Angus Finlayson talks to drummer Keith Leblanc about hip hop culture in Chicago, playing with Sugar Hill and pouring water on drum machines

It seems unlikely that anyone born in the last few decades, raised in a western conurbation and with access to the internet, a television and/or the timeless observances of the school disco would be unaware of 'Rapper's Delight'. As the first ever hip hop record to attain chart success, featuring a looped break (officially re-performed by a backing band, though many have alleged otherwise) from Chic's 'Good Times' and the vocal contributions of a trio of rappers called The Sugarhill Gang, it was a global phenomenon when it was released in 1979, surprising the wider music industry and prefiguring hip hop's soon-to-be ubiquitous cultural status.

The label behind the release was Sugar Hill Records (their co-founder and creative mastermind, Sylvia Robinson, also chose the name for the rap group); a small operation which went on to have a near-monopoly on the artists coming out of New York's vibrant scene until the mid '80s. In its heyday, the label worked with many of the most important rap groups of the time - perhaps most notably Grandmaster Flash and [latterly Grandmaster] Melle Mel - sculpting their performances into a string of polished, dancefloor friendly (and, significantly, commercially viable) 12”s.

Behind the drum kit for much of Sugar Hill's output (each track would be meticulously re-arranged for full band from the original disco break) was a young Connecticut musician named Keith Leblanc. Along with guitarist Skip Macdonald and bassist Doug Wimbish, the trio constituted the label's house band, performing on the vast majority of Sugar Hill recordings and touring the world with rap's burgeoning superstars.

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Posted in News | Posted on 2010-07-23 15:55:12 by klb | Permalink