The 15-minute rap told us to “rock it to the bang-bang,” as it rocketed up the charts making it the first hip-hop single to be a Top 40 hit.
The song continues to find audiences, even more than 30 years later (including a memorable appearance in 1998’s “Wedding Singer” by a rapping grandma), and member Big Bank Hank (born Henry Jackson) said he’s grateful for it all.
The Sugarhill Gang, which is made up of Big Bank Hank, Master Gee and Wonder Mike, will perform Friday night at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in the H Lounge. The group will go on after 9 p.m. following the Boogie Night event (see sidebar).
Big Bank Hank, who we’ll call BBH, discovered rap and the beginnings of hip-hop in 1974 when artists like Pete DJ Jones were starting to break out with this new genre.
“People from Brooklyn and the Bronx started mixing turntables in the streets and in parks,” BBH said during a telephone from his studio in New Jersey. “We had these big block parties. And rapping started coming in this format with DJs. It just exploded.”
But music wasn’t BBH’s first priority. Instead, the Bronx native received a degree in oceanography.
“I used to watch TV shows with Jacques Cousteau and I was enthralled with it,” he said. “I liked to fish and I always wanted to see what was underwater. It just took hold of me. My parents always stressed to me that education was power and I just kept moving on. I started playing football and I got a scholarship and followed my passion.”
He was thinking of getting his master’s degree when his friend was opening some pizza shops in Jersey. Although he was tossing pies for a living, BBH was “battling” in the park for fun with other rappers line for line.
BBH said after he won a Battle of the MCs three years in a row in New York City, he was starting to get name recognition.
It was Sylvia Robinson, who was the founder of Sugar Hill Records, who put Sugarhill Gang together.
“I had just done a battle at a park called MacKay Park (in New Jersey), and I just crushed everybody out there,” BBH said.
Robinson had come to the pizza shop to see if he could live up to all the hype.
“Luckily the other Mike, which was Michael Wright (aka Wonder Mike) was across the street and we started battling back and forth and she was like, ‘Oh my god,’” he said.
And then Master Gee (Guy O’Brien) was coming down the street, he said, and all three started battling. “(Robinson) said ‘I got a group already,’” he said.
The song that put Sugarhill Gang on the map would be “Rapper’s Delight,” a 15-minute battle among the three friends.
“The record was done in one take,” BBH said. “Nobody stopped or restarted. And the rest is history.”
In fact, he said, the rap would have been longer but the 26-track ran out of tape.
“We could have went on for another 15 minutes,” he said.
Once the song hit the airwaves it was instant hit.
BBH said WXTU played the record first.
“While the record was playing, (the DJ) got back on the air and made an announcement ‘Please don’t call the radio station anymore. The radio station’s lines are jammed, we’re going to play it back to back,’” BBH recalls. “He played it for 30 minutes and from that point on rap took hold and it’s never stopped since.”
BBH said they weren’t expecting the overnight success of the song.
“Suppose I bought you two lottery tickets and I handed you one and I told you, ‘Tomorrow that’s going to be the winning number,’” he said. “You take that lottery ticket and go home. And you wake up the next morning and that’s the winning number and that’s how hip-hop took its hold. It just blew up.”
“Rapper’s Delight” sold more than 18 million records worldwide.
“Who would have ever dreamed it? We caught what’s called that perfect wave, and rap has transcended generation,” he said. “It’s a classic. When you think of standards in any songs, we’re a classic. We’ve been inducted in the Library of Congress. We’ve been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This record has transcended all these generations and I’m just glad to be part of it.”
Although there has been some accusations from Grandmaster Caz that he, not BBH, wrote his part in “Rapper’s Delight.”
“I love Grandmaster Caz to death,” he said. “We were all part of the same group. We all wrote our own raps and lyrics. He never wrote anything of mine.”
Today, the members of Sugarhill Gang are still touring — up to 200 dates a year — and will travel to Europe and South America this year.
BBH said as a member of Sugarhill Gang he has traveled the world and is proud that they’re still able to share their music.
“I see groups that are hot one minute and next time you see them they’re asking if you want a soda with that Happy Meal,” he said. “We’ve had the ability to transcend generations and that’s a gift. That’s a blessing and I’m grateful for that.”
If you go ...
WHAT: Sugarhill Gang
WHEN: Friday, Jan. 18; they will go on sometime after 9 p.m. following Boogie Nights event
WHERE: Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, 750 Hollywood Drive, Charles Town, W.Va.
CONTACT: Go to www.hollywoodcasinocharlestown.com
MORE: Must be 21 or older with proper ID to enter.