Sep 302011

Sylvia Robinson, founder of pioneering rap label Sugar Hill Records and a recording artist in her own right (“Love Is Strange,” as part of Mickey & Sylvia, and her solo hit “Pillow Talk”), died yesterday. You’ve probably heard this by now. My wife told me all about it late last night. I was really busy yesterday and spent what little free time I had recounting the wonders of Major League Baseball’s final night of the regular season and analyzing the coming playoffs. For placing my attention on baseball and missing this story yesterday I am sorry.

Sylvia Robinson was one cool cat.


  25 Responses to “News You’ve Probably Already Heard: Sylvia Robinson, Godmother of Rap, Dies”

  1. tonyola

    While her early sponsorship of rap might be hugely important culturally, it’s very much a mixed bag to someone who by demographics is just not a big fan of the style. Now her “Come here, lover boy!” on “Love is Strange”? Priceless.

  2. Sure, but the fact that some of us don’t care much for the genre is completely beside the point. Rap and its offspring have completely dominated the music industry, except for the NASCAR-loving regions of the US, which buy modern-day country music. I wish someone in the late-’70s had been able to get behind the music I love and make it set the pace for the next 30 years.

  3. I did say her contribution was hugely important culturally, didn’t I?

  4. You did, but I want to make sure your specific use of the term “culturally” wasn’t overlooking her musical contributions. Like you, I’m not a big fan of the extended genre, but I think it changed the way people listen to and make music.

  5. misterioso

    Golly, Mod, how disappointingly value-neutral of you. No one can dispute the scope of the impact; that’s a no-brainer. The impact is a matter of fact: the value is a matter of opinion, obviously. It is, I hope, not viewed as speaking ill of the dead to say that I find the musical/cultural worth of that impact to be dubious. Still, “Rapper’s Delight” is cool, and I am sure that is only 75% due to “Good Times.”

  6. Hey, I have no problem with anyone expressing that the musical value is poop, I just want to make sure we go beyond the Bad Attitude Club’s likely impulse to make nothing more than a passing reference to “cultural” stuff.

    Some of the good things I think rap ushered into our music was a new avenue for the “singles” market, leading right up to the iTunes Revolution’s short-attention span buying habits. As we all can attest, singles are not necessarily a bad thing. There was also both a “fun” and “social consciousness” element to rap from the start that was a shot in the arm after the brain-dead state disco had reached once the Germans and cokeheads got too involved.

    I’m NOT a big fan of rap’s cut-and-paste approach to making music. The sampling thing is huge in its impact on music making, with all Macs coming loaded with Garageband and the like. I know it has resulted in some brilliant recordings over the last 30 years, even a few that I like, but on a musical level I think this is one of the genre’s biggest influences – and a mostly negative one at that. Where do all the musicians go these days to actually play music?

  7. misterioso

    Mod, somehow the distinction you seem to be making is lost on me. tony acknowledged the “hugely important” impact she made through her backing a kind of music he doesn’t especially fancy. What else is he supposed to do, construct an equestrian statue for her?

    Anyway, your effusive praise, that rap helped usher in “the iTunes Revolution’s short-attention span buying habits,” doesn’t exactly make you chairman of the Good Attitude Club, does it?

  8. It was disco, not rap, that revitalized the singles market beginning in the 1970s. Disco was also responsible for the concept of the extended mix. The 15+ minute megamix of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” in 1978 was a landmark.

  9. All right, misterioso, I’m sorry I disappointed and didn’t announce her death with my true – and truly insulting – feelings about the two 8-minute hymns to the Lord that clog up every prime-era ’70s Stevie Wonder album. I was, however, hoping to stir a little controversy in my initial response to tonyola. I think I’ve only let you down. I’m pretty sure tonyola is holding up all right, although I do see he’s now willing to split hairs over which musical genre invigorated the singles market. (I was speaking more broadly when I referred to a “singles market,” and I’m pretty sure I’m right, by the way.) I was hopeful that BigSteve would somehow find his way into whatever mess Sylvia Robinson’s death would cause here in the Halls of Rock. I was hopeful that someone would come forth to proclaim the obvious Women Power of Ms. Robinson’s work. I was hopeful that someone would find it necessary to point out the roots of that “Apache” number. I was hopeful that a lot of typical RTH nonsense would ensue. Maybe I should have stuck to my private (at this point) baseball analyses. I do thank you for trying to find a burr in the saddle on this topic:)

  10. misterioso

    Mod, you know I am here to help. So, is this the wrong time to mention that I never much cared for “Love Is Strange” and find “Pillow Talk” incredibly annoying?

  11. Not at all, this is EXACTLY the time to air out those thoughts.

  12. BigSteve

    Hey, I’m being called out, and this is the first time I’ve looked at the recent comments today!

    I had totally forgotten that the Sugar Hill Sylvia Robinson was the gal in Mickey & Sylvia, if I ever knew that. I would add that the techniques pioneered by rap producers — programmed beats, sampling, looping, cut&paste, and all the other methods of digitally processing sound — are not just ‘culturally significant’ but also great in themselves. I don’t listen to a lot of rap (more than I used to, but still) myself, but lots of great music has been made using those techniques. No one *has* to use them. But I’m definitely not in the “everyone has to use real instruments and play at the same time in a room, maaaaahn” camp.

  13. I knew I could count on you to provide some balance! You were call out with love, you know.

  14. Let me add a little love for rap production techniques. I’ve said before, maybe even in RTH, that I think producers like the Bomb Squad (was that Public Enemy’s producer consortium?) are the rap equivalent of, say, Nelson Riddle. Arrangers/producers of yore put together sounds in appealing ways and isn’t that what rap and hip-hop producers do? One does it by deciding where the brass comes in and where the strings come in and such and the other decides what sample to insert where.

    As in any genre, there’s good and bad. And I’m not saying that I’m a big fan of rap and it’s descendants (it ends at Fab Five Freddy and Yo! MTV Raps for me) but it’s surely valid.

  15. The stuff the Bomb Squad did for Public Enemy (and an Ice Cube, I believe, album I like too) IS excellent! I think your comparison is a good one, al.

  16. mockcarr

    To tie some healing into this coming from a guy who would not be member of the BAC, since it might deign to accept him – one time, probably towards the late 80s, I was at a party one of my brother’s friends was having and they were all jazzbos of one stripe or another and were working themselves into a dither about rap and how it was yet another step away from being able to make a living playing an instrument or even bother learning how to play them anymore, and that it further devalued the idea of musical theory, and so forth, etc, etc. I found myself in the totally unnatural position of defending the idea of rap, the role of the producer or artist putting different things together like a collage, while admitting that there wasn’t much of it I actually liked (beyond the idea of Chuck D’s voice as a musical instrument); sort of like how I might defend the idea of communism without actually believing it could work, given that actual, you know, people, would be participating. The good news is there was a lot better beer at that party than you might think.

  17. ladymisskirroyale

    Good God, I just realized that “Pillow Talk” was a song on a seminal tape from my childhood entitled “Top Hits of the 70’s” (and was probably released about 1978. Also on this tape was Shocking Blue’s “Venus” and Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling.” We used to listen to this tape when I would drive with my family in our very fabulous light blue AMC Hornet Sportabout from Phoenix to LA. We would leave on a Friday night after my dad got off of work and drive until 1 am or so. I would have the tape recorder sitting on my lap and doze, only awakening to turn the tape over and look at the desert out the window. So regardless of how good those songs are, they are forever great in my mind because of my associations to that tape.

  18. ladymisskirroyale

    I found the track list. THIS to me is gold:

  19. That’s a killer collection from our teenage years! “Rock Me Gently” seemed so important when I was 13, or whatever. “Last Song,” on the other hand, was an early example of a song that made me thing, “What the HELL are people hearing when they hear this song and feel any positive thoughts about it?”

  20. jeangray

    Amazing how much we have in common. “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” & “Band of Gold” are big ones from my childhood. I must admit that I don’ recognize “Last Song.” Should I google it???

  21. misterioso

    Teenage years! How freakin’ old are you? Rock Me Gently is pure pop gold and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Neil Diamond knockoffs in history.

  22. It may be Diamond’s greatest song! I was wrong about being 13; I was 11 when that song first hit!

  23. I’m sorry to do this to you, jeangray:

    I always thought this song was written so that Gilbert O’Sullivan could feel like he was capable of kicking somebody’s ass.

  24. misterioso

    Plus I thought it had come out several years earlier than it had–it came out in 74 and I had it pegged for 71.

  25. jeangray

    OMG! I do know “Last Song.” Must have repressed that memory.

    Now the Hurricane Smith song is one I had never heard before. That is some bizarre shit!

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