pioneer in Sylvia Robinson, a singer, songwriter and record producer who formed and oversaw the seminal hip-hop group Sugarhill Gang and made the first commercially successful rap recording with them.
Ms Robinson, who had hits as part of 1950’s R&B duo Mickey and Sylvia, and alone in 1973 (the song ” Pillow Talk”) and who owned a record label with her husband, was celebrating her birthday in 1979 in the famous Harlem World nightclub on 116th and Lenox (now the Conway discount store) when she heard MC Lovebug Starski rapping over disco breaks in instrumental songs and thought it would be a good idea to make a rap record. Employing her son as a talent scout, they found three young workers in a Jersey pizza parlor and persuaded them to improvise rhymes over a 15 minute Chic disco track.
That song, “Rapper’s Delight” reached No. 4 on the R&B charts and No. 36 on Billboard’s Hot 100, opening the flood gates for other hip-hop artists. Ms. Robinson later signed Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and in 1982 she was a producer of their ground shattering social awareness song, “The Message.”, arguably the greatest rap song ever recorded.
In an all-too-often male dominated genre, the influence of this woman cannot be denied. RIP Sylvia Robinson.