2023 marks the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop and one can’t help but be reminded of the evolution of this cultural phenomenon. And while Seattle seems geographically and culturally as far removed from the center of the hip hop headquarters of Bronx, NY, there is still history in our backyard that reigns as equally important. Had it not been for the presence of Black radio in Seattle, where the Sugarhill Gang’s "Rapper’s Delight" was first played, much of our history may go completely undocumented.
As someone who was quite past the age of innocence when hip-hop made its entrance onto the cultural scene, I will admit to not being immediately drawn to it. In 1979 when I was still a deejay on Seattle’s Black radio station KYAC, I recall being handed Sugarhill Gang’s "Rappers Delight" to play by program director Robert L. Scott, and thinking, “Dr. Seuss is making records now?” But after reading the liner notes I was intrigued by the fact that the producer was a well-known Black female music industry legend, Ms. Sylvia Robinson.
Before becoming founder and CEO of Sugar Hill Records, Sylvia had been one half of Mickey and Sylvia who won hearts and ears with popular recordings in the late 1950s. Until the mid-1980s Sugar Hill Records would be responsible for introducing many of the most well-known hip-hop artists to the world.
May the next 50 years of hip-hop reveal more of the women, who like Sylvia Robinson, make it their business to push the genre forward.