In a recent interview with The Village Voice, former Sugar Hill Records in-house drummer Keith Le Blanc opened up about the label’s history. The label helped catapult the Sugar Hill Gang to stardom with “Rapper’s Delight,” but news of artist mistreatment and crooked accounting practices revealed a dark side to hip-hop’s pioneer label. Le Blanc discussed label heads Sylvia and Joe Robinson’s unethical business practices with respect to paying their artists.
“Really, the best way to get money out of the Robinsons was to be related,” he said. “Beyond that, the one that got the most consistent money was [in-house arranger] Jiggs Chase, cause he was arranging songs all the time…looking back, it seemed like Sugar Hill used money as a tool to manipulate people to do what they wanted. I wish I didn’t have to say that in an interview, but I can’t lie, that’s how it seemed to me. It seemed like whenever a group asked for what they were supposed to get, they got thrashed by the company, didn’t get anything released for a while, and were left to go broke. It was the old pimp game. It’s a shame, cause if Sugar Hill had done even 25% of the right thing for their artists, they’d have been the biggest rap label ever.”
Le Blanc also discussed the Sugar Hill Gang, saying that they were a company manufactured group. He even went on to explain how Sugar Hill Gang’s Big Bank Hank had his peers write lyrics for him.
“All the other rappers didn’t consider the Sugar Hill Gang to be real rappers. They just got lucky. They hadn’t lived the life, they hadn’t invented anything. They took what people were already doing in New York and Sylvia got her son [Joey Robinson Jr.] to find some kids to imitate what was going on in New York. There wasn’t so much resentment towards the Sugar Hill Gang as jealousy that they got to be the first group out. I think Sugar Hill Gang is the only group that was manufactured – the others all had their own material.”
He added, “For Big Bank Hank, [the Cold Crush MCs] definitely had to write raps for him. I know the Furious Five helped him write at times, and [fellow Sugar Hill Gang member] Wonder Mike would help him. Sometimes Sylvia Robinson would even help write lyrics for them. It was a joke in the company – they’d make jokes in the studio under their breath.”
Follow the link to read the full interview