10 Things To Know About Sylvia Robinson

Sylvia's baby hair was legendary...among other things.

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.

My first 45. The baby blue label? Unmistakeable.

  1. 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…
  2. 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.
  3. “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).
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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’”.
  9. 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. 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.






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12 Responses to “10 Things To Know About Sylvia Robinson”

  1. Cal' Says:

    Thanks for this. Love it!

  2. Michelle Etoile Says:

    Great Post Thembisa! Truly sad news.

  3. Ameliaismore Says:

    Great post Thembisa…For better or worse Sugar Hill Records was the label that launched the commercial success of hip hop and taught many in the business how to protect your rights as a writer and performer. Although MUCH respect should be given as a pioneer WE MUST remain truthful and honest that if some of those deals were more amicable many of our founding artists would not be in the position they are in today… R.I.P. Sylvia Robinson with her legacy let’s learn the courage to be the first but let’s also understand the responsibility of being a leader and a follower. KNOWLEDGE is KEY in this business of music… LEARN the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth for what you don’t know WILL hurt you in this business! Don’t believe me as any one of the founding performers and writers of OUR culture we call HIP HOP PEACE!

  4. Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson -HIP-HOP ICON -RIP (March 6, 1936 – September 29, 2011) « Global Fusion Productions Inc Says:

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  5. K. Ali Says:

    Knowledge for a youngin’!

  6. Fareed Says:

    Rip Sylvia Robinson after my first purchase on Ejoy Records Superrappin by Grandmaster Flash i remember purchasing Rapper’s Delight at the young age of 11. I would probably not have gotten into music if it was not for those groundbreaking labels. B4 Freestyle music Hip Hop/Electro lead the way for the youth as a way out of the ghetto. SugarHill was the Defjam of my era.
    Peace, Fareed Death City Boyz, Spirit Matter and now El Boricua de la Bachata…

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  11. Dreck dreck Says:

    Rest in peace Sylvia Robinson.
    One of our black leaders in the music industry.
    We all know the truth good and the bad, but this is not the form to voice any feelings other than expressing your condolences for Sylvia Robinson transition.

  12. moore Says:


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