The Jump Off – Wonder Mike – The First Recorded Emcee

By JayQuan

I Wonder if this cat realizes how many people he has affected around the world. When Rappers Delight dropped in 1979 , not only did it usher in rap to the masses , establish the 12 inch record as the standard format to promote rap and change music forever. It also blew my 9 year old mind, and along with a few other rap songs in the following years changed my life. When we heard “hip hop hip to the hippity” it was no doubt some other sh*t. All day long cats thought that the local disc jockeys had recorded a spoof of “Good Times” by Chic. But when we saw that it was official we ran to the record store with the quickness to get a copy. This cat became my favorite Emcee for a minute, and his was the first real autograph that I ever got. It’s an honor to tell the story of the first Rapper that most of us outside of New York ever heard – Wonder Mike.

 

JayQuan: It’s an honor to speak to you. What year did you start rhymin’ and what did you hear or see that made you want to rhyme?

 

Wonder Mike: It was May of ’79 and my cousin came to my house with a big boom box. Some guys were rhymin’ on a tape and I said what’s that? He said that it was the new thing in New York. He started sayin’ some stuff that he made up and it sounded good. I remember listening to the tape and thinking that everyone sounded the same. I had a job moving furniture and I started makin’ rhymes in my head. I let my cousin hear them – he had a Dj group called Sound On Sound and I joined them about 2 weeks after I heard rap music.

 

JQ : Do you remember who was on the tape that you heard?

 

WM: No, I don’t.

 

JQ: So when Rappers Delight came out you had been rapping only a few months?

 

WM : Yep, actually 3 months. I know it’s a thorn in some guys side but I can’t help how the fuck I grew up or where I grew up.

 

JQ: Wow, so you never heard King Tim the 3rd or anything like that before your record dropped right , because they were only weeks apart.

 

WM: Right, I never heard it before our record , but we did run into them on the road a few times after our records were out.

 

JQ: So contrary to popular belief you were in a crew before you met Sylvia Robinson and so was Master Gee.

 

WM : Right. And she did put us together, but I don’t see the crime in that. But people will always put stuff under a microscope and try to find something to dislike. But yeah we were put together, where is the crime?

 

JQ: One of the things about these stories is that people have conflicting accounts of what happened, which is understandable after 30 plus years. But I was wondering were you in the studio with the Furious 5 when y’all did Showdown. Kid Creole said that you weren’t, Master Gee said that you were.

 

WM: It was the same session,and we were in the studio at the same time, but we weren’t physically in the booth at the same time.

 

JQ: Ok that makes sense. In the book Yes Yes Y’all they quote you as saying that Master Gee was in a car and passed by Hank rappin’ for Joey in front of Crispy Crust. It also says that you were across the street playin’ a guitar , and you saw all this go down , and then you came over.

 

WM : Man, I don’t know where that shit came from. The guy who suggested Good Times for the track was in Sound On Sound ; he was my Dj and his name was Ron the Mad Master Mixer. I accompanied him to the Robinsons house later that night , but I wasn’t around when they met at McDonalds and Crispy Crust where Hank was workin’. I was at the house later listenin’ to Hank & Master Gee go back and forth and Mrs Robinson said that she was gonna use both of them. Im sittin there and its 2 in the morning and they are finishin’ up and something told me to speak up. I said Mrs Robinson I can rap too. She told me to rap and I did the Hip Hop hippit thing and I talked about the dog , the furniture and everything in the room. Then she said she would use all 3 of us.

 

JQ: Master Gee said that there was another guy who was supposed to be on Rappers Delight originally , but he backed out.

 

WM: Yeah Casper. He was in Sound On Sound too. He had a Donnie Simpson type of voice. His father was an executive at Atlantic Records, and he told him not to do the record. Hank was gonna be the only one to do it at first.

 

JQ: Mrs. Robinson had actually heard a tape of you before, but you were under the weather or something wasn’t right with your voice?

 

WM: Yeah I had bad asthma , and I was running out of breath. I was actually mad at my dj for letting her hear that.

 

JQ: Master Gee says that you were goin' at it so hard that night for Mrs. Robinson that you actually caught an asthma attack that night.

 

WM: (laughs hard) Nah I don’t remember that.

 

JQ: That whole intro to Rappers Delight the Hip hop hippity rhyme – did you hear anyone do that before. Because people credit it to Cowboy and Luv Bug Starski.

 

WM: I heard it within Sound On Sound. Everybody was sayin’ it like a filler line. I thought that it sounded fly but people always cut it short. One night we were in Patterson (NJ) and I was doin’ it , and I just kept goin with it , and I decided to keep it. That was like my signature way of saying it.

 

JQ: How about the bang bang boogie part?

 

WM: That was being said in the group also. But I liked how the letter B sounded. It sounded syncopated and percussive so that’s why I said “baby bubba to the boogie bang bang the boogie” and all those Bs in Rappers Delight.

 

JQ: Yeah im glad you did. That record changed my life…..I will ask you like I asked Gee did you write any of those rhymes specifically for Rappers Delight , or were they just rhymes that you had already.

 

WM: The intro was written for Rappers Delight. I kinda had a sense that this was gonna be a big record , at least in the tri state area. I didn’t wanna just come on with a story rhyme. So I used that part from an old tv show that said  “don’t adjust your tv set this is not a test”. But of course I changed it to “what you hear is not a test”. A few things were adlibbed like the pass offs to each other, but everything else was just stuff we had already. It was a crude set up in the studio – there were 3 mics right together with no wall or anything , and we were all 3 right there next to each other. I was on the left , Hank in the middle and Gee on the right.

 

JQ: That rhyme about going to a friends house to eat is classic – even my 10 year old daughter knows it. Was it based on something that really happened?

 

WM: It was true. It was my ex girlfriends house, and her mom made some chicken that looked great but wow!!!  I bit into it and blood came out. I just ate the peas and macaroni & cheese.

 

JQ: How did that record change your life, like money wise and everything.

 

WM: In the beginning the show money was good. I remember breaking the 1000 dollar barrier at some show in New York.

 

JQ: That was good money at the time?

 

WM: Yeah that was good for ’79 with no prior musical history.

 

JQ: When you toured with the funk bands they treated you like shit right?

 

WM: Yeah man in San Diego we were bustin’ everybodys ass and the Bar Kays had the lights turned off in the middle of our set. I remember once it was us , Slave , Cameo, Zapp and Skyy and we were opening up the show. This was 1980 and by the end of the tour we were headlining. I remember them sayin' “they ain’t singin’ they just talking”.

 

JQ: At what point did you know that Hank hadn’t written his Rappers Delight rhymes?

 

WM: It was concealed so well. Im a 3rd of the group and I didn’t know until like the mid 90s.

 

JQ: Gee says that Hank never wrote anything after Rappers Delight.

 

WM: That’s true and I thought that it was a case of him getting all of his creative juices out in one great blast !!

 

JQ: I’ve heard the Cheryl The Pearl from Sequence wrote 8th Wonder is that true.

 

WM: Yes she wrote some of it. I wrote my parts and the “get up, throw down we’re funk ward bound” part. Cheryl was a great writer and she had a really great ear for hooks. Angie Stone & Blondie wrote some also.

 

JQ: How was it in the studio with Sequence  , I know you did Rappers Reprise together which is on of my favorites…..(Mike cuts me off laughing)….what?

 

WM: Wack wack wack. That’s our collective all time worst song – we hate it. It’s like our Titanic.

 

JQ: Why?

 

 WM: The rhymes are like some corny Sesame Street shit – I hate it. We always hated it. We used to do it in concert until Hank just didn’t come out for that song. I asked the audience “y’all like this song” they said no, so we said lets not do it anymore. We really hated that and those wack ass party tracks.

 

JQ: Oh with the crowd noises in the background?

 

WM: Yeah.

 

JQ: I think that gave the record a good party vibe. I remember on one song – it was either the “Word is Out” or “Kick It Live” at the end you said – “where the food at man?”

 

WM: (laughs) I remember that…

 

JQ: What is your favorite song by the Sugarhill Gang?

 

WM: 8th Wonder. I think that its our funkiest. I always complained that our records never had enough bottom (bass). In the studio it sounded fine , but once it was mastered something was lost.

 

JQ: And your least favorite was Rappers Reprise?

 

WM: Yeah that horseshit!!!! (laughs) man Hank hated that song !!!

 

JQ: Sugarhill Groove was dope !!!

 

WM: Yeah we tried to use two different grooves on that record (Glide by Pleasure and Catch A Groove) but we didn’t capture it like we wished. Also I wish that we could have gotten a better sound on our voices – it sounds like we are far away from the mic. It is a fun song and a real good track.

 

JQ: Did you get any jealousy from your label mates? I know that some of them have said that they were nice to you guys only because you were Mrs. Robs favorite group.

 

WM : Yes it was unfortunate and unnecessary because I had love for everybody. Im a middle son so im always tryin’ to make peace. Just because we were first on the label and Mrs. Robinson had an affinity for us everybody started hating. You could see it in everybody's eyes when they talked to us. Sometimes it would manifest itself more than others , but there was always that undercurrent of resentment.

 

JQ: How was it touring with that Sugarhill revue – being young with a hit record?

 

WM : It was ok. I really didn’t like it too much because we went on last , and by the time we came on the crowd was beat. Sometimes I would go to the mall until it was time for us to go on because I got tired of hearing that much rap music all the time.

 

JQ: What other groups on Sugarhill records did you like?

 

WM: Mean Machine !!! They were crazy in the pocket. And Mr. Shick was crazy with the Spanish rhymes!! They also did this half rap / half harmonizing thing that was good too.

 

JQ: Was the track to Rappers Delight already laid down?

 

WM: No I saw them lay it. They did it instrument by instrument. There was no sampling , no loop – the bass player played for fifteen plus minutes straight. That was Positive Force. The track was done in one day, and the lyrics were done almost in one take. There was one retake. Its funny Guy’s (Master Gee) first verse was like 40 bars long, and I was like pass off !!! My intro verse was only 8 bars long. That wouldn’t fly today , everything has to be the same amount of bars.

 

JQ: When did you start noticing that the money wasn’t quite right?

 

WM : We went to Europe in1980 , and when we got back we were supposed to get some foreign royalties , but when we got back me & Guy went into the office and they said we already paid you. It was like “where the hell is it?” We had gotten a US royalty of like 43,000 a piece. We were waiting for our foreign royalty because we were number one or 2 in like 16 countries. We were waiting on a fat check, but they told us that we had been paid. That was between Rappers Delight and 8th Wonder.

 

JQ: You guys had Hot Summer Day that was right after Rappers Delight, had you all recorded other material at the same time as Rappers Delight, or did you wait for Rappers Delight to see if it would blow up?

 

WM: We recorded it around the same time, because they had a good feeling that Rappers Delight would be big, and they wanted a follow up. A lot of that stuff just wasn’t promoted at all. It was just put in the stores like people would buy our records based on Rappers Delight. People start to think that they are bigger than what they really are. Even Denzel Washington goes on Jay Leno and every other show to promote his new movies, and he is at the top of his game!!! Same thing with Tom Cruise, Samuel Jackson or any entertainer.

 

JQ: Im gonna name some of your records, and I want you to tell me the first thought or funny story associated with that song.

 

Rappers Delight – Wow. We were in Cleveland with the Sylvers , and during the break of Rappers Delight me & Gee went and jumped in the crowd to stir the girls up. Well when we went to get back on the stage, it was high as hell. It was higher than I was, and I was 6 ft 5 at the time (Jay is buggin’). We had to play it off and jump back on stage , our band members had to pull us back on it was crazy.

 

Sugarhill Groove – I remember being in the studio and Hank doing his part , and  he said we’re a better combination than salt & french fries. I always thought that was kinda fly.

 

8th Wonder – I was in the mall and when I got home Guy called me. He let me hear this music over the phone and I said what’s that? He said its our next hit!!! I got to the studio and heard it and it almost wrote itself. But I remember him blasting it through my phone.

 

JQ – How did your parents react to your success? – I know that you were on American Band stand , Solid Gold , Soul Train etc….

 

WM: My parents were extremely supportive ‘cus I grew up with music in the house – jazz stuff like Cannonball Adderly , Coltrane  and the Crusaders. Then I had influence from the Beatles and rock stuff. My mom still has copies of every chart that we were on.

 

JQ: Back to the songs….

 

Apache : That was a difficult track ‘cus it had some good parts , then came that corny shit again. I remember that when I listened to Furious 5s tracks and Kurtis Blow and other New York guys their tracks just seemed cooler. That  ooonga ooonga (chant from Apache) and Tonto shit. That was the beginning of the end for us. Artists always wanna expand , but the label was like if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

 

JQ: Yeah I remember after Apache y’all had a lil hiatus , then came Kick It Live and The Word Is Out but they seemed kinda dated. I think Run DMC had just come out too during one of those singles.

 

WM: Yeah everyone was saying slicker stuff , and we had those kinds of rhymes , but they didn’t wanna record them.

 

JQ: Yeah I remember the day that I heard Sucker Mc’s by Run DMC. It was so different that you could feel the changing of the guard. I wish that Sugarhill Records would have stripped the music down like they did , cus honestly I tried to like some of the music after ’83 but there were too many horns and bass guitars- that was cool in 1980 and ’81.

 

WM: Yeah every record had to have horns. And that damn party track (Sugarhill Records always left a track open for crowd chants and noises usually performed by different artists signed to the label. This track was also referred to as the clap track).

 

JQ: Back to the songs….

 

Hot Summer Day : That was the first song that we recorded outside of Sugarhill. We recorded it somewhere in New York. I remember sayin “wow this shit sounds like Lawrence Welk”. That’s not really my voice on those records – I mean its my voice but they wanted me to sound a certain way  like “boogity woogity be bop the bippty bop” that kinda shit. That’s not my regular speaking and rapping voice , I like my voice better when I was with Sound On Sound.

 

The Word Is Out – Good record.  I don’t remember recording it but it was another difficult record. The timing was off ,almost like a jazz fusion record but it was good to open a show with because our live show wasn’t like our records. We busted some peoples asses during our live shows.

 

Kick It Live : Damn I don’t remember how that one went.

 

JQ: We party from 9-5, it doesn’t matter when you arrive, cus when you come you’ll have some fun and kick it live….

 

WM: Oh God….what a piece of crap!!!! Another over produced Sugarhill musical accident!!!

 

JQ: At least they finally put some scratching in your songs….

 

WM: I thought the scratching might spark the label to go in a different direction , but of course there was no promotion.

 

Living In The Fast Lane – My 3rd favorite. Its 8th Wonder , Rappers Delight then Fast Lane. That was a nice jazzy record. Hank always did the most takes out of all of us, and he would get really frustrated. His voice was crazy , but his timing was off. Well me & Guy had already done our parts and Hank came in late and did his part in one take !!!! He came in serious , we gave him his part – he read it and boom!! That’s why he starts his verse with “get hip y’all”…he added that lil part - he was hyped!!!!

 

Lover In You : That was our best produced record ever. It finally sounded like we didn’t record in a funky little  basement!! It sounded almost like a Quincy Jones record. It sounded produced and clear with bottom and good tones to it. Eric Thorngren engineered it. It sounded like a record , not like some shit that somebody cheap put out to make money for themselves and not their artists.

 

JQ: I heard that the Message was offered to you guys first.

 

WM: Yeah when I heard it there was only Duke Bootee on it doin’ the hook. It sounded muffled and un interesting. It was a sound that was unheard of at the time for a rap record (the original music track to the Message was just drums like a Last Poets record).

 

JQ: Do you regret not doing the Message since it became such a big hit for the Furious?

 

WM: Yeah ‘cus it would have given us a chance to introduce our more natural sound. The way they made us sound on Apache would have never worked for the Message.

 

Showdown: We always cut 2 sets of vocals, and they would use the most sanitized, sugar free, gelatin fuckin’ flavor and neuter it and water it down!! Basically Furious 5 kicked our asses on that record.

 

JQ: Is it true that Sequence wrote y’all's parts for that?

 

WM: No , I wrote that , and somewhere in a landfill are the original lyrics that I had. Sugarhill wanted us to have an image so we had to change the lyrics. Sometimes I felt like we were the Wayans brothers at the intro of the show like sell outs.

 

JQ : Are you part of the class action lawsuit against the label?

 

WM: Yes, but I can’t talk about some things.

 

JQ: The ’89 remix of Rappers Delight – did you get royalties?

 

WM: Nope…

 

JQ:That was a whole lp with the ’89 remix but the other songs were 10 years old , and the cover had y’all with brown suits on. In 89 cats were rockin baggy pants and polka dot shirts.

 

WM: It was laziness. Not spending the money for new photos. Even though we were disbanded from 85 – 94 they used some old pictures pasted together and insulted the publics intelligence.

 

JQ: What did you think of The Def Squad remake of Rappers Delight?

 

WM: I liked it , but I knew we wouldn’t get a dime.

 

JQ: You didn’t get paid from that.

 

WM: Nope , nor The Wedding Singer or Kangoroo Jack.

 

JQ : You gotta be kidding…..

 

WM : There was a chipmunk that came out called Fat Daddy Mack from 3 years ago. He says my rap and my name and I see nothing from it. Missy Elliot has a song right now where she uses Apache. Not something where there is a question of whether its Apache , but the whole record. We see nothing. Lil Kim has used my words….how ever anyone has used our stuff EVER we have NEVER seen a dime.

 

JQ: What about the Dr Dolittle Soundtrack. You actually performed a song on that.

 

WM: Yeah we got paid for the session , but there should be a performance royalty , but …nope….

 

JQ: Damn……..how was Soul Train and American bandstand.

 

WM: It was cool we flew out to L.A. for 2 days with a lady named Raye Alexander. We did Soul Train and American Bandstand one day and Solid Gold the next. Dick Clark was cool….very accommodating and Don Corneleuis was very cool also.

 

JQ: Do you have any regrets?

 

WM :Im cool with the history and signifigance. I’ve learned to take the good with the bad , and you cant change history. People will dislike you for no reason, they say we are fake or whatever…Fuck ‘em.  We really kicked the damn door in for Hip Hop. All these r&b guys were dissin’ us and we flipped it and were headliners.

 

JQ: Did you continue to keep up with rap music over the years.

 

WM: No. I was into so many different kinds of music. Jazz, Rock , Country , Jazz Fusion. So when rap went left field I didn’t follow it. Im 48 years old so I grew up looking at Black people protest and get beat by the cops. We watched this on the news. I watched Chuck Scarborough, this shit is everyday getting fire hoses and dogs put on  us for nothin’. Now we talk about killin’ each other. What’s so glorious about that. Right now the Ku Klux Klan has nothing to do. They are the most bored organization in the world.

 

JQ: The stuff on the inside of your first lp, was it true or just stuff that the label wrote? Like it said that you were a born again Christian who enjoyed painting reading the Bible, sketching and writing poetry.

 

WM: Yeah that was true.

 

JQ: I will never forget , you wrote “to Jermain best wishes , Jesus loves you” on my autograph.

 

WM: Yes, I will always write that. I don’t have the best or cleanest language – I ain't perfect , but it remains true.

 

JQ: My last question – in 94 you guys did a song called “Boyz From The Hill” with Sugarhill again. Master Gee rejoined you for that song. How did that song come about?

 

WM: Angie Stone called me and said that Joey and Hank were doin’ shows as the Sugarhill Gang, so I went to find out what was happening. I started touring with them until April of last year when I just left.

 

Thanks for your time Bro…..

 

ã 2006 JayQuan Dot Com

 

As told to JayQuan Febuary 2006

 

No part may be reproduced without authors consent.

SPECIAL THANKS TO MY MAN BLAKSMIF !!!