Various Artists Sugar Hill Rap Classics Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Exhaustive brilliance is spread across this double-disc label retrospective.

Adam Kennedy 2010

It doesn’t require a musical history doctorate to recognise The Sugarhill Gang’s trailblazing founding contribution to hip hop’s illustrious lineage. Fewer casual observers are probably aware of the pivotal role that Sugar Hill Records played in its late-1970s/early-1980s origins, remedied with exhaustive brilliance across this double-disc label retrospective.

The imprint’s two bona-fide signatures announce …Rap Classics with timeless class. Additional analysis isn’t necessary of The Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 hit Rapper’s Delight – the first single to take hip hop to the mainstream – or Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel’s much-misinterpreted 1983 anti-cocaine anthem White Lines (Don’t Do It). Although support in clubs globally to this day is proof that, in this instance, the word ‘seminal’ transcends platitude status.

Elsewhere, there’s a surprising familiarity, largely thanks to reverential songs too plentiful to list here subsequently sampling so many of Sugar Hill’s choicest tunes. The sample culture cuts both ways, however, immediately demonstrated on disc two’s opener. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s iconic borrowed-bassline juggler The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel – Another One Bites the Dust re-appropriation and all – remains a colossus in its field.

It’s credit to the fortitude of Sugar Hill’s back catalogue that the quality keeps on coming via a goldmine of less-heralded yet equally bumpable crews from back in the day. And this is where …Rap Classics truly earns its stripes: Funky 4+1 or The Treacherous Three may not represent household names, but respective pinnacles That’s the Joint and the infectiously positive Yes We Can-Can bounce with freshness that belies their age. Sugar Hill All Stars’ concluding Malcolm X – No Sell Out, meanwhile, reminds that, despite outward innocence that characterised the era’s output, a revolutionary heart was thumping strong.

While many genres’ geneses present a prototype refined and polished by the artists that follow, for hip hop, one train of thought reasons it has been a slow decline into base needs and lowest common denominator catering since the beginning. Whatever the truth, that argument gains weight on this essential evidence from hip hop’s newborn years.

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