Funk You Up: The Story of The Sequence
By Jay Quan
The earliest releases in recorded Rap were largely by male Rap artists and they were released almost exclusively on independent record labels based in New York. Englewood New Jersey’s Sugar Hill Records was as much an anomaly as its first couple of signed acts. “Rappers Delight” by The Sugar Hill Gang holds the distinction of being the first commercially successful Rap record and the first Rap record released on label owner Sylvia Robinson’s new label. The second Rap record on the label came from a trio of young ladies hailing from Columbia South Carolina. The Sequence made history simultaneously becoming the first all-female Rap group to record and release a Rap record and the first Rap group from the south to do so as well.
Cheryl “The Pearl” Cook, Gwendolyn “Blondy” Chisolm and Angie “Angie B” Brown grew up in Saxon Homes and they'd known each other since elementary school; but they forged friendships in high school as cheerleaders. “I met Angie through my sister because they all went to school together," Cheryl says. "In the 4th or 5th grade some girls wanted to fight them and since I was the oldest they came to get me. I met Blondy in high school and we started hanging out and later Angie started hanging with us”. Angie and Cheryl would write cheers and they often turned popular songs into cheers. There were different line ups of the group and at times they had up to four girls. Because Cheryl and Blondy were partying together at night and Angie was with Cheryl during the day they all got together to form the final lineup of the group. Writing cheers morphed into writing rhymes (Cheryl was already writing poetry) after the girls heard “King Tim III” by The Fatback Band. Blondy breaks down the meaning of the Sequence name “Everything about us runs in a sequence. I’m 5ft 2, Angie is 5ft 3 and Cheryl is 5ft 4. On October 20th I turned 20, On November 19th Cheryl turned 19 and on Dec 18th Angie turned 18.”
“It was October 20th which is my birthday and 'Rappers Delight' had just come out a few weeks before," According to Blondy. "The Sugar Hill Gang was coming to Township Auditorium and we had to get there to show them that we could sing and Rap just as good as they could. We were pretty popular from playing the local roller-skating rink and this guy who was supposed to be our manager said that he could get us into the show and that the tickets would be at will call. When we arrived, there were no tickets. There was this guy who was trying to talk to Angie. He told her that he was with Sugar Hill Records and that he could get her in. He was flirting and telling her that he liked dark-skinned girls. Angie said, 'Only if you can get my girls in too.' He got us in and got us backstage”.
The girls informed the Sugar Hill Records employee that they could rap better than the Sugar Hill Gang and they were instructed to audition for a woman who was sitting backstage. They performed a song and she complimented it. They performed another song called “Get It Together” and she bestowed another compliment upon them, but it was obvious that she wasn’t overly impressed. They were about to end their performance and Angie remembered that they hadn’t done “Funk You Up”. As they were walking away the woman said “come back and do “Funk You Up." They performed the song and Sylvia Robinson declared: “I'm gonna make you girls stars!”
“Sylvia had us come back later in the night," says Blondy. "And she asked Doug Wimbish and Skip McDonald (musicians in the Sugar Hill Records house band) to make up a bass line right there as we sang along. We gave her our contact information and that was it. I was working at a gas station/store called Super Saver as a manager and someone called and asked for Blondy. It was Sylvia and she asked were we ready to record 'Funk You Up' and I said yes. She said that she would fly us up that weekend." Cheryl confirms Blondy’s memory of the events. “She sent for us and we flew up and did it. We did it on a Friday, they mixed it on Saturday and it was on WBLS on Sunday. The record was certified gold three weeks later.”
Sylvia went to work immediately integrating The Sequence into the Sugar Hill machine. The Sugar Hill Gang was in the process of putting together their 1980 full-length album and Sylvia wisely paired them with the Sugar Hill Gang for a song called “Rappers Reprise (Jam Jam)." The song was also released as a single and was well received. Ironically neither group liked the song, particularly the hook ("jam jam jippy the jam") but it was one that was part of their live show until Big Bank Hank refused to perform it one night. Regardless of the groups dislike of the song, it successfully introduced The Sequence to the Sugar Hill Gangs massive record buying audience and set the girls up perfectly for their future releases.
By 1980 Sylvia had successfully acquired Spoonie Gee as a Sugar Hill Records artist from his uncle Bobby Robinsons Enjoy Records. The first single that he released on the label was “Monster Jam” a collaboration with The Sequence. The flirtatious nature of the song was perfect for Spoonie’s lover boy image and the song was a precursor to songs such as “Doin’ It“ by L.L. Cool J and I”m Not Havin’ It” by Positive K as far as the flIrtation and sexual tension in the lyrics. Again this song was a perfect reintroduction to Spoonie and Sequence both, and only helped both of their burgeoning careers.
The Sugar Hill artists literally kicked in the door for many things in this new genre of recorded music. The Funky 4 +1, The Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5, The Crash Crew, The Treacherous 3, Spoonie Gee, The Mean Machine and The Sequence toured as the Sugar Hill Revue and created the template for the Rap live performance in arenas, stadiums and coliseums. At some point a love connection was made between Rodney “Lil Rodney C” Stone of The Funky 4 +1 and Angie “Angie B” Brown resulting in one of Hip Hops first couples and a name change for an artist that we would see as a force to reckon with in the R&B world a decade later by the name of Angie Stone.
Being the only southern group on the early rap tours took some getting used to for the Sequence. Cheryl reminisces between laughs “When we first arrived at the label Sylvia told us that if we arrived a week earlier we could have gone with The Gang to Europe. Angie asked if we could catch the bus over to join them and Sylvia had to tell her “the bus don’t go to Europe baby”. Also we were in Canada once and I ordered grits. Sylvia’s husband Joe said “I know you didn’t just come to Canada and order grits”. Lastly we had never flown before all of this and we were in an airport shopping. We had a 4 PM flight and we didn’t know how far we’d have to walk to get to the terminal so we missed it. We were scared to tell Mr. Robinson, so we said that I got sick and fainted and we missed our flight. He said that he never heard of a black woman fainting so he knew that we were shopping and missed our plane.” Blondy says that Sylvia loved their southern accents, and whenever they started to lose them, she’d send them back home for awhile to regain them.
The Sequence released more full-length albums of new material than any of their label mates and they also wrote for and did vocals on the West Street Mob recordings Like “Dance (Make Your Body Move).” Cheryl says that they came to the label with songs already written and that while other groups would sit around the lobby at the label, they were writing and producing. The Sequence has been sampled by everyone from Dr. Dre to KRS One and D.J. Kool. Whether it’s original songs like “Funk You Up” or remakes like “Love Changes” by Mothers Finest or “Funky Sound (Tear The Roof Off)” by Parliament The Sequence brought a perfect blend of rhyming and singing years before if became the norm in Rap music. They truly put the first crack it the glass ceiling of the Rap industry.