Posts Tagged ‘Sylvia Robinson’

Hip Hop, the New York based culture that began in the 70s, gathered steam and creative potency in the ’80s and became the dominant popular culture of the 90s, and beyond; provided economic opportunity to those with entrepreneurial spirits in its early days. It gave us Rap Music-the voice of the voiceless that infused the moribund, early 80s record business with a dose of the beauty of the streets.

On the whole, poor, working and middle class Black people along with Jews with vision, combined to create a new industry that would shape all that it touched, and resulted in playing a huge role in Barack Obama being elected to the US Presidency.

Several recent developments have given me reason to look back on where we were then, and how we’ve gotten to where we are: Jay Electronica, the lyricist to beat in the current game, has teamed up with Mobb Deep to give us the heat rock, “Call of Duty”. The intro features an excerpt from a speech by Winston Churchill that’s used to good effect, Jay shouts the recently departed Steve Jobs out and makes a plea for international unity in his guise as the “Chosen One”. This is Jay Elect’s strongest effort since his “Exhibit C” shook things up, started a bidding war and landed him on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation imprint.




Speaking of Jay-Z; he and protégée, Kanye West’s “Watch The Throne” project has had much-needed new life breathed into it by using the recently freed, T.I. on a guest collabo on their “Niggas In Paris”. Def Jam will have great fun using this one to set up the Watch The Throne Tour.

While en route to Memphis University’s Midnight Madness jump off for the 2011-2012 basketball season, Def Jam hustler Rick Ross has experienced two seizures, and been admitted to a Birmingham Alabama area hospital for the second time. Details are murky.

Jive Records was finally laid to rest by RCA; the last brand standing. Corporate maneuvering has resulted in the old home to Whodini, Blastmaster KRS-1 and Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince finally being put out to pasture along with Arista, and J Records, the two labels started by Clive Davis.

Jive’s greatest Hip Hop signing, and former RUSH Productions management client, A Tribe Called Quest were the subjects of a Sony distributed documentary that played better theaters everywhere over the summer. I served as the music supervisor on the project. The film, “Beats Rhymes And Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called” will be released on DVD on 10/18. Coincidentally, this year is the 20th anniversary of the release of, “The Low End Theory” project, the game changer that set the Native Tongue movement off for real.


All of this Def Jam/RUSh related energy has made me look back. I met the late George Jackson, the Hollywood film producer who hailed from Harlem when I was the National Director of Promotion for Def Jam, the tiny independent that was partially based in the college dormitory room of co-founder, Rick Rubin. The other base of operations for the little label that could, was the office of RUSH, the production and management firm that Russell Simmons headed.

At that time, Jackson and his producing partner, Doug McHenry were producing,”Krush Grove” the fictionalized disaster that was loosely based on Def Jam.. We had plenty of opportunity to get to know each other. Jackson & McHenry enlisted me to convince Simmons that a then little known Blair Underwood would be ideal to play the starring role in the film. Jackson remembered that I had decent film instincts, solid music chops and mad contact when 5 years later, he was looking for a soundtrack home for another project of theirs.

This is the twentieth anniversary of the release of the film “New Jack City” the crack epic with the tight screenplay penned by the noted journalist and author, Barry Michael Cooper. Blaxploitation scion, Mario Van Peebles directed and Jackson and McHenry produced

The film made stars of Ice-T, Chris Rock and Wesley Snipes. The soundtrack made an overnight success of racially mixed new jack swingers, Color Me Badd by introducing their smash, “I Wanna Sex You Up” to a hungry film going and record buying consumer base, and Giant/Warner Brothers Records became players in the early 90s Black Music business. I had a large hand in curating the soundtrack, and you can read a more detailed account written by Tamika Anderson in the current issue of Juicy Magazine that’s on newsstands now.




Last night, Rubin and Simmons held a joint lecture at the New York Public Library to publicize the release of a somewhat historically truncated coffee table book that’s been curated by the label’s former publicist, Bill Adler and it’s art department head, Cey “City” Adams. The recently released book takes a look at the first 25 years of the label in this, the 27th year of it’s existence.

Tweeting live from the event was Andre “Dr. Jeckyl” Harrell, the former head honcho of Motown founder of Uptown Records, mentor to Diddy, Mary J.Blige, Heavy D and Al B.Sure, former VP of RUSH Nd the progenitor of the world view know as Ghetto Fabulous. It was in his capacity as an executive at RUSh, that he convinced Russell Simmons to hire me as the first employee of the label that initially recorded The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.

During Rick and Russell’s talk, Harrell began to Tweet about the late Sylvia Robinson, who along with her husband Joe, founded Hip Hop’s first dominant label, Sugar Hill Records, and how he’d inadvertently crashed his car while we were riding down the tree-lined street where the Robinson’s lived, when I pointed out the home of my former boss. Harrell was a kid from the Boogie Down and was overcome with excitement when he got his first glimpse of how much comfort a Hip Hop mogul’s money could by.





Sylvia and Joe’s oldest son, Joey, picked me off of one of the basketball courts in Soul City, and gave me my first shot in the record business by making me the head of college radio promotion for the label. I spoke with him on Monday, and conveyed my condolences on his mother’s passing.

Mrs. Robinson’s funeral was last Tuesday in Soul City. She was brought to the Community Baptist mega church, in my old neighborhood, by a horse-drawn carriage, reaffirming for one last time that there was truth in the title of her last hit as an artist; “It’s Good To Be The Queen”. RIP

I met Harrell in the VIP of the Roxy, the Money Making Manhattan based, roller skating disco that turned into Hip Hop central every Friday night in the mid 80s. It is the place where I first met Rick Rubin, Kurtis Blow, Rev. Run, saw Madonna perform to a track in a half empty club, and heard the Zululu overlord, Afrikaa Bambatta spin breaks, beats and classics for Hip Hop’s first crossover audience. Russell “Rush” Simmons woke Harrell from a sound sleep so that we he could be introduced.

A friend from Soul City was the son of one of the earliest Black card holders in one of the stage hand union’s for film. As a result, he was grandfathered in, and was working on Hollywood film sets in the early 80s. He’d been working on “Beat Street”, Hollywood’s earliest attempt to cash in on the Hip Hop heat that was based on the goings on at the Roxy.

My man had a lot of access, and had copped a couple of tickets to a break dancing and rapping contest that Coca Cola was sponsoring at Radio City. He came by my crib, scooped me, and we hopped on a bus and the A Train to mid-town. Inside the hall, a trio of overweight MCs called the Disco 3 won the rap contest. They would eventually rename themselves the Fat Boys, and would be positioned by Russell Simmons in conversations as the Monkees to Run/DMC, his little brother’s more serious band, who he viewed as Hip Hop’s Beatles.

The evening of the contest was a beautiful Spring New York evening. It was 1983 and the night that I met Russell Simmons, the man who along with Joey Robinson would be most responsible for my being embraced by the Hip Hop community. It is ironic that Joey’s mother, whose creative success inspired an industry was laid to rest the same week that DJ Double R and Rush were reminiscing about the label that picked up the baton that Sugar Hill passed on, and took it to a place that Jay-Z and Kanye are still running with. I love Hip Hop. This was a week that reminded me.

Shouts to Rush, Dr. Jeckyl, The Beasties, James Todd Smith, Glen E., Heidi Smith, The Ab, Tokyo Rose, Barry Weiss, Karen Durant, Chrissy Murray, Nelson George, Joey Robinson, Iris Perkins, Leslie, Sharon and Ruby, Flash, Master Gee and…The Wirk

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The playa has returned to his roots. Record promotion is where it all started for me, and that’s what’s up right now. New millennium R&B crooner, Carl Thomas is back with, “Don’t Kiss Me” a stellar mid-tempo ballad with a retro feel to it, and I am working it at radio. The record has started to garner airplay in the northeast already, and readers of this blog can hear early spins on WDAS-FM in Philadelphia, and in New York on WRKS-FM. Carl means business, and so do I.

Carl Thomas


I began to acquire my skills and feeling to promote records to radio, when I was a young, eager apprentice in the promotion department of Sugar Hill Records; history’s first internationally important rap label. The company was located at 96 West Street in Englewood, New Jersey. Soul City to frequent readers of this blog, long time residents, and true followers of the post 60’s American Black Music industry.

Because Soul City provided a more suburban and upscale experience, it became a mecca for members of the Black Music industry. And the King & Queen of the Black Music scene in Soul City were the late, Joe & Sylvia Robinson-co-founders of the All Platinum group of Soul Music labels, and Hip Hop’s first great label, Sugar Hill Records. In a town that Wilson Pickett, The Isley Brothers, George Benson, the Mizell Brothers, Van McCoy, Clyde Otis, Ed Townsend, Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Murphy & John Travolta all called home at one time or another, Joe and Sylvia Robinson held sway over Soul City’s music community.

For the uninitiated, uninformed, the casual follower and the expert alike, it’s occasionally instructive to look back. The roots of hip hop go back to the early ’70s when DJ Kool Herc played a party in the recreation center for his sister in The Boogie Down Bronx. He began the practice of playing the most exciting parts of records that appeared in the middle of them, “the breaks” and rhythmically talking over them. Some of the early adopters of this novel approach to party music were colorfully named MCs; Cold Crush Brothers, Busy Bee, Treacherous Three, DJ Hollywood, Funky 4 + 1 More, Kurtis Blow, Grand Master Flash and The Furious 5 and others.

Forward thinking club owners, and independent party promoters began to take advantage of the exclusionary admission practices of New York’s mid-town dance music palaces (Studio 54, Xenon), identified a new niche and began to cater to the burgeoning hip hop audience by booking MCs to perform live.

People from Harlem, The Bronx and Soul City flowed through each others neighborhoods freely. Among them were, Joey Robinson, the eldest son of the Robinsons. Legend has it that it was Joey who frequented Harlem World, a hot club that was one of the early spots that catered to the Hip Hop audience, and guided his parents to the new art form that was being performed in the rec centers, parks and clubs of the city. This eventually led to a party being thrown at Harlem World for Sylvia, where she witnessed the excitement being generated by this new thing.

Joe & Sylvia Robinson


You could catch on as a percussionist with the Isleys, a roadie with Benson, or as a gopher with Pickett. But with the Robinsons, you could be a singer, musician, producer, or up and coming exec and not necessarily have had a great deal of previous professional experience. You could have also been the former leader of a classic standup vocal harmony group like Philipe “Soul” Wynne of the Spinners, or Harry Ray of the Moments, and gotten a shot at the charts one more time.

The music business is not just musicians, artists, publishers, retailers, labels and venues. It’s not just programming for radio stations and network TV. When it’s done well, it’s money for restaurants that serve label staff members, receptionists, janitorial employees, florists, cab drivers that pick up and deliver clients, car dealers who lease and sell vehicles to artists, and execs; real estate agents who make their living by catering to the needs of music industry pros, sponsorship money for Little League baseball teams, membership fees for teams in Harlem’s Entertainers Basketball Classic and more. At the heart of all of this economic activity sits hit records and hit record making. And Sylvia Robinson’s ear, studio chops and Joe Robinson’s business moxie, kept it a little hotter for many of us who were satellites in their orbit.

I got to watch Joe operate, and string the promotion, pressing, distribution and sales together. His records were wholesaled through a network of independent distributors, who controlled the sale of records in their various territories. I saw and heard Sylvia practice her craft in the studio, and pour the feeling that she’d acquired as a child star, label head, writer, producer and hit maker for parts of four decades into several sessions.

They were affectionately known by members of their staff, and extended family as Mr. and Mrs. Rob. Joe passed on in 2000 and Sylvia last Thursday morning. They were truly two genius level entrepreneurs in this thing of ours. I will forever be grateful to them for having taken a chance on an untried and untested kid, and showing me what has been my way of life for all of my adult experience. RIP, Sylvia Robinson, you did your thing.

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