Photo credits: Anthony Barbosa/Getty Images
The Englewood, New Jersey-based Sugarhill Gang (pictured) released “Rapper’s Delight,” the genre’s first Billboard Top 40 record, on this day in 1979.
This song, which Grandmaster Caz of The Cold Crush Brothers wrote, is regarded as one of the early examples of hip hop and is associated with popularizing rap music with ethnic audiences. In the nightclubs and bars of the nation’s metropolitan hubs in the 1970s, disco and soul continued to dominate. Even when hip hop was first starting out, it was not well understood and was only available in New York City and California (Allah, 2022).
Urban kids in any city are known to engage in borderline illegal activities such as breaking, graffiti, rapping, and record spinning. Housing project residents who avoided the clubs and pubs in their various downtown areas made up the bulk of the culture’s cult following. Every now and then, a single would be released that would succeed and shine throughout the party scene, but never really make a big mark on the national stage. The narrative of “Rapper’s Delight” was different.
Blondie, Chic, and The Clash were performing on September 20, 1979, in New York City’s famed Palladium, along with Fab Five Freddy, the first socialite in Hip Hop (and future television presenter), Big Bank Hank, Mike Wright, and Master Gee of the Sugarhill Gang. The group was fresh off the release of a single, including Chic’s smash tune “Good Times,” off their most recent worldwide album Risqué, so it was only natural for them to take the stage immediately as Chic unleashed the bass part of the melodic lines and began freestyling.
Nile Rodgers of Chic was performing later at New York’s Club Leviticus when he heard a recorded version of the song that The Sugarhill Gang had so deliciously interrupted during his set weeks before. Enraged, Rodgers sought legal counsel right away and made an effort to file a lawsuit against the Sugarhill Gang for borrowing a riff from his band in their song. The legal dispute was settled out of court, so Chic got the credit they deserved for their part in the song.
A wave of fame followed the court action and media attention. Each evening of the week, DJs started playing this song in clubs all throughout the nation. The tune received so much airplay in the US that clubs all around the world started to play it nonstop. The song was number one in Canada and the Netherlands, second in Belgium, France, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and third in Germany and the UK, even though it only reached the top 36 on the Billboard 200. With more than 5 million units sold globally, this one song achieved platinum sales in both the US and Canada.
Possibly the most significant track in hip hop history is “Rapper’s Delight.” Even though it wasn’t the first to achieve popular success, or perhaps even from New York, it was the largest of its era. What “Rapper’s Delight” accomplished was to normalize openly supporting and listening to rap music. Hip hop had been an urban stigma prior to this track. Upon its debut, the meaning changed from being one associated with the underground to one of a fresh, modern musical style. In a manner that made hip hop lucrative, “Rapper’s Delight” densely settled the genre.
The hip-hop industry’s popularity today was driven by “Rapper’s Delight” foundational strength.
Allah, S. B. (2022, September 16). Today in hip hop history: Sugar hill gang released ‘Rapper’s delight’ 43 years ago. The Source. Retrieved September 16, 2022, from https://thesource.com/2022/09/16/today-in-hip-hop-history-sugar-hill-gang-released-rappers-delight-43-years-ago-2/