A forthcoming documentary, helmed by film producer Roger Paradiso, is intended to finally tell the full story of the first Hip Hop act known to the world, the Sugarhill Gang (Wonder Mike, Master Gee and Big Bank Hank). But to inform anyone of any age who is unaware as to who Sugarhill Gang is, all one really has to do is begin rhyming, “I said a Hip Hop, the hippie, the hippie to the Hip Hip hoppin’ you don’t stop the rockin’ / To the bang bang boogie, say up jump the boogie, to the rhythm of the boogedie beat.” Wonder Mike’s well-known opening bars from “Rapper’s Delight” marked the first time most of the world heard “rapping.” Boasting the bass-heavy backdrop from R&B/Disco band Chic’s summer ‘79 single “Good Times,” Sugarhill’s introduction to rhyming dropped later that year and ushered in the three decades of recorded Hip Hop music we’ve all enjoyed since.
“We have gone and come, and learned and lived Hip Hop from the minute we [first] went into the studio [in the late ‘70s] ‘til the time that we are now living in as we speak, and we’re just humbled and fortunate to be considered as individuals who helped usher in this mega situation that has become a worldwide phenom,” said Master Gee to HipHopDX recently regarding the monumental 30th anniversary of “Rapper’s Delight.” “So, for me I’m kinda actually humbled by the whole experience of being involved in anything [this long-lasting]. Most groups, they don’t get a chance to say that they’ve been making music, and still have current music, for as long as we have. So, pretty humbling, it’s [a] pretty deep thing.”
Wonder Mike added of the anniversary, “I saw a interview with Mary Hart from Entertainment Tonight with Ringo [Starr] and Paul [McCartney] of The Beatles], and it was kinda along the same lines. Paul said sometimes he wakes up and he says, ‘Wow!,’ [and] he’ll call Ringo out-the-blue and say, ‘Can you believe we were a part of that?’ And, basically that’s how I feel. We’ve come a long way from beginning to now.”
Performances to celebrate the anniversary are planned for the coming months, highlighted by a show at The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in early spring 2010. Billed as “The Past, Present, And Future Of Hip-Hop Tribute Concert,” the show is tentatively slated to include performances from Naughty By Nature, Paul Wall, Kid Rock, and many others in addition to Sugarhill.
The Gang were approached a couple months ago by The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and its president, Terry Stewart, about the anniversary, and the Hall along with the group decided to put together this celebration of 30 years of Hip Hop.
That performance will be followed by an international Sugarhill Gang tour to continue the celebration of the group’s three decades in the game.
Unfortunately, the group’s celebratory mood is weighed down a bit by their current legal drama involving the Gang’s initial recording home, Sugar Hill Records, and Joey Robinson, Jr., the son of the label’s original owners Sylvia and Joe Robinson, Sr.
For the past few years the Sugarhill Gang have been forced to re-brand themselves as the “Original Sugarhill Gang” due to Joey Robinson, Jr.’s usage of the name Sugarhill Gang to book shows and perform as the group utilizing a lineup including himself and original Sugarhill member Big Bank Hank (who is infamously noted in Hip Hop history as being the first rapper to spit a ghostwritten rhyme on wax courtesy of Grandmaster Caz of The Cold Crush Brothers’ penned verse for Cold Crush’s former manager-turned-rapper on “Rapper’s Delight”).
The “Original Sugarhill Gang” consists of original group members Wonder Mike and Master Gee, with later addition to the group, Hen Dogg, along with crew deejay, T-Dynasty.
“See at our concerts we never introduce Henry as Big Bank Hank, we introduce him as Hen Dogg, because we have respect for our audiences and we don’t lie to them,” said Wonder Mike of O.G. Sugarhill’s approach to informing their fans of their slightly revamped lineup as opposed to Robinson, who they accuse of performing as Master Gee and substituting in others to perform as Wonder Mike.
“And then,” added Hen Dogg, “they’re mimicking to a DAT back there because they have a fake deejay, and he just plays the track with Mike and Gee’s voice on it [and they lip-sync to it].”
As Wonder Mike also explained to DX, Robinson is allegedly harassing promoters of their shows, threatening to sue if they book the Original Sugarhill Gang and not his incarnation of the group (having actually followed through on those threats 15 times and sued promoters who booked O.G. Sugarhill).
Hen Dogg additionally noted that Robinson has been using group photos of the Original Sugarhill Gang to promote his shows (Wonder Mike noted Robinson is now also billing his group to be the “Original Sugarhill Gang”), recently booking his own shows under the premise of being 30th anniversary performances of the Sugarhill Gang.
“All the promoters love working with us,” said Hen, “[but it’s] the exact opposite with him. You’re not gonna find one promoter that loves to work with this guy. They’ll tell you horror stories in terms of how he tries to be a diva… They hate working with him. And the only reason why they work with him [is] because they feel like they have no other choice. If they don’t know about us, they feel like that they have no other choice because they really want to book Sugarhill Gang.”
O.G. Sugarhill’s manager, and president of the group’s current recording home MaxaMusic Group, E.J. Albowicz, explained to DX that Robinson may have begun performing with his incarnation of the Sugarhill Gang as early as 2000 when Robinson filed documents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office claiming his ownership of the group name and the individual group members microphone monikers.
Albowicz further explained that when the lineup of Wonder Mike, Master Gee and Hen Dogg was officially in place four years ago, that’s when Robinson began having his attorney send letters to venues where the Original Sugarhill Gang was set to perform claiming they were not authorized to use those names because of his ownership of the group and group members names.
Once the Original Sugarhill lineup subsequently became aware of Robinson doing this, and that he had previously filed papers claiming trademark ownership of their names, they began to plan legal action, finally culminating with the filing of a lawsuit last week.
The group is represented by Jay Berger of Artists Rights, who is the attorney handling the lawsuit, and who also represented Melle Mel and The Furious Five when, according to Albowicz, they emerged victorious in a lawsuit claiming almost identical malfeasance on Robinson’s part.
“On Friday [November 27th] various papers and documents were filed with the Southern District Court of New York,” explained Albowicz of the Gang’s lawsuit. “All the documents are public record, so you can see everything that was filed… [And] pretty much, just to give you a very basic [summary of the lawsuit], there are royalties that were never paid to [Gee and Mike]. [But] more importantly, Joey Robinson has claims that he owns the name Sugarhill Gang, owns the name Wonder Mike, and owns the name Master Gee. He is basing this [claim] saying that he has a document that was signed in 1979 simultaneously when the guys signed the recording agreement with Sugarhill Records… Our guys never signed that document. [And] we have an expert witness that says the [documents Robinson] presented [are not] originals. The type used by typewriter [to create the documents] wasn’t available ‘til 1984. So this is [a] straight forgery, this is straight fraud.”
“The documents he filed to take our guys name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office,” he continued, “to trademark the [names] Wonder Mike and Master Gee, on the application he said that there’s no living person who uses that name. That’s fraud against the United States government. So all we’re trying to do right now is just get our name back. I mean, the royalties are great, and obviously the money is good, but for somebody to try to take your name, and for him to go out telling people he’s Master Gee and he’s performing saying he’s the original Master Gee, it’s just…it’s a travesty to the music industry.”
The original members of Sugarhill noted during their discussion with DX that they do not want their many complaints against Robinson and the group’s original recording home to come across to anyone reading this piece as whining, as Wonder Mike explained, “I don’t want it to sound like [us saying], ‘And then he did that, and then he did…’ It ain’t woe-is-me. We go out, and we do our shows, we do our interviews, and we kick ass. We’re grown gentlemen. We write, we produce, we record and we go out and do our thing as mature men. And as far as this joker is concerned, we’ll let the courts handle it.”
One matter that is unclear at the moment if it will reach a courtroom is any retrieving of royalties for the Gang from 50 Cent’s reinterpretation of some of the lyrics from “Rapper’s Delight” for his “Gangsta’s Delight” track included on Fif’s recently-released Before I Self Destruct album.
“It’s all being dealt with through our attorneys,” replied Master Gee when asked if the group will be seeing a payday from Fiddy’s adaptation of their lyrics. “There’s multiple levels to this situation with the Robinsons and everything that’s involved with our music. And we’re really not at liberty to go into all the details…”
“[But] if any artist is being sued for using [Sugarhill Gang’s] stuff, it’s not us, it’s Joey trying to sue them to get money,” Albowicz added. “The majority of the times [a lawsuit he files against artists for using Sugarhill Gang material] never gets filtered to us anyway. And with regard to 50 Cent, we’ve actually reached out to Interscope, [and] we’re reaching out to him. Because of the ‘Gangsta’s Delight’ [record] we thought it made sense for him to participate with us on the 30th anniversary show at The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”
In addition to that aforementioned anniversary, the Gang is also celebrating their current overseas success via the “LaLa Song” (which boasts over four million YouTube views for the songs video, and which per Hen reached #4 on the global Dance chart and is still being spun routinely in Italy, Amsterdam, Germany and other parts of Europe). The new Sugarhill cut came courtesy of famed French producer Bob Sinclair and was featured on Sinclair’s Born in 69 album released in July.
The good thing about [that] collaboration is it gave us an opportunity for our fans to visualize and put a face on [Sugarhill Gang] today,” said Master Gee of their union with Sinclair. “We were looking for some sort of breakout project to reintroduce ourselves to the world, and that was absolutely the right thing because [Bob Sinclair is] so worldwide. So we’re getting our fans that have been following us, we’re getting the new fans from the movies and the commercials and the television shows that [use] our music, and now we have that whole Internet [presence via the “LaLa Song” video].”
Utilizing that renewed buzz for Sugarhill, the group is now pivoting from their international success and turning to prep a new album from the Gang that will appeal stateside as well as worldwide. Boasting beats from well-known U.S.-based producers, including Young Jeezy go-to-guy Shawty Redd as well as The Inkredibles (whose ’09 credits include tracks for Jay-Z, Jadakiss and Rick Ross), and tentative guest appearances from an array of notable names including Dizzee Rascal, Kid Rock, Melle Mel and Pitbull, the Gang’s first album in over a decade (since 1999’s kid-friendly Jump On It!) is sure to be an event.
“It’s going to be an eclectic album,” Mike revealed of the currently untitled forthcoming effort. “We’re using influences that we grew up with and that we liked. It’s gonna be some Rock on there, some old school Hip Hop, some new style stuff.”
Gee additionally noted that on their new album the group will finally be playing their own instruments (Mike plays bass, Gee plays drums, and both Hen and T-Dynasty play keyboards), something the Gang does in their live shows and something Gee claims the Robinsons wouldn’t allow during the group’s early ‘80s commercial peak.
“Mike and I have been playing bass and drums together since we actually really started recording records,” Gee revealed. “We used to go in the studio when it was down time and we would spend hours in the studio just coming up with beats and jams and all kind of things. So, we had been playing together for years, they just really weren’t ready for rappers to be that multidimensional… This is like a debut album [for us]… It’s almost like a debut situation, because we’re doing all the things now that we always wanted to do but we didn’t have the chance to do… Everything in this album that you’re gonna hear is things that we have wanted to do for 30 years and finally got the opportunity to do it.”
The Original Sugarhill Gang’s currently untitled new album is due in stores and online Spring 2010 from GoodThyme Click/MaxaMusic Group.