Accept No Substitutes – The Original Master Gee 

                                      By JayQuan October 2005

 

Aight family , this one is 25 or so years in the making. Despite what many of my peers , and Hip Hop heroes think or say , the Sugarhill Gang is official. For those of us who were not in NYC in the 70’s , and not able to hear and see the Furious 5 , Cold Crush Brothers and other founding fathers ; SHG is the template. The Sugarhill Gang is Master Gee , Wonder Mike and Big Bank Hank.

  Master Gee left the group , and the Sugarhill record label in 1984 , and no one saw him again until the late 1980’s on Van Silk’s “Rapmania” pay per view television special. Since then Joey Robinson Jr. (the son of Sugarhill records founder Sylvia Robinson) has been touring the world as Gee’s replacement. I have finally tracked down the original, and he has quite a story on where he has been , why he left the industry , and why he has re-united with Wonder Mike and formed the MG Squad……

 

It’s an honor Gee, I have wanted to ask these questions for more than 20 years! What year did you hear Hip Hop music , and who did you hear?

 

It was probably ’77, and if you wanna call it Hip Hop music ; it was a guy at a party spinning some records , and sayin’ some rhymes. I got the idea from hearing that particular guy. I had heard through the grapevine about rap , but im from Jersey & N.Y and Jersey were divided by the water. If you weren’t really in the know you didn’t get to New York a lot , but everything came across the bridge anyway. I had heard about Flash at the Apollo and D.J. Hollywood , but I didn’t get the chance to experience it , 'cus I wasn’t allowed to make that kind of trek. The person that I heard was a high school friend of mine, who had heard it and brought it over to Jersey to our neighborhood. His name was Mark Green , and he runs a booking agency  called celebrity booking in Hackensack.

 

What year did you start , and tell me about some Jersey crews. Because there is a misconception that I wanna clear up with this interview , and that is that you guys didn’t rap before Mrs Rob. discovered you.

 

What happened was, Mark was the only guy that I knew of doing this. I had a friend named Randy Riley and he & I got the idea to make extra money by putting together a D.J. group. I got that  idea the weekend after hearing Mark. I had good knowledge of words and I said that’s easy , I can do that !! It was easy for me to write my first rhyme , and I never looked at it as a talent for writing. It was like putting a poem to music to me. We were doin’ our D.J. thing not too long after hearing Mark, and our first party was in Patterson. My first experience at rapping in front of a live audience was at that party. I played “Dance To The Drummers Beat”, and I had a lil table mic because my Dad was into recording and he recorded Jazz music , so he brought me some equipment to perpetuate this interest that I had in D.J.ing.

 

I did my first rhyme in this girls backyard while spinning “Drummers Beat” and the crowd turned around and kinda looked at me. They never stopped dancin’, but they kinda looked at me like what is he doin’. That’s really how I started rappin’. We started doing like 2 parties a week, mainly in Hackensack. I was all over Hackensack. There was just two of us , so we called ourselves Phase 2. Sound On Sound was an inspiration to us, because they were a major organization with 10 or 15 rappers. They had Cerwin Vega speakers , and we were using home stereos. We would put 2 home stereos together, like a tape deck and a turntable , and switch from one to the other. My father stepped up and got us turntables and a mixer, so we could really start spinnin’.

 

Sound On Sound was the group that Wonder Mike was in right?

 

Right. They did parties everywhere – Englewood, Teaneck & Hackensack.

 

Did you already know Mike before SHG formed?

 

No , I knew of him ‘cus I was always checking out my competition , so I went to Sound On Sound parties. I remember this place called Dales Dance studio in Hackensack on Main St. They rented it out and threw big parties. Me & Randy used to go there a lot. Randy eventually dropped out of the group , and I got a new partner named Jerry Cokley , who was also from Hackensack. Me & Wonder Mike knew of each other, but we weren’t friends yet. We were all rappin’ , spinnin’ records , scratchin’ – all of it. I would spend hours in my friends attic puttin’ my stuff together.

 

So you were scratchin’ records in Jersey before 1979?

 

Yes , this was before rap was on record. I was just doin’ what I had heard from Mark and what I heard about Flash cuttin’ records. I was scratchin and rappin at the same time. I would spin a record like “Drummers Beat” because the break was so long , and I could rap at the same time. I would rap for a few bars , then spin , and then rap again…..

 

Wow , I had no idea that cats were doin’ anything on that level outside of NY at that time.

 

Yeah we had felt mats, the Technics turntables with the curve arm. We had the echo chamber and all that. I was cutting records long before I was a recording artist. But at that time Jersey was supposedly country and corny , and we weren’t sh*t!!!

 

Ok I read somewhere that the way that you guys came together as the Sugarhill Gang was that Hank was working in a pizza shop ,and Joey came in and heard Hank playing a tape ,and asked him if he could rap. Then supposedly he auditioned in Joey’s car , and then you and Mike just happened to be in the area , and you all ended up in the car. Was it that random and coincidental?

 

Yes !! This happened on Palisades Ave. On one side of the street was Mc Donald's and the other side was Crispy Crusts where Hank made pizzas…..I don’t know if you have ever heard how Sylvia even got the whole idea to do a rap record.

 

I have heard some things, but please tell me.

 

Sylvia has a niece named Debra. Debra threw Sylvia a birthday party at this club called Harlem World. Sylvia saw Starski (Luv Bug) in the party spinnin’ , and people were rhymin’. At the time her labels (All Platinum,  Turbo, Stang & Vibration) were not doing too well. She asked Debra about this rap thing, and Debra told her that it was popular and that everyone was doing it. That’s when she got the idea to put it on record. Now originally they found another guy that was down with Sound On Sound, and they had recorded the Good Times track already. They had decided to do the song to this Good Times beat, and they just needed an Emcee. They went to talk to him in front of Mc Donald's and he backed out. They had heard of this guy from the Bronx that worked in the pizza parlor across the street that could rap. They made a u-turn and went to the pizza spot to check him out. In the process of all this me and another friend, who happens to be named Mark Green also, were walking down the street. Mark knew Sylvia and them, and he stopped to talk to Joey. Joey told him that they were looking for rappers, and Mark told them that I could rap , so I got in the car and started rhymin’ A few people stopped on the street to see what was goin’ on.

 

So it was as random as you just being in the right place at the right time….

 

I was in the right place, at the right time with the right sh*t. I have been telling people that for 25 years!!

 

In retrospect do you regret walking down that street that day?

 

No. I regret some things that happened in the process of the whole experience, but I don’t regret what I have been exposed to, and what I have become as a result of it….not at all.

 

So they already had Good Times as the track.

 

Yeah because they were listening to Good Times on WBLS , and that’s where they got the idea. That was the summer of ’79 and Good Times was the record…"clams on the half shell and roller skates!!" That’s what she heard at Harlem World also. Starski was cuttin’ up Good Times. Starski was the one that got her interested in the whole idea.

 

Yeah I think it was Mele Mel who told me that Luvbug was supposed to rap over the “Freedom” beat originally. I also heard that Sylvia was tryin’ to sign him.

 

Yeah he recorded a few songs for Sugarhill , that were never released. I was privileged to be right there.

 

Were the songs any good?

 

Yeah very good.

 

Now how did Mike get down with the group.

 

Well people don’t know that the cat from Sound On Sound had already given Sylvia a tape with Mike on it, but it was a poor performance , and she passed on him. After me & Hank auditioned on the street, we were invited to Mrs. Robs’ house to rap for her. Mike was there, and he was quiet the whole time. It was late at night and Mrs. Rob was about to go to bed. She had actually put her slippers on, and was on her way. Then Mike said “Mrs. Robinson you didn’t hear me rap. I know that you heard a tape of me, but I had a cold that night , and the tape wasn’t a good performance , but I would like for you to hear me now”. She almost told him no , because she was obviously tired , but she told him to go ahead. Man he started goin’ off. He was rappin’ about everything in the room , and just killin’ it !! It was so intense that he had an asthma attack !!

 

And you were right there and saw all this?

 

Yeah I was right there watching it all. Joey was about to take us back to Palisades Ave so that we could all go our separate ways, and Mike spoke up at the last minute. After he started weezing and stuff she said “look , im not gonna choose between the three of you , but 3 is my favorite number , so I will use all three of you”. If you remember the Moments (Ray,Goodman & Brown) were a 3 member group on her label. But that’s how we came together. The only person that wasn’t actively Emceeing was Hank. He was a body guard for the Cold Crush Brothers ,  Herc and all them. Mike & I were Emceeing every weekend. We were the premiere Mc’s in the Teaneck /Englewood/ Hackensack area. There were only 2 groups at that point – Phase 2 and Sound On Sound.

 

It sounds like that record and group was supposed to happen. Not tryin’ to sound deep or anything, but there were a lot of random things that happened to bring you guys together.

 

Yes it was meant to happen !

 

 

Not a lot of time passed between you recording Rappers Delight , and then stuff like Hot Hot Summer Day , Rappers Reprise (Jam Jam) and Sugarhill Groove . Was it that you were gonna release those whether Rappers Delight had been successful or not ?

 

We were able to do a lot of work off of Rappers Delight because it was so huge. We were touring a lot , so in the process of us touring Mrs. Rob was thinking that we need to be putting an album together. We started recording those songs in January or so (of 1980). For Hot Summers Day – remember when all this started I was only 17 years old – well when I turned 18 I got my own apartment. It was really hot one day , like Jersey summers are , and I actually woke up and I had A.C. but it wasn’t central air , so I was just thinking of how hot it was and how much I love the summers. That inspiration came to me based on that experience. I had little signature things that I would do if you listen to the songs. Like on Hot Summers Day I had the “freak freak the funk” , or on Rappers Delight I had “on & on & on on & on”. For Rappers Reprise the “Jam Jam Jippy The Jam” was mine too. The songs were just comin'. Like me & Mike were the Mc Cartney & Lennon of the group. I would come up with an idea and bring it to Mike and we just did it together. For Rappers Reprise I was riding in the car with Joey , and I told him about this hook that I couldn’t get out of my head…

 

Well you answered my next question , which was did Sylvia allow you any creative control. It sounds like she pretty much gave you the freedom to create.

Yes , but she would down your idea if she didn’t like it. She had final approval. For Hot Summers Day I went to the musicians with the concept , and they worked the music around it. I wanted it to be kinda mellow with the singin’ and stuff , ‘cus I wanted it to sound like a summer song. A lot of the time the tracks were done , and we wrote to the tracks. I would come in the studio and they would play the tracks , and I would tell them which ones I wanted on tape. I would take the tape to Mike , and we would write to the music. I was always in the studio hanging around , because I had a mother – son relationship with Mrs. Rob ; we were very close.

 

How was it working with Sequence , it sounded like you all were having fun on Rappers Reprise.

 

It was fun. We recorded back then like the older days of recording, where everyone was in the studio at the same time. Remember the whole concept was putting a party on a record , and that’s why all those songs have party tracks on them. We would leave tracks open just for crowd noises , and party effects.

 

Yeah I remember enjoying the Furious 5 in the background on 8th Wonder.

 

8th Wonder is the ultimate party track !!  You could get the instrumental and just let the party track run, ‘cus Mel and them….I will say this with total emphasis…..Mele Mel is one of the greatest lyricists that I have ever heard in rap. He is completely underrated , and I will go a step further and say that the Furious 5 was one of the most tightly performing cats as far as rap is concerned , in the industry! They just fed off of each other , and the synergy that they had  , especially during that period was phenomenal.

 

I never saw the original crew live. There was a show here in VA back in ’81 at an amusement park called Kings Dominion. The show was Mean Machine , Furious , Sequence and ya’ll. As soon as Furious came out doin’ the syncopated steps to Flash cutting Good Times it poured down raining. So I saw like 2 minutes of them perform…

 

I remember Kings Dominion. We never got a chance to go on due to the rain. That was the Sugarhill revue. At the time she had all the artists on the label going around the country. She came from the Motown era, and she did what Berry Gordy did with the Motown revue. We were really like the Motown of the 80s. But as far as Mel, New York New York is one of my favorites by him.

 

Yeah mine too. The part about the sky was crying rain & hail, when you put yo baby in the garbage pail was dope. And the verse in Beat Street about Mussolini and the Shah of Iran.

 

That’s like Hemingway type sh*t man !!! He has never been given the credit that he deserves. I used to go in when he laid his vocals down at the studio, and it was a real treat to watch him record.,,,,did you ever see us live when we had musicians behind us?

 

Yeah , but I can’t remember it as well as I would like. Was that Positive Force?

 

Yes, back when Rappers Delight first came out , but after that everything was the Sugar hill band , and they ended up playing on all the tracks.

 

Is that the group that used to be called Wood, Brass and Steel ?

 

Yep…Doug  Wimbish and them. You missed a hell of a show if you missed those.

 

Yeah that band killed it. I think that they played so many songs better than the original group. I would even dare to say that the Rappers Delight track is a little more raw than Good Times.

 

Oh yeah , that was ‘cus these were some cats that were straight outta the gutter , they were from Philly and they were tryin’ to get their thing together. They toured with us for years. I was disappointed when we had to stop touring with a band due to the costs. I was really disappointed. I am a musician myself. I have been a drummer since I was 7. There were times on the show when I played on stage.

 We had fog machines, pyrotechnics and costume changes – we had a good stage show. We were performing with the Sylvers, Parliament and the Gap Band , these were seasoned performers. I learned a lot about stage presence from Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band. I respected his performance, and he respected mine , which is kinda unheard for the time  , because singers didn’t respect us since we weren’t singing. Charlie was one of the first established musicians to give me credibility.

 

 A lot of the others that we toured with didn’t give us that. We did shows with the Barkays and they refused to let our band use their equipment and they said stuff like ”these niggas talkin’ on records , what kind of sh*t is that”. The only reason that a group like Cameo might give us a little respect , was because we had a band. But the Furious 5 and Kurtis Blow were the first groups from that era with a D.J. on stage and no band, so they got it worse than us.

 

I remember reading on ya’lls first lp that you had a pilots license when you were 17…

 

 

Yeah , my father was a corporate pilot who flew for a medical company called  Beckett & Dickson. He was also an instructor , and he had me flying at like 7 years old. We had a private plane and he would sit me in the co-pilot seat. I was aspiring to be a commercial pilot as a teen.

 

How was it being 17 with a smash hit record out , that’s the first of it’s kind? Didn’t you have to drop put of school and get a tutor?

 

Well the record blew up right around September of my senior year. We had been in school about a month. My mom went to the school to try to convince them that I had a career going , but I wanted to finish school. They told us that if I didn’t show up for school that I was gonna fail. We then went to a tutor up in the cliffs , and she had me doing times tables! Im in the 12th grade tryin' to graduate , and she has me doing times tables. So I went to her only once. That is one regret, that I ended up dropping out and never got my diploma. It didn’t do anything to me , I mean I’ve made more money in my life probably than any of my teachers !!! But I did regret not completing school.

 

Did your mom have to sign your Sugarhill contract , and if so was she reluctant?

 

Yes. At 17 no contract is a legal situation , ‘cus you’re a minor. In order for me to record my mother had to endorse the contract , and I still have a copy of that with her signature on it till this day.

 

How did she feel about you joining the group?

 

She didn’t want me to do it. My mother was a Brooklyn native and she was real street savvy , as well as my stepfather. They knew of Sylvia , and her reputation wasn’t good. But I was a very persuasive young man , and I eventually persuaded her to sign but at first she didn’t wanna do it. She was saying “ohh let’s have some body look at it first” , but I was 17 and young – full of piss & vinegar, and I wanted to get this record out; I didn’t wanna waste any time. Then on the other side they were tellin’ me if you don’t’ hurry and sign we will have to take your vocals off , and they had me goin’. So I was rushing my mom telling her that I didn’t wanna be the one to mess the whole thing up , and piss the people off !! Just to make me happy she signed the contract….

 

Were the rhymes that you guys used for Rappers Delight already written , or were they specifically written for that song? Because everybody was talking about something different , but it all meshed into a 15:00 minute song – which is very impressive.

 

Certain rhymes were written just for the song , and others were already written. The M-A-S-T-E-R G with a double E part was written specifically for that song. I wanted something to introduce myself. It says “my name is known all over the world with all the foxy ladies and pretty girls”. At the time I was just a kid from a small town in Jersey , and im 17- tryin’ to get laid and all that kinda stuff , and I had issues about that stuff – I didn't think that I was the best lookin’ guy ; so the record was a chance to be who I wanted to be. I wanted to be a ladies man in real life , but didn’t feel that I had the ability. We weren’t as fortunate as many people, especially in our community. I needed a way to introduce myself , so I spelled it out. Till this day people spell their names out in raps because of Rappers Delight. The on & on part was somethin’ that I said in the parties all the time. The 12:00 rap, I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote , and it was about my sons mother.

 

 

Refresh the people on how that one went…..

 

“It was 12:00 one Friday night , I was rockin’ to the beat feelin alright  ,everybody was dancing on the floor , doin' all the things they never did before – then a fly fly girl with a sexy lean came into the party / she came into the scene , as she made it deeper inside the room , all the fellas checked out her white Sasoons….” That verse was about being at a party rappin’ , and Tonya comin’ in the party , and she had on a pair of white Sasoons . At the time Sasoons was hot. But that whole rap was about Tonya – Guy’s mother. I always thought that she was an attractive girl , but not being as savvy as I wanted to be , I didn’t think that I had a chance. But the day after the auditions I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote that. During the audition I heard Hank say something about a masterpiece , and that word stuck in my head. That’s why I say “it’s time for me to release, my vicious rhyme I call my masterpiece”. That was also a chance to say the name Phase 2 (the group ya hear is called Phase 2 , and let me tell ya somethin’ we’re a hell of a crew). The last part where I say “at the age of 1 my life begun……” that was a rap that I did at parties. But my first 2 verses were written just for Rappers Delight.

 

When the song goes off it sounds like you were still goin , as they fade you out. I used to turn the stereo all the way up at the end of that song and at the end of Freedom ,so that I could hear EVERYTHING that you and Cowboy said !!!

 

Oh yeah…that was my chance !!! See you gotta understand , I went through physical abuse as a child , self esteem issues , self doubt – all kinds of stuff. I always felt that I was gonna do SOMETHING. I told my mother that before she signed the contract. She was giving me a hard time about what I was gonna do with my life and all that. I  told her that I didn’t know what I was gonna do yet , but I was gonna do something. And when the opportunity came to record that record , I knew that this was it. I knew that it was my time to shine , which is why I forced the issue. So what you hear on that record is my breakout. No longer did I have to be second rate or the guy that everybody blew off or whatever.

 

Ok. Sugarhill Groove is my favorite song by you guys. In fact Kool Moe Dee asked me to make a cd of some stuff that he wanted , and that was the main one that he requested. That was a very underrated song  that is missing (along with Mean Machines Disco Dream) off of many of the Sugarhill Records greatest hits compilations. Anyway was Tito Puente actually in the studio with you guys when you recorded that?

 

No, but  I saw him lay that track down. He went off. He lived in Teaneck , and he was a friend of Sylvia’s.  They all came from Harlem ,&  the Bronx and they came up in that 1960 ish time. But Tito was a Latin king  , and Sylvia was the queen of Do Wop. Sylvia would bring in all the best musicians , ‘cus she knew ‘em all!! She would call 'em up to do sessions. She knew all the violinists , and the best horn players. They would come in and do the sessions. We had already did the track and Sylvia said that she wanted some cool timbales right there. She made the call and he showed up and did the session.

 

Yes he did. He did it big. That song was on your first lp , and then appeared again as a flip side to 8th wonder and people still aren’t familiar with it. Whose idea was all the chants like Suga Suga Suga?

 

That was all of us . And to her credit Sylvia was a great writer and producer as well. On Rappers Reprise the part that goes “you’re vicious , nutritious like a slice of pie you’re so delicious – you’re fine so divine , id like to manipulate your mind – she wrote that with me. All these songs were like acting out ya know. We were having a great time. There was no politics goin’ on , no multi million dollars at stake , it was none of that – we were just recording. We were doin’ somethin’ that we never did before. We were young and out of our poverty situations and that’s why all that stuff sounds so pure.

 

On the first lp there was some good r&b like “Here I Am” , “Passion Play” and “Bad News”. Did you have any input in those songs , or were they just filler for the album?

 

They were just cuts on the album , because we were working on establishing our image as entertainers. We didn’t want just rap songs on there. We were there for the sessions , but we didn’t sing or play anything.

 

Did you guys ever feel any animosity from your label mates….not Sequence or Wayne and Charlie type people , but the Bronx cats like Furious and Funky 4?

 

There was always an undertone man. Because people didn’t know that we were legitimate rappers – they thought that we were just this put together super group that was thrown on this record. But I will  be the 1st to say it – it started in the Bronx. Sugarhill Gang didn’t start it , we just brought it to the world. We did not create the art form , it was Kool Herc , Flash , Mele Mel , Hollywood , Starski they are the inventors.

I just did a song called “Still In The Game” for our new cd , where I dedicate my verse  to those guys. My verse says “this is dedicated to the fact , you gotta recognize the true pioneers of rap , so roll it up , take a toke do whatever you like , cus tonight’s the night we gonna make it right”. I totally attribute them to being the ones.  

But in the beginning our label mates didn’t want to come to Jersey , but they had to break down , because the Mecca was in Jersey now. They started trekking over the bridge to Sugarhill Records because that’s where it was happening. So a lot of them were like “we gotta come to Jersey , and this is our thing blah blah blah…”. Plus at that time we had cars , jewelry and girls hanging around, and everybody after us had to come up. So there was always a little tension and sibling rivalry there. On stage it was always competing , and trying to out do each other. There was a lil intensity goin’ on.

 

Whose idea was “Showdown”?

 

That came from Sylvia. That original track was by Maurice Starr & Michael Johnson (Jonzun). They came to the studio with the New Edition idea and Sylvia shot it down.

 

What ??

 

Yeah can you believe that sh*t? I remember Maurice Starr comin’ in the studio sayin’ how he had a guy that sounded like a young Michael Jackson , a guy that sounded like Smokey or whoever , and I vividly remember him telling her about this group. But she was very impressed with their demo of instrumentals, because we usually had a whole entire band playing a song , and these two guys did it all themselves. So they gave her a few tracks.

 

So the entire Showdown track was just those guys?

 

Just the original demo was. She added stuff to it , but the whole basis was theirs – the bassline and everything. At first we were gonna do it , then Sylvia said no let Flash & them do it. Like I said she had final approval on that kinda stuff , but I heard the track and some of the others that they gave her , and I wanted them for us. Like I said I was damn near on her hip most of the time so I when those decisions were being made many times I was right there.

She agreed for a minute to let us have it , then she said no I don’t think that y’all fit on that one , and she went back & forth between us & Flash. Finally she said I know what, I will put both of you on it. That started a lil bit of a funk because we thought that we were doing a duet WITH them , not a battle. They brought that to it. That’s why we sound like we are just having a good time partying ..”forget about ya problems throw away ya bills”….we didn’t even write it like a battle. They came with “a Showdown its all the way live”. They  were more aggressive , so all that sh*t was driven by them. We were having a good time like “do you wanna have a party,do you wanna make a scene , then scream”. They turned it into a battle because that tension was always there. That was their opportunity to show the world that they were better than us.

 

Were you in the studio at the same time?

 

Yeah they were there when we laid down our vocals and we were there when they laid theirs. It was funny ‘cus we didn’t know everything that was goin’ on. As it went on and they said more and more we saw that they were tryin’ to do us. By this time we had wrote and recorded it, so it was no time to go back and change anything.  When the fans & D.J.s got it they liked it that way.

 

Where did the idea for Apache come from?

 

Again Sylvia was instrumental in that , but we were going through breakbeats. You know that was the formula , get a breakbeat and produce original music around it. She had access to musicians so they played the break beat , then made basslines and stuff for the main parts.  Like the hook of Apache is the break beat by the Incredible Bongo Band , but the verses have that bassline behind them that was created by her and Jiggs Chase.

 

By the time that y’all were making Hot Summer Day and 8th Wonder  rap records were being released by other groups weekly. What did you think of those records by your competition so to speak.

 

I remember hearing “if my Mercedes break down and dog my grill , im gonna drive up in a new Seville”. I liked all that…we never had a problem with anybody , they usually had a problem with us. We enjoyed what we heard. I liked the Treacherous 3 stuff on Enjoy Records. We loved it all. But we felt like the more the merrier. We had our position, we were on Dick Clark , we weren’t worried about anybodies stuff !!

 

“Lover In You” was my joint. I like how you flipped it and deepened your voice and all that. Were y’all at all reluctant to do that one , since it was so different?

 

No we weren’t reluctant. That again was Sylvia and this guy from England - Pete Wingfield , who had a big record called “Number 1 With A Bullet” I think. But "Lover In You" was a spin off of “Its Great To Be The Queen” , as far as the music. All that was done around the same time. By this time my image was this ladies man and the whole 9 and my voice added to that. Sylvia knew how to record me. On 8th Wonder I liked how my voice came out also; she did that. She recorded me , EQed it and got that performance out of me.

 

Despite what people say about her business practices , it seems that she knew what the hell she was doin’ with those records !!

 

Listen man. I don’t hate , I give props to those who deserve it. As a writer , producer and artist  – she is one of the best that ever did it !!! She taught me a wealth of knowledge about writing , performing and recording. The whole sh*t man!! Now Joey he don’t have 1/3…….he don’t have an ounce of talent in his body.

 

You are speaking of Joey Jr right…the son.

 

Yeah Joey Robinson – no talent at all. I don’t give a damn what anybody says. He is a duplicator and that’s all.

 

Yeah I think that it was Clayton Savage who told me that he didn’t do anything in the West Street Mob.

 

He didn’t. He will tell people that he and his mother produced those songs but he didn’t produce that sh*t  his mother did ! He was there in the studio , and may have pressed a button 1 or 2 times , but his mother produced those songs on all of us !!! Was he smart enough to be a student , and be perceptive and learn how to make moves? Yes. But as an artist he didn’t touch those West St Mob records.He didn’t perform on that West St Mob sh*t. He is not even on the tracks !!! The vocoder on “Make Your Body Move” is done by Reggie Griffin!!! Then he is on stage with a fake vocoder , that’s not even hooked up !

 

(JayQuan is laughing)….

 

But his mother just has an ear for that sh*t man. She is a musical genius.

 

What about Joseph Sr. Was he just responsible for the business aspects?

 

He is one of my mentors too. I learned a lot about business from him , as far as what to do and what not to do. He was a master at his business!!  One of the things that I learned from him and Sylvia was to handle your end of whatever you’re doing , and let the other person handle theirs and not to get in the middle of it. He never got involved in production , music or writing ; all he did was handle the business.

 

On “Funk Box”, ”On The Money” and “Giggalo” from the 8th Wonder Lp you guys were very involved in those r&b songs right?

 

Yes, by then we were showcasing our talents. Mike was playing bass and I was playing the drums and we were singing at the time , and getting into the production end of things.

 

What are your 3 favorite songs by Sugar Hill Gang ?

 

Wow. You ever hear of a song called Blade? It had the beat from Malcolm Mc Laren.

 

No , I remember the joint called Troy about a guy named Blade….is that it?

 

Yes , Troy – that was produced ,  arranged and written by me and Mike. It was our first attempt at producing. They didn’t really push that fact, because back then rappers weren’t known as producers. Anyway Troy, Livin’ In The Fast Lane and 8th Wonder.

 

Wow, no Rappers Delight?

 

Nope. Not in the top 3.

 

You ever get tired of hearing it?

 

Sometimes, because you have to remember that Rappers Delight was the first time that I ever recorded. There are things in the song that im not happy with. Some of my performance im not cool with , and my voice sounds like a baby. Don’t get me wrong I like the song , it’s a good song just not one of my favorites. I understand the significance of the song and I enjoyed recording it , but  it’s not one of my favorites.

 

What’s your least favorite song by SHG? And why?

 

Sh*t, that’s a good question……it would have to be Girls (from the Livin’ In The Fast Lane Lp). I hated that song. It was an r&b song by a group called the Whatnauts that actually recorded on one of Sylvia's labels. It was an attempt to take lyrics that were sung and make them into rap. It was a total stretch to even record that song , I was uncomfortable the whole time.

 

Ok I don’t want you to speak for Hank ; I would love to talk to him one day , but the whole thing with Caz and his rhymes; from your angle what happened with that. Now Caz does openly admit that he gave his notebook to Hank and said take what you want. But I wanna know did Hank say any rhyme that was not Grandmaster Caz’s in Rappers Delight?

 

No. I know the complete facts and the fact of the matter is unfortunately we didn’t know at the time. Let me tell you the whole thing about this. Hank came to Jersey. Remember that New York and New Jersey are separate. I didn’t’ even know anything about Caz , the only thing I knew was that there was this guy from the Bronx who could rap (that was Hank). When we went to the studio to record, we were under the assumption ‘cus Mike wrote all his stuff and I wrote all mine. That’s what you did , if you were a rapper , you wrote rhymes.

When Hank started with “Im the C-A-S AN the O-V-A and the rest is F-L-Y we didn’t know , the sh*t sounded good !!!  The funny thing about it was that he kept doin' the same raps !!  We noticed in the beginning , even that first night that he kept sayin’ the same rhymes. We started sayin’ maybe that’s all he got. We went and recorded it , the record blew up, New York and Jersey were still separate , and we didn’t find out until a year later.

But what we noticed was when we went to do pre production for Sugarhill Groove and all those songs – it was like ok it’s writing time. I would write something , Mike would write somethin’ , we would ask each other what we thought about the rhymes. When we got to Hank he had his pad , but never had anything!! This struck us as odd , and we were like damn you said all that on Rappers Delight, what happened? So we eventually found out, and what happened was he never wrote on anything. He gets no mechanical royalties on any of the songs because he never wrote anything. I get BMI (royalty payment from the BMI publishing company) , Mike gets BMI.

 

So who was writing his parts for Apache , Lover In You , Sugarhill Groove etc etc?

 

We were. Everything Hank said was written for him !! Hank is like Dionne Warwick. She might not write a word but she has the voice. That’s how Hank is. He gets on the mic man with “clap ya hands everybody” (Gee is imitating Hanks voice). Each one of us has very special distinctive sounding voices. But when you wrote something for him and he finally got it , it was magic. But initially we didn’t know that he didn’t write it. In the last few weeks at the Hip Hop Honors and pre party I ran into Caz and we talked about it. Cus we did a free outdoor concert in the Bronx , and there was a guy out there heckling us sayin “y’all aint sh*t”  and stuff like that. It turned out that the guy was Caz’s nephew. Now SHG is in the Bronx so it’s like  oh my God. Things got a lil tight , but the crowd still got into us  , but the tension was there ‘cus the kid was goin’ thru the audience and he was kinda wild. Come to find out at the Honors, he was at the show and it was Caz’s nephew. What ended up happening was at the pre party me , Mike and Caz ended up doin’ Rappers Delight !

 

What??!!

 

Yes man. And let me tell you , I have heard that song for 20 years , and I stood right beside Hank performing it on stage. I was in the studio when it was recorded , but I have never heard that rap sound better than that night!!! Mike said his part and passed it to Caz and that Mother F*cker said “im tha CAS AN the OVA” that sh*t was incredible. When he passed it to me , I was so amped that I brought the house down !! It turned into an old school party. Q Tip was D.J,ing and Mel got up there and did some stuff and hyped the crowd up.

 

Im told that the Message was offered to quite a few groups , yours included and you turned it down.

 

Yes. But the Message that you hear now is not the original Message that she wanted us to do. It had some tribal sounding drums in it , it was totally different.  Ed Fletcher (Duke Bootee) came to her with the idea , and the track. Sylvia and Jiggs Chase changed the whole thing up and made it more danceable. We were gonna do it first because Ed Fletcher used to be the percussionist in our band. We got the first chance at it. In fact we went in and tried it , but Sylvia didn’t want us talking about those kinda things. She said that our fans would not receive it well and that it didn’t fit our image.

 

Do you regret passing it up in retrospect?

 

Yes. When it all came together and I heard it , I thought that it would have been a great song for us. But maybe if we did it , it wouldn’t have been a great song. But I do regret it.

 

What was the atmosphere like recording in a place that has Candi Staton , Jack Mc Duff and Phillipe Wynn of the Detroit Spinners on the roster?

 

Phillipe Wynn and I used to play basketball in the parking lot of the studio man…that was the atmosphere. All the older cats there were like mentors and teachers to us. Jack Mc Duff was like one of the wise men. Shirley from Shirley & Company (Shame, Shame, Shame) was the receptionist. She used to sit and spend time talking to me. The atmosphere was like a big family. Again it was like the Motown of the 80s.

 

Lil Rodney C from the Funky 4 has a photo album with a lot of pics from that Sugarhill Revue tour , im sure that you also have a lot of pics and memorabilia.

 

No I don’t. I had a serious meltdown after that period in my life, so I never kept any of that, but I wish that I did now. I have never really lived in the arena of being an icon. I have been so removed from the whole thing for so long. Even now I know the significance of what we did but I don’t see myself that way.

 

Was Livin’ In The Fast Lane an attempt to talk about social issues like the Message?

 

Well that was me there. At that time in my life everything was gone to hell. Financially I was messed up , I had just broken up with my sons mother , I had been exposed to street life. The Fast Lane was semi- autobiographical and me purging myself of what happened. Initially Fast Lane was my solo song. I know that you collect obscure and rare stuff – there was a limited pressing with just me rapping on the whole song. .....Well it may not have actually gotten pressed up , but the recording exists , unless it got burned up in the studio. The group was goin’ through hell at this time: Mike was trippin’, Hank was goin’ thru stuff so I said I will go solo. I got the tape with the music and wrote the whole thing.

Initially I was gonna be the only one on it. The first verse “you're from the streets playin’ ya games everybody knows ya face and respects your name” was about a guy named Joe Rock. He was a hustler that took me under his wing when things got crazy. The verse that says “you’re a fly kid livin high on the hog/got a lotta money aint got no job” was about Joey Robinson. “Ya daddys rich , mommas good lookin / live in maid to do all ya cookin” – that’s him. The last part about worshipping material things and smoking good reefer and sniffin’ cocaine was about me.

 

What do you think of todays rap scene?

 

Well it has given our community the option that it needed for success. Before rap if you were black you could be a singer , actor , comedian or an athlete. Once this music became a multi billion dollar industry it gave us another option. It opened doors for people who couldn’t do those things. Now rappers are becoming actors , and they wouldn’t have gotten the chance to act if not for rap. The flip side is that you have to be careful with it because nothing exceeds like excess. And that’s what's starting to happen now. They are losing sight of what's true and pure.

 

What's up with your new group MG Squad?

 

MG Squad is Mike & Gee , which is me & Wonder Mike. We have half of our album done. We have about 6 more songs to do , and we hope to release it in January. This is a project that Mike & I have wanted to do for years. We wanted to work together for the longest time under different conditions. This is a labor of love for us ,and a chance to bring our sons out to the world. They are both talented and we want them to be able to approach this from a better situation than we did. We wanna do a Quincy Jones type of thing. On this Lp we are bringing out our sons. Next one might be a group that we just met and are working with. That’s what the Squad part represents.

 

What prompted you to leave the industry in 1985 , and what kind of business do you own now?

 

My son prompted me. I couldn’t feed him. From '83 – '85 was the worst situation for me financially. The tours had stopped and the records weren’t selling. There were no product endorsements or clothing lines. You made a hot record and toured , and the record sold. If it didn’t you were financially strapped. I was young and dumb and spent all my money and I couldn’t buy diapers or clothes. Im a natural born hustler, I was a hustler from before – I did the parties and everything. It wasn’t happening in music for me and a winner does what he has to do , not necessarily what he wants to do.

I had to go somewhere and start over and as far as I was concerned my career in music was over. Then I got into the magazine industry. I had no diploma , no job skills and I was 23 and never had a job in my life. This job said no experience necessary ,must be  free to travel. The only thing that I had really done was travel so that was no problem. I interviewed for it , I got the job on the spot , and I packed my bags and left. I knew that I couldn’t start over in New York , I had to get away. If I had a manual labor job the peer pressure would have pushed me out…….

My timing was right on again because I met a guy who was into building black businessmen. He taught me the magazine industry. I went from being a door to door salesperson , to building door to door sales crews. I had 5 sales teams of people all over the country going door to door. I ended up merging with some other cats in my industry and buying a customer service company that I used to do business with. We processed and customer serviced every order sold with these sales companies across the U.S. I do motivational speaking , business administration , delegating. This is what I do everyday. My reason for leaving is 22 years old now , and his name is Guy Jr. Had I not had a child I would have probably went the whole starving artist route.

 

Ok , my last question is  how did you get on Atlantic Records for the “Do It” single?

 

(Laughs)..You know a lotta sh*t !!!…….Atlantic Records came as a result of me being in a recording session with the Sugarhill band and running into an attorney named Mark Christinni (right place/right time again). The guy walked pass me and recognized me as Master Gee , and hooked me up with an A&R person from Atlantic. The guy that signed me to the deal was the same guy that signed Twisted Sister. They negotiated the deal with an option for an album. Marley Marl produced the session , and the song was ok. It was done out in Queens. I wasn’t creatively powerful or in my zone at the time. It sounded dated because I was so stuck in the Sugarhill way of recording. I was waiting for the signing bonus and it never came thru so that prompted me to go and get a job.

  Another thing that I did was the voice overs for Rappin’ – the movie with Mario Van Peebles. My brother was in that movie as well as the Last Dragon. All of Mario Van Peebles raps were overdubbed by me. We went to L.A. for my brother to do some stuff on the movie ,and they asked me to preview the movie and tell them what I thought. And I told them that it was the worst piece of trash that I had ever seen , and I asked how could you have a movie called rappin’ where the lead character can’t rap? They asked me would I do all the raps over , and I did it. I actually wrote one part. The part where Mario runs into the back of a truck….

 

Man I saw 4 minutes of that movie, and I couldn’t stand anymore. I will rent it just to hear what you did , maybe I can stomach it this time….it sucked…. Well it has been an honor bro. I grew up worshipping you guys when I was 9 and 10 years old  , so I have been wanting to ask these questions since then……

 

Special thanks to Slick Rick Of Rockmaster Scott & The Dynamic 3 , DJ Kenny Yoda of the Legendary Crash Crew and Hen Dog – hype man for The Sugarhill Gang & MG Squad, for helping me track down this brother .

 

Photo of Big Bank Hank & Grandmaster Caz @ Crotona Park '04 courtesy of Joe Conzo (www.joeconzo.com)

 

Look Ma I finally did it !! J

© 2005 5 Mic Media May not be reproduced without authors consent.