And here we are, crossing over into the 1980s, and here to help us ring in another highly transformative decade of music, we have our first hip-hop album. Sort of. I will explain more later, but for now, let us introduce the self-titled album, “Sugarhill Gang” by The Sugarhill Gang. They burst onto the scene in late 1979 with the first hip-hop song to crack the Top 40, “Rappers Delight”, and riding that momentum, they released this full album in early 1980 (including “Rapper’s Delight”).
The Sugarhill Gang was primarily three emcees, Wonder Mike, Master Gee and Big Bank Hank, who is sadly no longer with us. Like most hip-hop music, there is a wide assortment of backing tracks, backing musicians, and backing vocalists, to include Sylvia Robinson, who added much more of a female voice than I expected on this record.
Knowing what I was getting into, and as a big fan of The Sugarhill Gang, based on the collective discovery of “Apache” by my friends Matt, Shane and I, I was very excited to throw on my first hip-hop album. Until I heard the first song, “Here I Am”. I sat there, completely stunned, listening to some horribly mediocre R&B song. I felt like Beavis, “Uhhh… wait a minute”. Where in the hell is the rap??
Thankfully, we kicked into the rap on the next song, “Rapper’s Reprise”, which was surprisingly long at 7:40. It sounded similar to “Apache”, which is not on this album, but was nice and pure early hip-hop. Unfortunately, we had another backslide into bad R&B on “Bad New (Don’t Bother Me)”, before we continued back on the hip hop train.
Of course, the natural highlight of this album is “Rapper’s Delight”. For any fan of hip-hop, it pretty much starts here. This song is pure happiness, and one of the foundations of a genre that pretty much rules the world now. Wonder Mike starts it off, and takes turns passing the mike to Big Bank Hank and then Master Gee. Naturally, the sound is a bit rudimentary, but it has such a catchy vibe it isn’t hard to see why people were drawn to this sound.
I was reminded today that early rap was just an expanding and emerging sound from the core of existing R&B, but thankfully we won’t hear many more tracks like “Here I Am” as the hip-hop ride continues. Welcome to the 80s!!!