Friday, April 5, 2019

Sugar Hill Records

Sugar Hill Records was a record label specializing in hip hop music that was founded in 1979 by husband and wife Joe and Sylvia Robinson with Milton Malden and funding from Morris Levy, the owner of Roulette Records.

Joe Robinson had parlayed a music publishing company that he established years before in New York into Red Robin, Fury, Fire, Enjoy, All Platinum, Stang, Vibration, and Turbo Records before establishing the Sugar Hill label. Artists included his wife Sylvia Robinson, of Mickey & Sylvia fame (who had success in the 1950s with "Love is Strange"), The Moments ("Love on a Two Way Street"), Brother to Brother, Shirley and Company ("Shame Shame Shame").

The Sugar Hill label's first record was "Rapper's Delight" (1979) by The Sugarhill Gang, which was also the first Top 40 hip hop single. Afterwards The Sequence, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, Funky Four Plus One, Crash Crew, Treacherous Three, and the West Street Mob, joined the label. Sugar Hill's in-house producer and arranger was Clifton "Jiggs" Chase. The in-house recording engineer was Steve Jerome. Joe and Sylvia's sons Joey and Leland were also active in the business

In the early 1980s, the Robinsons bought Levy out. They enjoyed several years of success. Sylvia produced several music videos and a young Spike Lee making his first music video for the song "White Lines" (performed by Melle Mel and The Furious Five). Joe Robinson was innovative in the business end. He was the first to introduce a cassette single. He also worked with TVS Television Network executive Tom Ficara to produce the Fresh Groove TV series to feature these music videos when MTV would not run them. The success of Fresh Groove forced MTV to establish Yo! MTV Raps, and rap music videos were now on a mainstream cable network.

A controversial distribution deal with MCA Records ended up in protracted litigation, and, finally, the label closed down in 1986. In 1995, Rhino Records purchased all the released and unreleased masters owned by the Sugar Hill label, covering the Americas and Japan, with Castle Communications (now known as Sanctuary Records, a division of BMG Rights Management) taking the international rights. In 2002, the company's Sugar Hill Studios (originally called Sweet Mountain Studios") in Englewood, New Jersey was destroyed by a fire. "Rapper's Delight," "The Message," and many other Sugar Hill hits were recorded there. Master tapes from the All Platinum years, as well as Sugar Hill recordings, were reportedly destroyed in the fire.


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