Furious Five

Whilst it is always difficult to pinpoint a specific date when a new genre is born, it seems to be widely accepted that the birth date of hip-hop was 1979, when Sugar Hill Gang released Rappers Delight. However that accolade truly belongs to King Tim III with their single You’re my Candy Sweet. Sugar Hill Gang seem to be used as a starting point as they hold the title for the introduction of rap music on vinyl, the youth cult for rap music had established itself many years prior to 1979.

Much like the rave scene, hip-hop was mainly seen at parties where a DJ would loop samples from records and allow people to battle over these tracks, from here hip-hop culture grew. People were rapping on the streets, and battles could be seen in warehouses on a Saturday night where budding rappers would get on the stage and rap against each other in a knock out style competition. It was the lack of financial resources that prevented this music from being recorded. Sylvia Robinson came across this new style of music on her children’s mixed tapes and with her husband Joe created Sugar Hill Records.

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Her first signing was that of Sugar Hill Gang consisting of three friends, who she knew locally. Their first single was over 17 minutes long and was recorded in one take. It captured the raw element of rap music, which America was seeking. “When St. Louis Station WESL played it for the first time the phone lines were jammed for 12 hours by repeat requests-ironic, given that Joe Robinson had originally considered it too long to be a radio hit” (Ogg, 2002:11). This was to be Sugar Hill Gang’s only major hit; yet the success of that one single allows them to continue touring to this day.

It was clear from this moment that this was a genre that would not be easily killed off. The younger generations were using music as a rebellion against the older generations. Sugar Hill gang’s success paved the way for many other black Hip Hop artists. Grandmaster Flash was to become one of the most successful figures of Hip Hop music, but his success is due to his initial role in Furious Five. Whilst the Furious Five appeared to be headed by Grandmaster Flash he was by no means the brains behind the project. Ed Fletcher changed this group from a performance-based medium to a recorded one.

At the time Fletcher was working as a session musician at Sugar Hill Records. He created the track It’s like a Jungle and, having ‘run it by’ Sylvia Robinson, took it to Furious Five. It is true to say that they were bemused by the lyrics. Until this point there had been nothing like this in the industry. The only thing comparable was a group called the Last Poets and whilst their lyrical style was similar they were considered philosophers rather than musicians. Furious Five turned It’s like a Jungle into their first single The Message which reached number 62 on America’s main Billboard chart in 1982.

Whilst this track is acknowledged for its lyrical revolutions we should also recognise its developments in sound. It was the first single of this genre to employ synthesised bass and drums, a tradition now continually used throughout the industry. Grandmaster Flash was one of the first ‘stars’ of Hip Hop, soon realising that if he stayed with Furious Five he would never receive personal recognition so embarking upon his solo career. However it was the first single of Furious Five which influenced future artists such as Run-D. M. C and Public Enemy, and the single The Message does appear on Grandmasters solo greatest hits album.

Until the mid 80s only stereotypical bad boy rappers were appearing from Run-D. M. C to Kurtis Blow but by the mid 80s a new form of rap artist had been created in the form of James Todd Smith aka LL Cool J. From the age of 9 he had been cutting and mixing his own tapes and sending them to everyone in the industry. It was in 1984 that Def Jam signed him and released his first single I Need a Beat which sold 100,000 copies, a phenomenal number for a rap artist, and in 1985 his debut album, Radio went platinum. The difference with LL Cool J was simply the marketing. Until this point rap consisted of hard men with a point to prove.


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