Sylvia Robinson, frequently credited as “the mother of hip-hop,” died early this morning of congestive heart failure in a New Jersey hospital. She was 75. Before she and her husband Joe Robinson formed Sugar Hill Records in 1979, Sylvia had a pretty nice career as an R&B singer, partnered with Mickey Baker in the duo called Mickey & Sylvia, whose “Love Is Strange” was a #1 hit in 1956. In 1973, without Mickey, she wrote and performed the song “Pillow Talk.”
In 1979, All Platinum, the pre-Sugar Hill label she founded with husband Joe, was in serious financial trouble when, according to the New York Times, a lightbulb lit up over her head the night she went to a party in Harlem and heard people rapping over the instrumental breaks in disco songs. Using her son Joey as a talent scout, she hired three young New York City rappers – Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike, and Master Gee – to record improvised raps over a rhythm track adapted from Chic’s “Good Times.” The three rappers became the Sugar Hill Gang, the record was “Rapper’s Delight,” and it reached #4 on the R&B charts. That session arguably was the birth of rap and hip-hop. Later, the label would sign Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, who recorded “The Message” and paved the way for gangsta rap. So, yeah, that “mother of hip-hop” moniker was justly deserved.