‘I’ll wrap this up nice and pretty for you,’ says the massive frame of The Sugarhill Gang‘s Wonder Mike, ‘I left Sugar Hill Records so that I could buy a hot dog. I didn’t like the way of working, I’ll be that succinct.’ State hadn’t realised just how touchy a subject the band’s former record label are for Mike and fellow members of the Gang, who take to the Electric Arena at Electric Picnic this Sunday. It seems the problem with the label though was rooted in the same, age-old issue that has got under the skin of thousands of bands since the dawn of record companies. Cash essentially; how much is there and who’s getting it?
‘Well, they didn’t give us any money,’ Wonder Mike, real name Mike Wright, says down the phone. Master Gee (or Guy O’Brien to his mother) interrupts, saying how he and Wright ‘were friends for years and we just felt there was unfinished business when we got back together in 2005’, before being interrupted himself by Wright (not an easy man to pull up in fairness) who mumbles something about not liking how Sugar Hill Records ‘did their business’.
‘It’s negative,’ says Master Gee, ‘I don’t want to keep talking about it.’ ‘I’m just telling the man about it,’ says Wonder Mike. ‘Next question’¦ They can eat shit anyway.’
So, we ask, there was no mourning when Sugar Hill Studios, the building where -Rapper’s Delight’ was recorded in Englewood, New Jersey, burned down in 2002? Master Gee quickly says, ‘It was terrible to see all that memorabilia gone but we all know that’¦ well y’know they did it on purpose’¦’ Adds Wright, ‘There was a morning next day yeah, but no mourning’¦ It was a landmark building and -Rapper’s Delight’ was recorded there but what I didn’t know is that they had soundboards that ran out the building so they wouldn’t get damaged in case of fire. I like that.’
Thankfully, remembering the possible massive fraud committed by their former bosses cues laughter among the pair who, along with fellow MC, Hendogg (who has replaced original member, Big Bank Hank) and DJ, T-Dynasty, have made up the Sugarhill Gang in its present form for four years now.
-Rapper’s Delight’, while not quite having the honour of being the first hip hop single recorded, was the first one to breach the US Top 40 and since its release in 1979 the tune based on the bass melody of Chic’s -Good Times’ has become one of the most iconic hits of the last 30 years. ‘We’re very grateful for all that it’s given us,’ says Master Gee simply who also notes that the recent Evian ad featuring the song and some dancing babies ‘is damn cool’.
The Gang were originally assembled in the late -70s by producer Sylvia Robinson who founded Sugar Hill Record with husband Joe. After the success of -Rapper’s Delight’ the Gang also had the honour of being the first hip hop artists to get their arses sued off for using a sample without permission. With Chic gaining a large chunk of the royalties ever since, what has followed has been intermittent albums, some hits (-Apache’ and -Eight Wonder’, the latter famously sampled on Busta Rhymes -Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check’) some huge rows with Sugar Hill Records, long periods of inactivity and various splits before Master Gee and Wonder Mike, finally free of their old label’s lawsuits and mismanagement, got back together to tour earlier this decade. A recent single, entitled -Lala Song’, was released in the US this year as well.
‘We love festivals,’ says Master Gee when asked about the prospect of Electric Picnic, ‘absolutely brother, last year we did the Isle of Wight Festival. Three days, it rained and I thought it was crazy that people are staying in tents to see us.’ Wright, as has been pretty much the theme throughout, interjects, ‘that was like Woodstock man’¦ we came on at 2.30 in the morning after getting stuck down the hill from the show about 100 yards away and they put plastic bags all over the shoes and we still got mud all over us. Ireland knows how to party, drink, eat food and be comfortable, so it (Electric Picnic) will be good.’
At the moment they’re putting the finishing touches to a new album on which they’re hoping to have contributions from Dizzee Rascal (‘it’s in the works’), Kanye West (‘we’re negotiating’) and eh, Kid Rock (unfortunately, confirmed). Elsewhere, a documentary of the band’s life and times is getting into gear, along with the near-mandatory clothing label. ‘It runs a gamut of style,’ says Wonder Mike.
So, in the great tradition of reunions, has the second time around meant less egos, less infighting, less bullshit? They give a unanimous ‘nahhhh’. Master Gee takes over. ‘Nah seriously, we were friends throughout the years. It was never a question of whether we wanted to get together and do something, it was a matter of where and when it would be done and we’re having a great time. We’re accomplishing much more in half the time it used to take. We didn’t break up, but left for a while as a result of not being comfortable with the label, there was never any problems between ourselves. Never.’ Interrupts a laughing Wright one last time, ‘Except if we had to borrow some money’.
The Sugarhill Gang play the Electric Arena this Sunday afternoon just after 1pm