The Greatest American Band Debate: The Sugarhill Gang

SeedSing is filled with music lovers. We can not agree on who is the best band from the States. The Greatest American Band Debate will be a regular feature where we discuss and compare bands who started in the good old USA. If you have any suggestions of bands we should debate Contact us

For Seedsing's Greatest American Band debate, I'm going to nominate a group based solely on one song.

That may sound weird, or even unfair, but this one song started a revolution of great, great music that, had these guys not put this song out, we may have never had. The band that I'm going to nominate today is Sugarhill Gang. We all know their famous song, "Rapper's Delight". This is the one song that I'm speaking of and will be the basis of my blog today. In 1979 three guys, Master Gee, Wonder Mike and the now deceased, Big Bank Hank, started a rap group in New Jersey. All three of them had their own rapping style, but combined, they made one of the most influential and greatest rap songs of all time. Without these three, and their producers and business people that were around them, we never would have gotten rap music. Some may argue with me and claim that Blondie's "Rapture" was the first rap song, but it's not. "Rapture" came out in the early eighties and "Rapper's Delight" came out in 1979. Blondie was not a rap group as well. Blondie was a rock group that happened to have Debra Harry "rap" on one song. It gained commercial success because Blondie was a great band and Debra Harry was very pretty. But, had "Rapture" been the stepping off point for rap music, we would've never gotten some of the greats that we now have or had. "Rapper's Delight" and Sugarhill Gang made rap accessible to everyone. This song crossed generations and races of all kinds. Talk to anyone you know, be they a fan of rap, rock, reggae, blues, jazz, any type of music and I guarantee they all know at least one line from "Rapper's Delight". This song is one of the greatest songs of all time. Not just rap, I'm talking any genre of music.

Sugarhill Gang was composed of the three guys I mentioned before. They were all free style rappers, but they didn't really know how to put their music on a record. In the late 70's, rap was not a thing. It hadn't been invented yet. Some producers heard what these guys were doing, and they wanted to put it on record so everyone could hear it. They just didn't know how to put music to what they were doing. Some genius decided to use a sample from a Chic song and the idea of sampling and rap was born. The Chic song they used was "Good Times". It had a constant beat that went throughout the whole song. The producers isolated this music and had the members of Sugarhill Gang put their rap verses to the music. "Rapper's Delight", and for all intents and purposes, rap music was born.

"Rapper's Delight" is, by far, the longest rap song that I've ever heard. It comes in at just around 8 minutes. How crazy is that?"! A rap song lasting for 8 minutes is unheard of, unless we're talking Wu Tang Clan which I'll write about on another day. The length of the song allowed each member to truly shine. We, the audience, got to hear these three emcees do their thing. They were incredible, and no one knew what to call this music. People were amazed at what these guys were doing. They brought the world and the US a new style of music. What made it even more crazy was the fact that there was no hook or chorus. When each rapper took his turn, they spoke the famous lyrics, "I said a hip hop, the hip to the hop you don't stop, rock the bang bang boogie, the up jump the boogity beat". Those are the first real verses of rap music ever recorded. This song was so popular, it was the first rap song to reach the Billboard Top 40. It was lightening in a bottle. 

I was born three years after the song came out, but "Rapper's Delight" was my ipso facto introduction to rap music. To hear what these three did was incredible. I didn't hear the song until the nineties, I was a teenager, but even back then, I understood the importance to rap music that this song had. Without this song, I would never had listened to Notorious B.I.G or Jay Z or A Tribe Called Quest or even rap groups like Outkast. You can go back and watch or read interviews with the vast majority of rappers and rap groups and they will all cite Sugarhill Gang and "Rapper's Delight" being one of their gateways to rap music.

As I said before, this song crosses many, many generations. The first person to tell me and have me listen to this song was my father. He's 32 years older than I am. I have a three year old son and I will put "Rapper's Delight" on in the car and he will mumble the lyrics I wrote before. So, just between three people, myself, my father and my son, we all know the song. That's a 64 year old, a 32 year old and a 3 year old. Tell me one other song that does that. Another great thing about Sugarhill Gang as a group, they're clean. They don't use any swear words and their albums are family friendly. That's almost unheard of in a lot of music today. I love that I can play "Rapper's Delight" with my son in the car. He likes the song and it gives me a chance to listen to something other than children's music. Don't get me wrong, I like that the kids music helps my son learn, but I'd much rather listen to "Rapper's Delight" than the ABC song again.

Sugarhill Gang put out five albums, but nothing came close to the greatness that is "Rapper's Delight". Their other stuff is decent, and they even made a kids rap album, but "Rapper's Delight" was their peak. What a great peak to have though. They are responsible for creating an entire genre of music. The music they created, rap music, may be the most popular music there is today. They are still performing today with the two surviving members and some other friends of theirs. That's pretty incredible that they are still out there doing music. They've even scored some top 100 hits, but it's all overseas.  

With one single song, Sugarhill Gang created rap. That's reason enough for me to nominate them in our debate. They may be more of an influence, which I've written about, but they created "Rapper's Delight", therein creating rap. They belong on this list for that reason alone. Go out, after you read this, and listen to "Rapper's Delight" and be grateful that they created this song. Without Sugarhill Gang, we wouldn't have rap and without rap, we wouldn't have some of the greatest music there is today.

Thank you Sugarhill Gang. You guys belong in the Greatest American Band debate.


Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing and the co-host of the X Millennial Man podcast. When he was little, Ty thought hip hop was what a rabbit listen to. Follow Ty on twitter @tykulik.