The year 1979 turned out to be an interesting year musically. Two great records came out that were both culturally and musically significant – Chic’s ‘Good Times’ and the Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ which, of course, was based on the latter. ‘Good Times’ marked the end of the disco era: 1979 was the year that disco died a sad and unwarranted death (at least in the United States) thanks to the ‘Disco Sucks’ movement, but the song became one of Chic’s biggest, and Bernard Edwards’ bass-line has gone down in music history. The song was originally released in June 1979, but by September Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright, Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson, and Guy “Master Gee” O’Brein had transformed the song into ‘Rapper’s Delight’, the first commercially successful hip-hop record released.
The Sugarhill Gang would go on and have other hits such as ‘8th Wonder’, ‘Apache’ and one of our favourites ‘The Lover In You’ – but they never really repeated the success of ‘Rapper’s Delight’, but then how could they? Soon, however, behind the scenes not all was great: Master Gee was the first to leave the group, leaving Wonder Mike and Big Bank Hank to continue touring with replacement members, notably the son of Sugarhill Gang record founder Sylvia Robinson. Thirty-six years later and, as documented in a great film on Netflix, Wonder Mike and Master Gee are the only ones left standing (Big Bank Hank died last year) but, despite the music that they created, they are legally unable to call themselves ‘The Sugarhill Gang’ – indeed, for a while, the members of the ‘official’ Sugarhill Gang used their stage names on stage and in promotional material.
As a result, and infuriatingly, Wonder Mike and Master Gee have to tour as Rapper’s Delight, whilst the ‘official’ Sugarhill Gang continue to perform their songs to fans who are completely unaware that the men on stage are imposters. Indeed, Wonder Mike and Master Gee have previously accused the ‘official’ group of miming and rapping over the original versions of their songs. It’s an incredibly sad situation, but at least now Wonder Mike and Master Gee own their own names, and are free to tour as Rapper’s Delight’
Somehow the good folk at Newcastle’s brilliant Hoochie Coochie brought Wonder Mike and Master Gee – as well as Hen Dogg, and DJ Dynasty – to the North East for an incredibly special set. Opening up to ‘8Th Wonder’, the crowd lapped the hip-hop vibes brought all the way specially from New York, and for over an hour the place was hip-to-the-hopping. Master Gee acted effectively as MC of affairs, talking about their music and what they had in store for the crowd: in return, the Newcastle crowd were at their rowdiest best – shouting and hollering back to Master Gee’s every command.
It must be said, Master Gee is in fine form on the mic and in person; Wonder Mike appears to be having problems with his eyesight, using a torch to aid his vision, but his voice was in fine form too – bringing an authentic sound that the ‘official’ Sugarhill Gang clearly must lack. New recruit Hen Dogg was turned out very well, and slotted perfectly with Master Gee and Wonder Mike, not pretending to be Big Bank Hank but clearly respectful of this opportunity to tour with these legends of hip-hop.
An interesting inclusion to the set was ‘Lala Song’ – the infectious (if slightly cheesy) tune they recorded with DJ Bob Sinclair in the summer of 2009; of all the songs they performed, this was arguably their best. Another great inclusion, however, was ‘Hot Hot Summer Day’, perhaps not one that many remember, but one that the trio performed superbly.
The highlight of the evening was when Master Gee jumped off the stage into the crowd right in front of us, to lead the crowd in a seventies and eighties soul singalong. With DJ Dynasty at the decks, Master Gee had the crowd dancing and singing along to tracks from The Staples Singers, Michael Jackson, Cheryl Lynn and more. Hen Dogg joined in the fun too, and for those of us stood next to Master Gee, it was an incredible moment! The great thing about the Hoochie Coochie is the proximity you are to the performers – the stage isn’t big, nor is the club for that matter, but that’s the beauty of it. Being so close to the performers is incredible, especially when your dancing and singing to MJ with them.
Once Hen Dogg and Master Gee returned to the stage it wasn’t long before the inevitable happened. As soon as DJ Dynasty dropped ‘Rapper’s Delight’, the place went wild: arms flayling, the whole roomed shouted the lyric back to Wonder Mike who it was difficult to hear over the shouts of the rowdy Newcastle crowd. That said, the team didn’t disappoint with ‘Rapper’s Delight’ – indeed, how could they? They even threw in some of the verses from the fourteen (yes, 14) minute extended mix – including the bit where Wonder Mike raps about chicken tasting like wood.
The Rapper’s Delight outfit put on a great show last night and it was an honour to be with them. If you’re thinking about seeing the Sugarhill Gang at one of their UK dates this year, well, don’t. They are not the original members, they are not even likely to be rapping themselves: they are imposters. Wonder Mike and Master Gee are the real deal, and if you ever get the chance to check them out, make sure you do.
For the more of the back story of the Sugarhill Gang dispute, see this New York Times article from 2012.