This was the first rap song to enter the US Top 40. Rap music had been around for about seven years, but it was usually heard at block parties and discos where DJs would loop breakbeats and MCs would add live vocals. Outside of the Bronx, rap was generally considered a fad, and record companies had no interest in financing it. The first rap song commercially released was "Kim Tim III (Personality Jock)
" by the Fatback Band, which came out in the summer of 1979, but was relegated to the B-side of a more traditional R&B tune.
"Rapper's Delight," released in November, 1979, was a serious push to get a rap record into the mainstream, and it worked, cracking the US Top 40 in January, 1980 and becoming a seminal song in hip-hop history. The winning formula was boastful lyrics over a sampled beat - a technique that became ubiquitous in rap.
The Fatback Band used an original beat on their song "Kim Tim III," making "Rapper's Delight" the first rap song to use a sample, which of course was done without permission, as no precedent existed for clearing a sample. The beat that plays throughout the song was taken from "Good Times
" by Chic, a song that was in the crates of every DJ who played at the block parties where rap got its start. The "Good Times" groove was easy to loop, creating a breakbeat that was perfect for MCs. The Sugarhill Gang wasn't the first to borrow it - Queen used the bassline in their song "Another One Bites The Dust
"Rapper's Delight" didn't just sample the beat; the string stabs were also lifted, so the entire "Delight" track was made up of pieces from the Chic song.
"Good Times" was written by Chic's guitarist/producer Nile Rodgers and bass player Bernard Edwards. Rodgers heard "Rapper's Delight" for the first time when he was out at a club and the DJ played it. After he threatened a lawsuit, the credits on the song were changed. Originally, Sylvia Robinson and the three rappers were listed as the song's writers, but now the only composers listed are Rodgers and Edwards, who receive all the songwriting royalties it brings in (Edwards' share goes to his estate, as he died in 1996).
The group was put together by Sylvia Robinson, owner of the New Jersey label Sugarhill Records, to take advantage of the rap music that was gaining popularity at New York City block parties. Her son, Joey Robinson, just 18 years old at the time, was the vice-president of promotion for the label and found the rappers for the group: Wonder Mike (Michael Wright), Big Bank Hank (Henry Jackson) and Master G (Guy O'Brien), all from Englewood, New Jersey. None of them had much credibility, and weren't part of the "Crews" that were rapping and dancing at the block parties. Some members of the early hip-hop scene thought the group was a sham, but the song became very popular in clubs and had a huge impact.
Robinson, a shrewd businesswoman who died in 2011 at age 75, is the same Sylvia who had a hit in 1973 with "Pillow Talk," and was half of Mickey And Sylvia, who had the 1956 hit "Love Is Strange
." She discovered rap music because her kids likes it, and used her business savvy and industry experience to create the first hit in the medium.
You can find many different mixes of "Rapper's Delight," but the original 12" single went on-and-a-on-and-on-on-and-on for 14 minutes and 27 seconds (although the label on the single said it was and even 15 minutes). The radio edit runs 4:55, removing lots of bragging, some of the Superman and bad meal stories, and verses of unresolved metaphors ("Like a Perry Mason without a case, like Farrah Fawcett without her face").
"Big Bank" Hank Jackson, one of the three rappers in the group, stole the Superman part from MC Grandmaster Caz, a rapper who was part of a crew called the Cold Crush. Hank worked as a manager for the Cold Crush and was a bouncer at a club where they played. He used the rap to get in the group, and even used the part where Caz spelled out his nickname - "Casanova," going so far as to rhyme that he's "The grandmaster with the 3 MCs" (The Sugarhill Gang had just 3 members, the Cold Crush had 4). Caz feels he was never given proper credit, and in 2000 he released a song called "MC Delight" where he addressed the issue, rapping: "the cat who bit this rhyme was my manager, pure treason I'll tell you why..."
In Caz' version of events, Hank called him up after he got the gig with Sugarhill Gang, asking for a rap he could use with the group. Caz gave it to him, but expected some credit in return, which never came. Neither did the royalties, as Caz didn't sue.
There was a video made for this song, thus making it the first rap music video. It was a performance video with the rappers doing the song in a disco while the crowd dances along. It was low budget, but professionally done with decent production value (switcher wipes!).
The disco was called the Soap Factory. Located in Palisades Park, New Jersey, it hosted a syndicated TV series called the Soap Factory Disco Show
from 1977-1979. In 1979, The Sugarhill Gang performed this song on the show, and that performance became the de facto video.
Sylvia Robinson at Sugar Hill Records was an innovator in this regard, as she understood that videos were a great way to promote a song in Europe, and commissioned them for some of her artists (Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five got one for "The Message
"). As America caught on to music videos, the clip got a lot of exposure on New York shows like Video Music Box
that featured rap videos. MTV, which launched in 1981, didn't play a rap video until 1984, when they aired Run-D.M.C.'s "Rock Box
," but when they started Yo! MTV Raps
in 1988, "Rapper's Delight" got some spins.
This song opened the floodgates for many more rap records. Many of these releases were on the Sugarhill label, which was home to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5, Spoonie Gee, and a female group called Sequence. In December, 1979, Kurtis Blow became the first rapper to release a single on a major label when he put out "Christmas Rappin'
," and in 1980 he had the first rap gold record with "The Breaks
." Blondie became the first white act to chart with rap when they hit #1 with "Rapture
" also in 1980. Most rap records at the time were coming out of small, independent labels like Bobby Robinson's Harlem company Enjoy. It took a few more years before major labels signed a significant number of rappers, although in 1982, Tommy Boy Records had some success with Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock
This was a far bigger hit in the UK, which was a step ahead of America when it came to widespread acceptance of rap music. In England, where there is a large Jamaican population, rap music wasn't too far removed from the Reggae music that featured "toasters" who added vocals over breaks in the music. Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin'" made the UK Top 40 the same month as "Rapper's Delight": December, 1979.
At first, this was not released on an album, only as a 12" single, because Sugarhill Records did not think an entire album of rap music would sell. It has since appeared on numerous compilation albums.
The Sugarhill Gang made one more visit to the Hot 100 when "8th Wonder" charted at #82 in 1981. They faded into obscurity, but returned in the '90s to play nostalgia shows. In 1999, they released a children's rap album called Jump On It.
In 1998, The Sugarhill Gang performed this for a Turner Broadcasting party. Turner used the performance in a commercial for The Goodwill Games, but did not have the group's consent and was ordered to pay the group almost $3 million in a 2001 judgment.
The bass line on this song was played live by a 17-year-old named Chip Shearin, who got the gig for the session because his friend knew the studio owner, Sylvia Robinson. Shearin was paid $70 to re-create the bass line from the song "Good Times" for 15 minutes. He recorded the part with a live drummer, which formed the rhythm track for the song. When he asked Robinson what she was going to use it for, she replied: "'I've got these kids who are going to talk real fast over it."
Sheerin ended up playing some live gigs with the band and became a successful studio musician and composer of jingles.
This was covered by the Def Squad (Redman, Keith Murray, Erick Sermon of EPMD) in 1998 on the El Nino album which was released on Def Jam. It was called "Def Squad Delite," and the verses were partly changed. It also appeared on the compilation In Tha Beginning... There Was Rap (1997 Priority), where different hip hop artists covered famous old hip hop hits. (thanks, Benjamin - Berlin, Germany)
The 2002 hit "The Ketchup Song" (known in Spanish as "Asereje"), is about a guy who loves this song but doesn't understand the lyrics, so he makes up his own. What he makes up translates into the lyrics of "The Ketchup Song."
This song has been used in a variety of TV shows, including One Tree Hill, Martin, Scrubs, Entourage and Medium. Its most famous movie use was in the 1998 Adam Sandler movie The Wedding Singer, where it is sung by the elderly actress Ellen Dow, playing up to the comedy trope of old lady rapping. Other movies to use the song include Kangaroo Jack and CB4.
Kid Rock sampled this on his 1998 hit, "Bawitdaba."
In 2001, this was used in commercials for Dasani water.