Classic rap act Sugarhill Gang promises ‘an experience’ at Evolution … – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 smash “Rapper’s Delight” was hip-hop’s first commercial hit, but the group’s Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien says he discovered the genre well before then.

As hip-hop turns 50 years old, Sugarhill Gang is on the bill Aug. 26 for the inaugural Evolution Festival in Forest Park.

“We got it early — it was going on in New York before I started making records,” says O’Brien, a New Jersey native. “I first heard rap in 1977. I was DJ’ing parties in Hackensack [in New Jersey] and heard a guy rhyming to the music. I asked him what he was doing. He said, ‘That’s rapping.’”

O’Brien is the sole original member of the Sugarhill Gang who still tours. He says Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright is too ill to tour; Henry “Big Bank Hank” died in 2014.

The song’s success, he says, was the result of a “perfect storm. It was one of those songs. Certain songs are just perfect in every way — the music, the lyrics, the performance. Everything about it is right on. ‘Rapper’s Delight’ is that song.”

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Its success exceeded his expectations.

“I thought it would be popular in the New York City area and New Jersey, and that would be it,” he says. “I was in the 11th grade. It was another opportunity to do more parties.”

”Rapper’s Delight” received its first airplay by East St. Louis radio station WESL. Sugarhill Gang followed the song with hits such as “Apache” and “8th Wonder.”

A new Sugarhill Gang album is in the works.

O’Brien has been writing and recording and is starting his own company to develop new artists, Adonis Entertainment, in New York City.

Q • How is the Sugarhill Gang marking hip-hop’s 50th anniversary?

A • What we’re doing is doing our thing — concerts, writing songs, doing what we do. And it’s an opportunity to continue to do it, to continue to break boundaries and get to the people who need to know about us.

Q • Did you expect hip-hop would last this long?

A • The first couple of years, we weren’t thinking about that. We were young guys doing music. We were the first to do the music, we toured first, was first to be on television, and first to do this on a professional level. As it continued to grow, yes.

Q • What can you say about how the song came together?

A • All of those raps were done especially to present ourselves to the world. There wasn’t going to be a video or a way for people to know who we were. I wanted people to know who I was. We used words to describe who we were. It was very descriptive. All these different raps created a picture.

Q • What do you think about the way hip-hop has grown?

A • It’s amazing what it’s become, considering at one point it was just me, Mike and Hank. Now it’s a billion-dollar global business that’s in every aspect of life. For me, sometimes, it’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s such a giant — a juggernaut. There’s nothing that goes on that isn’t a part of this.

Q • How often is the Sugarhill Gang on the road?

A • We’re never not working. We’ve been very fortunate. We’re fortunate to be one of those kind of acts where we can work until we say we don’t want to work. If anything, I might be home six or seven days a month, pretty much out every weekend. We’re busy and stay busy.

Q • What is Sugarhill Gang’s live show like today?

A • It’s literally an experience. We’re party rockers and crowd pleasers. It’s positive energy. I have fond memories of St. Louis. It’s one of the places we would always go play. The thing about being in St. Louis, it was the first station to play the song. (“Gentleman”) Jim Gates played it, and it did what it did. I hope to see him. I’ve known him since I was a kid.

Q • What do you think about where hip-hop is today?

A • It’s the voice of the people, and that’s what you get. It was always an expression of the people. When we started making music, we were just young guys meeting girls and having a good time.

Q • Has Sugarhill Gang’s place in music history been properly recognized?

A • I think it’s starting to be that. Being the first of anything takes time. Think about the first person who invented the cellphone. He’s not 100% recognized yet. The cellphone is still too new. It’s the same with us. But it is just starting to happen now. Every person that makes a hip-hop song is a direct representation of Hank, Mike and myself.

What Sugarhill Gang at Evolution Festival • When 5:25 p.m. Aug. 26 • Where Lindenwood University Stage, Langenberg Field, 5595 Grand Drive, Forest Park • How much Single-day tickets start at $89.50, two-day tickets start at $169.50; VIP and four-packs available • More info

Steve Schankman of Contemporary Productions and Joe Litvag of the Just Listen Co. have partnered to create Evolution Festival, which makes its debut Aug. 26-27 in Forest Park. 

Kevin C. Johnson

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