Published: April 2007
Did You Know?
In Did you Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.

Hip-hop breaks out of the Bronx via New Jersey.

… now what you hear is not a test—i'm rappin to the beat and me, the groove, and my friends are gonna try to move your feet see i am wonder mike and i like to say hello to the black, to the white, the red, and the brown, the purple and yellow …

"Rapper's Delight," by the Sugarhill Gang, was the first commercial hip-hop single to hit big. It sold more than two million copies and reached number 4 on the Billboard R&B chart and number 36 on the pop singles chart. The 1979 hit wasn't only a surprise to radio listeners but also to the established hip-hop crews throughout the South Bronx, where the music thrived in playground battles and nightclubs, for it was the brainchild of a record producer in New Jersey.

Sylvia Robinson ran All Platinum Records, an R & B/soul label in Englewood, New Jersey. After hearing rappers at New York City clubs and on mix tapes, she decided to capitalize on the music's potential and produce a rap record. She created the Sugarhill Gang by rounding up a few local MCs, including a bouncer working another job making pizza who had never before performed as an MC, but who was heard rapping to practice tapes of Grandmaster Caz from the Bronx. She put the three men in a studio with a band, who re-created the bass break from Chic's smash hit "Good Times," and rushed the finished product to radio. Radio DJs were taken aback by the tremendous response from listeners who jammed their telephone lines with requests for the song and, most notably, because it was 15 minutes long. (Clubs today usually play an edited four-and-a-half-minute version.)

The song received mixed reactions from hip-hop artists in the Bronx, who heard their rhymes in the mouths of a group of unknown MCs. Although at least one MC, Grandmaster Caz, OK'd the use of his rhymes, he did so expecting that some of the glory and profits would come his way, but they never did. However, Sylvia Robinson and the Sugarhill Gang opened the door for commercial rap that the Bronx artists quickly stepped through and onto the world stage.

—Heidi Schultz