Sylvia Robinson, 'The Mother of Hip-Hop,' passes away at age 75

Sylvia-Robinson

Image Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hip hop lost one of its greast this morning when singer and record producer Sylvia Robinson passed away in New Jersey. She was 75 years old.

Robinson was instrumental in the birth of hip-hop in the late ’70s. In 1979, she and her husband co-founded Sugar Hill Records, the label that put out the earliest rap albums and singles from Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, the Funky Four Plus One, and the Treacherous Three.

But her crowning achievement was recruiting Englewood, New Jersey rappers Master Gee, Big Bank Hank, and Wonder Mike to rap over a recording of Chic’s “Good Times.” The resulting single, the newly-anointed Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” was the first rap song to ever make an impact on mainstream music, and let the world know that hip-hop was a viable art form that had the potential to be the far-reaching juggernaut that it is today.

In addition to singing the 1956 soul-pop classic “Love Is Strange” as one half of the duo Mickey & Sylvia (which gained a second wave of popularity in a memorable scene in Dirty Dancing), Robinson also oversaw other seminal rap tracks, most notably Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” which moved hip-hop out of the realm of simple party music into something that could reflect the experience of young city life — what Public Enemy Chuck D would later call “the black CNN.”

Before she launched Sugar Hill Records, which closed down in 1986, Robinson had a full career as a singer, scoring a big hit with the song “Pillow Talk” in 1973.

In celebration of Robinson’s work, give a spin to the Treacherous Three’s “Gotta Rock,” an excellent example of the Sugar Hill sound.

Read more on EW.com:
Review: Roots of Rap: Sugar Hill Records
The Birth of Rap
Review: The Sugar Hill Records Story

Comments (12 total) Add your comment
  • jfms777

    She had a way with a lyric. On the “Pillow Talk” Lp were
    some of the most sexually-suggestive lyrics of the 70s. If I wrote them here, EW would probably delete them. She was way ahead of her time. R I P.

  • C DTHE FAN

    I LOVED SYLVIA’S MUSIC SINCE PILLOW TALK ! SHE HAD STYLE, GRACE,CLASS, TALENT AND EVERYTHING ELSE NEEDED TO KEEP THE STAYING POWER UNTIL SHE WANTED TO SAT BACK AND CHILL’ ” THAT WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE SEXY BOLD SINGERS, THAT WASN’T SCARED TO SING SEXY LIRICS !!!! VERY BOLD! THAT’S WHAT YOU NEED TO BE AROUND AND HAVE A GOOD CAREER ANYWHERE IN THE BUSINESS, RATHER IT BE SINGING ,WRITING OR PRODUCING !!!!!! YOU DID IT ! GIRL!

  • Channing

    I don’t think Dylan himself (Bob or Thomas) could come up with a lyric as memorable as “He can’t satisfy you with his little worm / I can bust you out with my super sperm.”

  • negatory

    this article fails to mention that the writers of Good Times filed suit for plagiarism over SHG’s unauthorized use of their song. viable art form, my ass. writing, composing and performing original material is art…rapping BS over someone else’s song isn’t.

  • PN

    For her to start Sugar Hill Records, one of the first rap labels and to have artists like Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash on their roster in 1979 and the early ’80s, I respect her. She took a chance with these artists versus the reluctance factor and generation gap people had with rap back then. For her to do soul music and then later discover these rap artists, I respect her diversity in music. She is a pioneer in her own right. She will be missed. My condolences go out to her family.

  • Kagome

    A very sad day in Music. :( My prayers go out to her family and friends. She was a Valuable asset to the Music world. She will live on in the history of music and all the music she was associated with. RIP Sylvia

  • Huh

    Sylvia was a great musician, producer and a very sharp businesswoman. She and other pioneers like Vivian Carter of Vee Jay Records were smart women navigating a very tough game; and their contributions to popular music have never been adequately recognized as on par with the Berry Gordys of the world.
    RIP. You were the chief architect of a distinctive sound, New Jersey Soul; even before you helped introduce the world to hip-hop; and you’ll always be remembered and celebrated.

  • Bill McGee

    I want to express my condolences to Joey and his brothers in the loss of their mother. Sylvia was a musical genius and a savvy business women. I had the honor of playing trumpet on many of her biggest hits including “FREEDOM” and “APACHE”. She also produced the classic “Love on A Two Way Street” and many other R&B hits for the Moments. RIP Sylvia your legacy will live on…

  • Bill McGee

    For Mr Negatory what you may not realize is all the music on Sugarhill was recorded by LIVE musicians. She did not use the CHIC music she re-recorded it like many people do. Chich sued her because the art form was brand new. The musicians who recorded her music are some of the most talented in the country.. TACKHEAD the european group is made up of many of those musicians. Doug Wimbush of In Living Colour played bass.. Keith LeBlanc of Tack Head played drums Skip McDonald played guitar… The keyboard players were excellent jazz musicians who worked with George Benson and others… I played in the orn section… Three members of the horns played with the Police… Sylvia knew that it was RAPs time and she used excellent musicians to give the rappers a solid musical platform. many of us didn’t like rap.. But we respected her vision and business savvy…

    • PN

      When I heard Rappers Delight, I thought it sounded like Good Times by Chic. But I can tell that it was a live band. They rerecorded it so it wouldn’t sound like the group rapping over the Chic record. It still gets people on dance floors. To most everybody, this was their first exposure to hearing rap on mainstream radio and it grew bigger as the years went on. Keep in mind that it was new to some people and it took years until the Grammys and the major labels accepted it as an art form and a way of expression. For Sylvia to take a chance at rap and listen to these artists express themselves in music, I respect her.

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