On January 5, 1980, The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" became the first rap record to hit the Billboard Hot 100, reaching #37. The song, which uses an interpolation of Chic's 1979 summer anthem "Good Times," actually reached number 4 on the Hot Soul Singles chart (now known as Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs) on December 1, 1979.
Released on September 16, 1979, "Rapper's Delight" is regarded as rap music's first commercially successful recording and the introduction of the genre to those outside of New York's 5 boroughs. The fifteen-minute record kicked off Sylvia Robinson's new Sugar Hill Records imprint which would eventually sign Bronx and Harlem crews Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5, The Funky 4 + 1, The Treacherous Three, and The Crash Crew.
Robinson first heard this new "talking music" at New York's legendary Harlem World when she attended a birthday party for her niece and witnessed the late Lovebug Starski rhyming and spinning records simultaneously. She immediately got the idea to record this music and recruited her son Joey Robinson Jr. to seek the hottest rappers of the day. A chance meeting with Henry "Big Bank Hank" Jackson in her own backyard of Englewood, New Jersey at Crispy Crusts Pizza would forever change music history.
She united Hank with Michael "Wonder Mike" Wright and Guy "Master Gee" O'Brien of Englewood's Sound On Sound and Phase II respectively, and with rhymes that Hank borrowed from Grandmaster Caz, later of The Cold Crush Brothers. They recorded what for many was the first rap record. The Fatback Band released "King Tim The III (Personality Jock)" in March 1979 — a song that contained a mixture of Fatback's singing and Tim's rhymes, but it failed to achieve much radio airplay or commercial success.
We were in the right place, at the right time with the right shit.
- Master Gee of The Sugar Hill Gang
Over the years, the group's authenticity has been questioned and they have been accused of being a "put together group." Hank's usage of Caz's, DJ Hollywood's, and Eddie Cheeba's rhymes has also been an issue for many fans and their contemporaries.
"Wonder Mike and I were in crews in Englewood before Sylvia met us," Master Gee told The Foundation. "New York is only over the bridge from Jersey and my friend Mark Green was bringing me tapes of Flash parties and other live performances. I was Djing and rapping at the same time. I had a routine where I spun 'Dance To The Drummers Beat' and rapped over it."
As far as Hank's rhymes, Gee says that they had no idea that they weren't his. "We didn't know until much later the story of Hank using Caz's rhymes. When it was time to record "8th Wonder"and "Apache" we noticed that he never had anything. We figured that he just got his burst of creativity off on "Rappers Delight" and that was all he had."
"Rappers Delight" has been remade, sampled, used in movies and is a permanent part of both Hip-Hop and popular cultures. At its height, it was selling over 20,000 copies a day and radio stations were airing the full fifteen-minute version of the song. Hip-Hop's first sample-based lawsuit was launched with "Rappers Delight", with Chic claiming victory.
The Sugar Hill Gang charted on the Hot Soul Singles charts seven more times until 1984 and has several greatest hits albums to their credit. They remain one of the busiest touring groups from rap's embryonic years.