Rap travels from the Bronx…to Harlem…to the clubs of NYC…and to RADIO & RECORDS
From the early seventies to 1979, rap was alive and well in the clubs, at house parties and in the parks of the Bronx. Soon everyone wanted to get in the game. MC’s and DJ’s started coming out of the woodwork. Battle rappin’ was becoming a huge thing and rap groups were forming everywhere. Battles became as big in the Bronx and Harlem as some of the sporting events and boxing matches. A well promoted rap battle could fill a venue. And Harlem World located in Harlem, NY was the epicenter of some of the first gigantic rap battles.
When two members of The Cold Crush Brothers left the crew and joined the Fantastic Five there became serious rivalry between the two groups. It did not take long before a new MC joined the Cold Crush Brothers. His name is GRANDMASTER CAZ (a.k.a. DJ Casanova Fly).
On July 3, 1981, one of the most legendary rap battles went down at Harlem World. It was between The Cold Crush Brothers and the Fantastic Five. The prize was $1,000 cash…WINNER TAKE ALL!
Cold Crush had been preparing for a major battle for almost a year and the time had finally come. They were about to go up against some “pretty boys” that seemed to be loved by the ladies….”THE FANTASTIC FIVE”
On the night of the battle, the club was HOT and packed with fans for each group. The winner would be chosen by the audience and the loudness of their cheering. Cold Crush was all about delivering dope lyrics that were also melodic. The Fantastic Five did not have lyrics of substance so they relied on getting the girls up front and screaming for them. Fantastic Five had dance routines, wore flashy clothes, and leaned heavily on their looks and flirting with the girls up front…..
Needless to say, the screaming girls worked and The Fantastic Five took home the $1,000 prize money. Cassette tapes of rap battles and live shows sold quickly throughout all 5 boroughs of New York. The tape of this battle revealed clearly who REALLY should have won the battle. The Cold Crush Brothers “CRUSHED IT” with their clever lyrics. When the underground, bootleg tape of the battle hit the streets “EVERYONE” was talking about the “Cold Crush Brothers.” At the time there were no real record labels signing rappers, and rappers were okay with that. The rap community loved having something that they could call their own. Rap was spontaneous, performed “LIVE” and found in the boroughs throughout New York. The underground tapes were giving The Bronx and Harlem a name in hip hop. Everyone wanted to be present when this music was performed live so the tapes were great for promoting the clubs, parties, and rap battles.
One night an R&B diva who had some radio hits under the name “Little Sylvia” (known for Pillow Talk & Love Is Strange) went to a party at a club in Harlem. Sylvia also had her own record label called “Platinum Records” which was not doing well. At the party she noticed the DJ who was also on the mic as an MC. He went by the name “Love Bug Starski.” Sylvia could not take her eyes off of him. After leaving the club she could not get “Starski” out of her mind. She saw something fresh and new that she felt could be big someday. It was not long until Sylvia Robinson founded the first hip hop record label…SUGAR HILL RECORDS. She and her son went out in search of a rapper that could thrill the world like she was thrilled watching “Love Bug Starski” in that Harlem club.
Sylvia Robinson and her son went to a local pizza shop to meet up with a guy who managed the Pizza spot and some of the local rappers. One of the rappers he managed was an amazing writer and member of the Cold Crush Brothers, “Grandmaster Caz.”
Sylvia and Joey rolled up and parked in the front of the shop and they asked, “Big Bank Hank” and a couple of his friends who also rapped a little to come out to the car to audition for her new record label. Big Bank Hank did not have lyrics of his own, so he started rapping lyrics that he knew. Those lyrics belonged to Grandmaster Caz (who was also known as Casanova Fly). Hank also managed Caz.
Sylvia loved what she heard from all three of the guys. They went by the monikers of Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike, and Master Gee. Although she was only looking for one rapper to sign to her record label she decided that all three should be signed as a group. Sylvia Robinson did not know that Big Bank Hank’s lyrics were taken from another Rapper that Hank happened to manage.
Sylvia signed all of them and they became the “The Sugar Hill Gang.” Now Hank was in a real jam because he had no writing or real rapping skills of his own. He called his friend and client that he managed Grandmaster Caz. Hank asked Caz if he could borrow his lyric book to use some of his lyrics and rhymes. Caz thought if Hank’s group took off that it would be a break for him and “Cold Crush” as well. Caz handed over his precious lyric book to Hank. Back then, getting a record deal was new territory so Caz did not fully understand what could happen to him by handing over his “coveted and priceless” lyric book.
When The Sugar Hill Gang released their first BIG single “Rappers Delight” it took the world by storm. The song exploded on radio and the charts. It even cracked the Top 40 charts. The lyrics of Grandmaster Caz were now popular and made famous by “Big Bank Hank.” Fans were now rapping along to the lyrics of “The Sugarhill Gang”…so they thought!
FUN FACT (for everyone but Grandmaster Caz)
When Wonder Mike introduced Big Bank Hank in the beginning of Rappers Delight, this is what went down on the record.
Wonder Mike said….
“Well, so far you’ve heard my voice, but I brought two friends along….And next on the mic is my man Hank: come on, Hank, sing that song”
Then Big Bank Hank said…..
“Check it out: I’m the C-a-s-an-the-o-v-a, and the rest is f-l-y”
Hank didn’t even change the part in the song that actually spells out Caz’s original moniker, CASANOVA FLY. When Rapper’s Delight and the Sugarhill Gang shot to world-wide fame and fortune, our man C-a-s-an-the-o-v-a…f-l-y never saw a “p-e-nn-y” of royalties.
Caz did NOT get paid. The lyrics were “straight-up stolen,” No songwriting and credit and NO PAY! There were also other parts of the song that sounded much like lyrics that were performed during live sets in the clubs. It kind of makes you wonder how many lyrics were truly original and written for “Rappers Delight”
FUN FACT #2:
Rapper’s Delight was originally a 15-minute song that was recorded in just ‘ONE TAKE’. Black radio played the entire 15-minute version of the song but that was not suitable for pop radio, so the guys recorded a 7-minute version that introduced pop fans to the infectious hit song.
FUN FACT #3
I have always found this verse remarkably interesting…….
“A time to break and a time to chill
To act civilized or act real ill
But whatever ya do in your lifetime
Y’never let a MC steal your rhyme!”
FUN FACT #4
In the classic hip hop film “Wild Style” from 1983, Grandmaster Caz plays himself. This film is a must see and one to own for all old-school hip-hop fans.
Get it here: Wild Style on DeepDiscount.com
Although Grandmaster Caz received no writers credit or pay for his contribution to “Rappers Delight,” he is often acknowledged as the writer that took hip hop to the mainstream with the first “hit rap record.” Rappers Delight has now sold over 14 million copies…and counting.
In addition to Caz’s lyrics being stolen, the songs track also included a replayed sample of Chic’s “Good Times.” The two writers of “Good Times” sued Sugar Hill Records for copyright infringement. Writers, Nile Rodgers, and Bernard Edwards are now credited as songwriters on “Rappers Delight.”
My personal relationship to Rappers Delight….
Back in 1996, I had the concept in mind for an album that would be a tribute to some of the biggest rappers of the past.
Prominent rappers were asked to record “remakes” of their favorite rap songs that paid homage to the original songs and rappers.
On November 25, 1997 “In tha Beginning There Was Rap” was released and I was the Executive Producer.
Erick Sermon of EPMD, Keith Murray, and Redman (who had a close relationship with the Wu Tang Clan) recorded their remake of “Rappers Delight” for the album under the name “DEF SQUAD.” Their version also became a huge hit that pushed my album to #4 on the hip hop charts and into the Top 20 on the pop charts. Within two months the album achieved gold status, selling over 500,000 copies.
If you read Part 1 of “HIP HOP HOORAY” you heard that one of the true honors of my life was working with “DJ Grandmaster Caz” at the United Nations club in LA. In addition to being an important writer and MC, Caz is an enormously talented DJ.
Thanks to all of you that have sent messages concerning my hip hop features. I am glad that you enjoy hearing about the beginning of this important and historical era in hip hop.
I will be writing about several things that come to mind for October, but I will also keep the features coming on Hip Hop….Part IV is in the works now, so come on back for more!