Sylvia Robinson, Who Helped Make 'Rapper's Delight,' Has Died : The Record The co-founder of Sugar Hill Records, which also released "The Message," was 75.

Sylvia Robinson, Who Helped Make 'Rapper's Delight,' Has Died

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance of the woman behind Sugar Hill Records.

NEDA ULABY: Sylvia Robinson was not a rapper herself, but in 1957, she became a star for this sultry duet with Mickey Baker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS STRANGE")

SYLVIA AND MICKEY: (Singing) Love, love is strange.

ULABY: Al Green rejected one because he found it too sexy, so Robinson sang it herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PILLOW TALK")

SYLVIA ROBINSON: (Singing) Oh, I don't wanna see you be no fool. What I'm teaching you tonight, boy, you never learn in school.

ULABY: "Pillow Talk" hit number one on Billboard's black singles charts in 1973 and ushered in a wave of music by black women about sexual self-confidence. But legal and financial problems almost bankrupted the couple before Sylvia Robinson attended a birthday party at a club.

ROBINSON: And I saw this DJ playing music and he was saying things to the kids and they would answer him back and I said, oh my God, that's a great idea.

ULABY: He told NPR in 2000, they went to a pizza place and met Henry Jackson, who became Big Bank Hank.

JOEY ROBINSON: He's got all this dough on him. He weighed about 350 to 400 pounds at the time and he jumps in the back of my '98 Oldsmobile and starts rapping.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAPPER'S DELIGHT")

BIG BANK HANK: (Singing) Well, I'm imp the dimp, the ladies' pimp. The women fight for my delight, but I'm the grand master with the three MCs...

ULABY: They kept driving around. People kept hopping into the car and the Sugar Hill Gang was born.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAPPER'S DELIGHT")

BANK HANK: (Singing) Everybody, yo, hotel, motel. What you gonna do today? Say what?

ULABY: As Sugar Hill legend has it, tens of thousands of orders soon poured in for the world's first commercial rap single.

GRANDMASTER CAZ: "Rapper's Delight" was a monumental song. It introduced the world to rap and rhyme and...

ULABY: That's MC Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers. But he told NPR in 2004, a lot of New York rappers felt the single misrepresented the scene.

CAZ: They weren't real MCs. They was just guys out of nowhere that, like, a group put together to showcase this new music that was going on.

ULABY: No one could say that about 1982's "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The seminal, socially conscious rap was produced by Sylvia Robinson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MESSAGE")

GRANDMASTER FLASH AND FURIOUS FIVE: (Singing) It's like a jungle sometimes. It makes me wonder how I keep from going under.

ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MESSAGE")

FLASH AND FURIOUS FIVE: (Singing) Rats in the front room, roaches in the back, junkies in the alley with a baseball bat. I tried to get away, but I couldn't get far because a man with a tow truck repossessed my car. Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the...

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