Various Artists

Sugar Hill Story: To the Beat Y'All

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A welcome and definitive retrospective of the beginnings of commercial rap, the three-CD British import To the Beat Y'all-The Sugar Hill Story collects many of the most worthwhile tracks released by Sylvia Robinson's innovative, pioneering Sugarhill Records label. Robinson and Sugarhill took the novel brand of music heard booming from sound-systems set up at inner city block parties and clubs and not only made it palatable to the wider listening audience, but literally invented hip-hop culture as we know it. Musically, the collection focuses on Sugarhill's brief but groundbreaking three-year run commenced by the Sugar Hill Gang's classic (and commercially successful, selling eight million copies) "Rapper's Delight" in 1979 and ending in 1982 when Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" ushered in a new progressive era in hip-hop. It is unlikely rap music would have ever flourished without Sugarhill Records and the singles that were released on the label; To the Beat Y'all is a perfect reminder of that. The taut, streamlined classic hits of Melle Mel, the Furious Five and Grandmaster Flash's groundbreaking and influential turntable masterpiece, "Adventures of Grand Master Flash on the Wheels of Steel" are here -- as are hits by notable names such as Spoonie Gee, Funky Four + One Busy Bee, Treacherous Three and go-go band Trouble Funk. Then too, there are also a great number of equally excellent surprises, one-hit wonders, and novelties: the female trio Sequence, the sensationally dance-worthy breakbeat-heavy "Break Dancin'-Electric" by West Street Mob; the lean funk groove of Wayne & Charlie's "Check It Out"; and Reggie Griffin's proto-electro cut "Mirda Rock." Most of these selections still resonate 20 years later with the same energy, freshness, and humor. It's amazing and occasionally shocking to hear, in their original contexts, all of the catchphrases, lines, and mottoes that have been subsequently sampled as hooks, referenced by countless MCs and DJs, and so absorbed and etched into the legacy and lore of hip-hop that they seem almost anonymous or part of the public domain. These songs are literally the bricks that built the foundation of rap music.

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