Hip-Hop pioneers The Sugarhill Gang and their record label, Sugar Hill Records, have long been subjects of intrigue and controversy, particularly regarding their alleged ties to the Mafia.
Founded in 1979 by husband and wife Joe and Sylvia Robinson, along with Milton Malden, Sugar Hill Records was a groundbreaking label specializing in Hip-Hop music.
The label’s first record, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang, was the first top 40 Hip-Hop single, marking a significant milestone in the genre’s history.
However, the legacy of the Sugarhill Gang and its record label is subject to controversy.
In a recent interview with AlHipHop.com, Wonder Mike and Leland Robinson, the son of Joe and Sylvia Robinson, opened up about their experiences with the label and its alleged connections to the Mafia.
They provided an inside look into the operations of Sugar Hill Records.
“Back in the ’80s, ’70s, whatever, my father had number spots in New York City. He was one of the head dudes who ran all the number spots in Harlem, and they all turned money into him, and he turned it into, I guess, the mob,” Leland Robinson revealed to AllHipHop.com on “The Amazing AllHipHop Podcast” with Chuck “Jigssaw’ Creekmur and DJ Thoro. “So his ties started from there.
“Once you’re doing good business with the mob, I guess, you know, they take care of you, yeah, regardless of whatever the situation is. So he got involved with the mob through the numbers business,” Robinson explained.
The alleged Mafia ties were not just rumors within the music industry. The connections were confirmed in a book titled “Stiffed” about the Mafia and the music business.
“He was like the stand-up dude from Harlem that’s now in Jersey…anything he wanted. He had these people behind him,” Leland Robinson told AllHipHop.com.
These revelations provide a new perspective on the history of Sugar Hill Records, a label known for its significant contributions to the Hip-Hop genre.
The alleged Mafia ties add a layer of complexity to the narrative, highlighting the intersection of music, business, and organized crime in the late 20th century.
Sugar Hill Records was known for its in-house producer and arranger, Clifton ‘Jiggs’ Chase, and recording engineer, Steve Jerome.
The label enjoyed several years of success and produced several music videos, including a young Spike Lee’s first (unofficial) music video for the song “White Lines” performed by Melle Mel and the Furious Five. Other artists on the label included The Treacherous Three, Sequence, Funky Four Plus One, Crash Crew, and, ironically, West Street Mob.
However, a distribution deal with MCA Records led to protracted litigation, and the label eventually closed down in 1986.
“We were just kids from the neighborhood who wanted to make some music,” said Wonder Mike, a member of the Sugarhill Gang. “We didn’t know about the contracts, the deals, the Mafia. We just wanted to rap.”
The group members also discussed the harsh realities of the music industry at the time, including exploitative contracts and the struggle to make money from their music.
“The money is in touring and merchandising,” Robinson explained. “You never really make any money from the company.”
The Sugarhill Gang and Sugar Hill Records left an indelible mark on the music industry, shaping Hip-Hop music. And as the members reflect on their experiences, they desire to keep the legacy of the group and the label alive.
“We’re trying to keep the legacy going,” said Wonder Mike. “We got a lot of stuff going on – movies, TVs, commercials.”
Despite the alleged Mafia ties and the struggles they faced, the Sugarhill Gang remains a symbol of the early days of Hip-Hop. Their music is a testament to a genre just beginning to find its voice.