Member of rap pioneers Sugarhill Gang dies

2014-11-12 11:52

New York - Big Bank Hank, whose Sugarhill Gang trio recorded the first rap song to go mainstream and pioneered the use of samples, died on Tuesday. He was 57.

Big Bank Hank, a New York area native whose real name was Henry Jackson, died at a hospital in Englewood, New Jersey, after suffering from cancer, a representative for the group said.

"So sad to hear of our brother's passing. Rest in peace Big Bank," surviving members Wonder Mike and Master Gee said in a statement.

Rap was born in the 1970s in the Bronx but the Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight in 1980 became the first song from the genre to break into the mainstream Top 40 chart.

The song's structure, with a rapper boasting of his exploits over a bass-driven rhythm line sampled from another song, proved to be the basis of much of hip-hop over the coming decades.

The trio hands off the microphone to one another, with Big Bank Hank rapping, "I got more clothes than Muhammad Ali / And I dress so viciously / I got bodyguards, I got two big cars / That definitely ain't that wack."

The song, which in its album version stretched to nearly 15 minutes, opened with lines that stayed in the memory of many listeners then unfamiliar with rap: "I said a hip hop / the hippie, the hippie / The hip, hip a hop / And you don't stop."

The sample came from the song Good Times by Chic, whose funky music was omnipresent in nightclubs of the disco era.

Chic's guitarist Nile Rodgers heard the song and filed a lawsuit, leading the Sugarhill Gang to give Chic members songwriting credits and royalties, foreshadowing disputes over sampling that would long haunt hip-hop.

Big Bank Hank worked as a nightclub bouncer and a pizza dough kneader before Sylvia Robinson, a former R&B singer turned producer, tapped him as she tried to put together a rap group, which she named after the Sugar Hill section of Harlem.

Known for being far heftier than his ideal weight, Big Bank Hank described himself in Rapper's Delight thus: "I'm six-foot-one and I'm tons of fun." The height is the equivalent of 185 centimeters.

Robinson, buoyed by the success of Rapper's Delight, signed more artists including Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, often considered the pioneers of hip-hop and who coined the term.

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