XXL celebrates 50 years of hip-hop with this moment:
Jan. 5, 1980: The Sugarhill Gang‘s classic 1979 song, “Rapper’s Delight,” helped move hip-hop from the humble streets of the Bronx, N.Y., to mainstream popularity.
The song was the idea of the late Sylvia Robinson, who was the founder of Sugar Hill Records, along with her late husband Joseph, Sr. She enlisted Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright, Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien and Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson to recite written rhymes (allegedly from Cold Crush Brothers’ Grandmaster Caz’s rhyme book) over the bassline groove of Chic’s “Good Times,” which was replayed by Sugar Hill’s in-house live band Positive Force.
The result was a 14-minute-long song that reportedly was done in one take. There are also 6-minute and 4-minute versions of the track for radio consumption. Released on Sept. 16, 1979, “Rapper’s Delight” initially peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart, dated Dec. 8, 1979. The following year, on Jan. 5, 1980, the song cracked the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart at No. 37 to officially become hip-hop’s first top 40 hit. A week later, it peaked at No. 36 on the tally before nosediving to No. 96 the week after.
The boastful lyrics and funny narratives from Wonder Mike, Master Gee and the late Big Bank Hank connected with music fans worldwide.
“I was unknown, but figured if I rapped about ‘foxy ladies and pretty girls’ it would get me more attention,” Master Gee told The Guardian in 2017, about making the song. “It worked. My line about being the ‘baddest rapper’ was wishful thinking, though.”
“Rapper’s Delight” reportedly went on to sell 2 million copies and has been inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.