The Legacy of Sylvia Robinson

Publication: The New York Times

Title: Sylvia Robinson, Pioneering Producer of Hip-Hop, Is Dead at 75

Article by: James C. McKinley Jr.


Singer, songwriter and record producer Sylvia Robinson, who formed the pioneering hip-hop group Sugarhill Gang and made the first commercially successful rap recording with them, died on September 29 at age 75.

In the 1950s she and Mickey Baker formed the due Mickey & Sylvia, and had several this including “Love is Strange”, which was a No. 1 R&B song in 1957.  In the 1960s, Ms. Robinson became one of the few women to produce records and she and her husband founded All Platinum Records during that time.

One of her most well known achievements was her decision to record a rap single for Sugarhill Gang called “Rapper’s Delight”- the first hip-hop single to become a commercial hit.  The New York Times reports:

“Using Joey Robinson [her son] as a talent scout, she found three young, unknown rappers in Englewood — Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee — and persuaded them to record improvised rhymes as the Sugarhill Gang (sometimes rendered as Sugar Hill Gang) over a nearly 15-minute rhythm track adapted from Chic’s “Good Times.””

Under the newly formed label Sugar Hill Records, “Rapper’s Delight” was produced. Selling more than 8 million copies, it reached No. 4 on the R&B charts and No. 36 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and opened the gates for future hip-hop artists.

Ms. Robinson went on to sign artists such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and in 1982 she produced the song that shaped them, “The Message.”   According to the New York Times,  “It was groundbreaking rap about ghetto life that became one of the most powerful social commentaries of its time, laying the groundwork for the gangsta rap of the late 1980s.”


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