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Sylvia Robinson: 1936-2011

Examining the rich legacy of the hip-hop pioneer

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Dirty Dancing fans may remember her voice from Mickey & Sylvia’s 1956 duet ”Love Is Strange.” But for generations raised on rap, Sylvia Robinson, 75, will always be the pioneer who introduced the world to hip-hop by forming the group Sugarhill Gang and producing their 1979 smash ”Rapper’s Delight,” which sold millions of copies after Robinson released it on her own Sugar Hill Records label. The rhythm & blues singer, who died of congestive heart failure on Sept. 29 in Edison, N.J., was at a New York party in June 1979 when she first heard DJs spinning records and talking over the music. ”We walked out of the club that night, and she said the Lord gave her a vision to do a rap record,” remembers her son Joey Robinson. Today, her talent survives on Jay-Z and Alicia Keys‘ hit ”Empire State of Mind,” which samples a song that Robinson co-wrote and produced, the Moments’ 1970 soul ballad ”Love on a Two-Way Street.” ”My mom was an innovator,” says Joey. ”She will always be the godmother of hip-hop.”