Hip hop lost one of its greast this morning when singer and record producer Sylvia Robinson passed away in New Jersey. She was 75 years old.
Robinson was instrumental in the birth of hip-hop in the late ’70s. In 1979, she and her husband co-founded Sugar Hill Records, the label that put out the earliest rap albums and singles from Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, the Funky Four Plus One, and the Treacherous Three.
But her crowning achievement was recruiting Englewood, New Jersey rappers Master Gee, Big Bank Hank, and Wonder Mike to rap over a recording of Chic’s “Good Times.” The resulting single, the newly-anointed Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” was the first rap song to ever make an impact on mainstream music, and let the world know that hip-hop was a viable art form that had the potential to be the far-reaching juggernaut that it is today.
In addition to singing the 1956 soul-pop classic “Love Is Strange” as one half of the duo Mickey & Sylvia (which gained a second wave of popularity in a memorable scene in Dirty Dancing), Robinson also oversaw other seminal rap tracks, most notably Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” which moved hip-hop out of the realm of simple party music into something that could reflect the experience of young city life — what Public Enemy Chuck D would later call “the black CNN.”
Before she launched Sugar Hill Records, which closed down in 1986, Robinson had a full career as a singer, scoring a big hit with the song “Pillow Talk” in 1973.
In celebration of Robinson’s work, give a spin to the Treacherous Three’s “Gotta Rock,” an excellent example of the Sugar Hill sound.