Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson
Sylvia Robinson, born Sylvia Vanderpool in 1936, made her transition today at the age of 75. If anyone in hip-hop served as the embodiment of Handle Your [entertainment] Business, it was Sylvia Robinson, who was as asssertive as she was attractive. The singer-songwriter turned publisher and producer is right up there with Cindy Campbell as a foremother of hip-hop. Cindy had the idea for the jam that her brother DJ Kool Herc threw at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, sparking a culture. But it was Sylvia Robinson who came to prominence as a bona fide rap mogul at that time, turning rap music into a commercial enterprise, sparking an industry.
In her honor, here are 10 Things To Know about a visionary beacon of inspiration for women entrepreneurs everywhere, the multi-talented, multi-platinum boss lady—Sylvia Robinson. If you enjoy or make a living from hip-hop, time to pay her the proper respect. She made hip-hop history and brought it the masses on scale that was previously thought impossible. Hers is a powerful legacy, full of lessons from the victories and failures that mark all true business leaders.
May she rest in peace, and may her family members soon find comfort during this difficult time.
- She founded the seminal hip-hop label Sugar Hill Records in 1979 with husband Joe Robinson and Morris Levy. It was actually her second label venture, the first being All Platinum Records, an R&B imprint. Sugar Hill’s roster was home to Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Spoonie Gee, Treacherous Three, Funky Four Plus One, Sequence (featuring Angie Stone), and…
- The Sugar Hill Gang. The group is credited with releasing the first commercial rap smash hit, called “Rapper’s Delight”. Some 14 minutes long with no repeated hook, this song was a watershed moment for hip-hop.
- “Rapper’s Delight” used “Good Times” by Chic as its music bed, creating instant familiarity for the song and a perfect delivery system for rhyming over a beat. For better or worse, Sylvia was a pioneer of sampling and all its uncharted legal territory (just ask Nile Rodgers, composer and leader of Chic).
- Sylvia Robinson was the woman producer behind two of the genre’s seminal records: “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. She also produced “Love on a Two Way Street” by The Moments (1970).
- Before Sylvia Robinson became one of rap’s first moguls, she was one half of the R&B duo Mickey and Sylvia, whose Top 20 hit “Love Is Strange” pushed over a million copies—in 1957.
- Sylvia also enjoyed success as a solo artist with her racy opus “Pillow Talk” (1973), certainly a precursor to songs like “Love To Love You Baby” by Donna Summer and “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross. That heavy breathing and moaning to music? Sylvia started it.
- Sylvia’s songs have also been sampled by some unlikely artists: Kate Bush used the drums from “Pillow Talk” on “Running Up That Hill” (1985) as did Fleetwood Mac for “Big Love” (1987).
- Sylvia’s voice has been sampled too. Moby sampled her vocals on “Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday)” and master beatmaker J Dilla chose to sample her from “Sweet Stuff” for his song “Crushin’”.
- Sylvia understood that publishing was where the big, long dollars were in the music business. A shrewd businesswoman whose practices were not always equitable, she earned a reputation for underpaying and micromanaging that, according to Dan Charnas, author of The Big Payback, had “Grandmaster Flash split from the rest of his crew over creative differences and lack of payment.”
- 10. We have Sylvia to thank for discovering multiplatinum crossover rap icons Naughty By Nature. They made a lackluster debut on her Bon Ami label in 1987 as The New Style before moving over to Tommy Boy Records and changing their name.
Tags: business, Dan Charnas, Entertainment, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, hip-hop, Naughty By Nature, Rapper's Delight, Sugar Hill Gang, Sugar Hill Records Founder, Sylvia Robinson, Sylvia Robinson dies, The Big Payback, Women