Thursday, 29 September 2011
Harlem born Sylvia Vanderpool started in the music industry as a singer, musician and producer in her own right, originally one half of R&B duo, Mickey & Sylvia in the late '50s, producing tracks for the likes of The Moments in 1970 and then later releasing three solo albums between 1973 & 1977 - 'Pillow Talk', 'Sylvia' and 'Lay It On Me'. The single 'Pillow Talk' went gold, selling over two million copies.
From this track, it's widely agreed that Donna Summer bit her moans on 'Love To Love you Baby', and the drum patterns were "borrowed" for tracks by the likes of Kate Bush ('Running Up That Hill') & Fleetwood Mac ('Big Love').
Sylvia, her late husband Joseph Robinson, and Morris Levy, formed Sugar Hill Records in the 1970s as an R&B/Disco label. This was her second label venture (the first being All Platinum Records). It was faltering until they recorded three Bronx rappers (Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee) over the instrumental of Chic's 'Good Times'. Pioneering in itself, as it was one of the earliest examples of sampling - long before anyone had any idea how to tackle it legally, much to the upset of Nile Rodgers.
She titled the record 'Rapper's Delight' and named the group the Sugar Hill Gang.
This of course became the first commercially successful mainstream Hip Hop record ever released, charting highly all over the World.
Most Hip Hop historians consider it more important that she then quickly went on to sign Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. In contrast to the innocuous party rhymes of 'Rapper's Delight', the Furious Five cut several tracks of dark, ominous social commentary, including 'The Message', a track she also produced herself, featuring the vocals of Melle Mel (even though Flash received top billing on the track).
Sugar Hill also released tracks over it's time from additional artists such as Spoonie Gee, Treacherous Three, Funky Four Plus One and The Sequence, featuring a Miss Angie Stone.
Despite things ultimately turning a little sour for Sugar Hill, there's no doubt that Sylvia laid the foundation for the likes of Tommy Boy and Def Jam, and planted the seeds that ultimately turned Hip Hop into the worldwide force it is today, in the music industry and in everyday culture.
She remained a shrewd, calculating, smart businesswoman and the Robinsons still did well, buying the famed Chess back catalogue and reselling it to MCA in 1986 for a substantial profit, and she knew that, when it came to making dollars, it was ALL about publishing (not always making her popular with her artists). She also still had an eye for talent, discovering Naughty By Nature (originally called The New Style).
Down the line, Dilla & Moby both sampled her voice, and she remained actively working in the mainstream music industry throughout her career.
Sylvia Robinson was a true pioneer in this thing we call Hip Hop, and a real force to the end. Salute.
Sylvia Robinson (March 6, 1936 – September 29, 2011)