“Rapper’s Delight” became Hip-first Hop’s Top 40 single 43 years ago today. Sugarhill Gang of Englewood, New Jersey released “Rapper’s Delight” in August 1979. This single, written by The Cold Crush Brothers’ own Grandmaster Caz, is credited with introducing the art of rap to a multicultural mainstream audience.

In the 1970s, disco and soul reigned supreme in the country’s urban clubs and lounges. Hip Hop was still misunderstood in its most basic form (and exclusive to New York City and California). Breaking, tagging, rapping, and spinning records were widely regarded as borderline criminal activities of urban youth in any city. The cult following of the culture was primarily made up of housing project residents who did not frequent the discos and bars of their respective downtown centers. Every now and then, someone would release a single that would break through and get some attention on the club scene but never make much of a national impact. “Rapper’s Delight” was a completely different story.

On September 20, 1979, new wave bands Blondie and Chic performed at New York’s famed Palladium alongside British punk rock band The Clash; Hip Hop’s first socialite (and soon-to-be television host) Fab Five Freddy was there, as were Sugarhill Gang members Big Bank Hank, Mike Wright, and Master Gee. Having just released a single featuring Chic’s hit single “Good Times” from their recent international album Risqué, the gang jumped on stage and began freestyling as soon as Chic dropped the bass line.

Chic’s Nile Rodgers was out at New York’s Club Leviticus at the time and heard a recorded cut of the song that The Sugarhill Gang had so delightfully interrupted his concert weeks before. Rodgers became enraged and sought legal action, attempting to sue the Sugarhill Gang for using his band’s instrumental in their single. The lawsuit was settled out of court, and Chic was given proper credit for their contribution to the song.

With the lawsuit and legal attention came a flood of attention. Every night of the week, Disc Jockeys in clubs across the country began to spin this record. The single received so much airplay in the United States that clubs all over the world began to play it like there was no tomorrow. Despite peaking at #36 on the Billboard 200, the single was #1 in Canada and the Netherlands, #2 in Belgium, France, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, and #3 in Germany and the United Kingdom. With over 5 million copies sold worldwide, this single song went platinum in both the United States and Canada.

“Rapper’s Delight” is possibly the most influential single in Hip Hop culture. It wasn’t the first to achieve mainstream success, and it wasn’t even from New York, but it was the biggest of its time. “Rapper’s Delight” made it “acceptable” to listen to and support rap music in public. Hip Hop was considered an urban taboo prior to the release of this single. When it was released, the connotation changed from one associated with the ghetto to a new and hip musical genre. In some ways, “Rapper’s Delight” gentrified Hip Hop and made it profitable. The culture would not be as powerful as it is today if it did not exist.


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