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Pioneer hip-hop group hits South Shore

Greg Risling

Music’s pioneer hip-hop group, the Sugarhill Gang, came to town Sunday evening, raised the roof and then promptly brought the house down.

The sold-out crowd at Mulligan’s – the group’s only West Coast date – was entertained for an hour plus that culminated with the anthem that started the rap phenomenon, “Rapper’s Delight.”

“I know everyone has eaten some bad food at a friend’s place,” said Michael Wright, known as “Wonder Mike.” “It was then I knew I had to put some words on paper.”

The song that talks about everyday life has been remixed recently for a compilation CD that honors hip-hop’s creators and even is used in the new movie “The Wedding Singer,” where an elderly lady starts spitting out the famous lyrics.

The rap trio, joined by Grandmaster Mellie Mel, saved “Rappers Delight” for last and were joined on stage by some howling fans.

“They have been primarily touring at ski resorts,” said Billy Drewitz, booking manger at Mulligan’s. “It’s like a vacation for them. I think their tour is a bigger deal than most of today’s hip-hop bands.”

The Sugarhill Gang is considered one of the industry’s innovators and a legend among the rap community. Starting in 1979, the group was part of the first wave of hip-hop artists who included Grandmaster Flash, the Treacherous Three and Spoonie Gee. But it wasn’t until the 15-minute “Delight” that rap found a permanent place on radio airwaves across the nation.

The gang is comprised of “Wonder Mike,” who was a furniture mover and painter in New Jersey before he crossed paths with fame; “Big Bank Hank,” a former nose tackle at Texas Tech University who still looks as young as when he helped start the hip-hop craze; and “Master Gee,” originally Guy O’Brien but who has been replaced by the group’s manager, Joey Robinson Jr.

A record label was quickly formed and named after the group. The label attracted some of the East Coast’s first rap stars, including Mellie Mel who was a disc jockey for Grandmaster Flash . Rhino Records recently capitalized on the old school reunion by releasing a five-CD box set in January that chronicles the origins of hip-hop.

The Sugarhill Gang toured for several years, landing in Lake Tahoe in 1983. After returning to nine-to-five jobs, the group decided it was time to hit the road. They have been playing at packed auditoriums reviving old school classics like “White Lines” and “I Feel For You.” They are headed to Europe next for a series of concerts and word has it the group is back in the studio to record another album.

“We’ve always liked Tahoe,” said Mellie Mel. “The crowd was definitely loud tonight and you always appreciate that.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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