LOS ANGELES (AP) — Remember the first rap song you heard? Some of your favorite rappers and DJs certainly do. While hip-hop celebrates 50 years of life, The Associated Press asked some of the genre’s most popular artists to recall their first memory of hearing rap and how the moment resonated with them.
In interviews with more than two dozen hip-hop legends, Queen Latifah Chuck D, Method Man, E-40 and eight others cited The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” as the first rap song they heard. But not all were hooked on the new musical style by that track, and their answers reveal the sense of discovery that marked rap’s early years. (Watch videos of the artists describing their early hip-hop influences here.)
Hip-hops roots are traced to 1973 in the Bronx and it took a few years before rap records emerged — “Rapper’s Delight” was a major catalyst for introducing the rap music to a much broader audience.
Here are the stories of a dozen hip-hop stars who got hooked on the genre around the time “Rapper’s Delight” ruled. In part two, another group of legends and young stars reminisce about connecting with rap by hearing songs by acts like Tupac Shakur, Grandmaster Flash, 2 Live Crew or Run-D.M.C.
As a sophomore at Adelphi University, Chuck D was about to hit the stage to perform over the melody of Chic’s “Good Times” at a party in October 1979.
At least, that’s what he thought.
When he stepped behind the microphone, Chuck D heard a different version of the song. It kept going and going for — 15 minutes straight.
“I get on the mic to rock the house. Then all of a sudden, I hear words behind me as I’m rockin’. I lipsync. The words keep going. (Expletive) are rockin’ for like 20 minutes,” said Chuck D, a member of the rap group Public Enemy who created “ Fight the Power,” one of hip-hop’s most iconic and important anthems.
“After it’s all over, cats are giving me high pounds like ‘You went on and on to the break of dawn dawg,’” he continued. “Back then, it’s about how long you can rap. I went and turned to the DJ and looked at the red label that said ‘Sugarhill Gang ‘Rapper’s Delight.’ I was like ’Oh, they finally did it.’ They were talking all summer long that rap records were going to happen.”
He was stunned: I was, like, ’It’s inconceivable. How could a rap be a record?′ I couldn’t see it. Nobody could see it. And then when it happened, boom.”
For Queen Latifah, “Rapper’s Delight” was the first rap song she and a lot of others heard and memorized where she grew up in Newark, New Jersey. But the biggest record in her world as a kid was Afrika Bambaattaa and the Soul Sonic Force’s 1982 song “ Planet Rock. ”
While the Oscar-nominated actor can be seen chasing bad guys on CBS’ “The Equalizer,” many forget her roots as a rapper, with hits like “U.N.I.T.Y. and “Just Another Day.”
“It changed the sound,” she said. “It’s more of a synthesized, 808s, hi-hats. The whole sound of it was different. Some of hip-hop in the original days was live music. It was live bands playing break records. Like ‘Good Times’ was the beat to ‘Rapper’s Delight.’ Some of those records took actual disco records, played the music and rhymed to them.”
While heading to school as a seventh grader in 1979, E-40 heard a new rap tune on a local radio station that normally played R&B and soul music in Northern California.
It was “Rapper’s Delight,” which interpolated Chic’s hit “Good Times.” That’s when he knew hip-hop was going to be a part of his life forever.
“I was like ‘Ohh, this is hard. I’m hooked,’” said E-40, who recalled the moment while driving to Franklin Middle School in Vallejo, California. He and fellow rapper B-Legit used to sport the same kind of fedora hats and big gold rope chains Run-D.M.C. performed in.
“From then on, I loved rap. In 1979, when I first heard The Sugarhill Gang, I wanted to be a rapper. I would play around with it. … We grew up on New York rap. All of us did. We wanted to be hip-hop. We wanted to breakdance. We did it all.
“But that changed everything after we heard Sugarhill Gang. Next thing you know, you’re hearing Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow and Roxannne, Roxanne.”
“Rapper’s Delight” was probably the first hip-hop song Lil Jon heard. But he became a “super fan” of the genre as a middle schooler in Atlanta after seeing rap groups the Fat Boys and Whodini. It was his first time seeing professional rappers onstage.
“I might have been a fan of rap before, but I had never been to a rap concert. I’ve never seen rappers in person,” he said. “Maybe just in the magazines. That turned me into like. … a super fan of hip-hop.”
The first hip-hop record Lil-Jon bought was Run D.M.C.’s “Sucker M.C.’s (Krush-Groove 1).”
“I remembered my homeboy that lived in the neighborhood. I had to go through some woods to his house with the album,” he said. “We put the album on at his house. We were going crazy over listening to lyrics and beats.”
Roxanne Shante’s first rap experience didn’t come in song form. She was introduced to hip-hop through the late comedian-poet Nipsey Russell.
“He had the ability to rhyme at any time,” said Shante, a host for SiriusXM’s Rock the Bells Radio. At age 14, she became one of the first female rappers to become popular after her song “Roxanne’s Revenge” and gained more notoriety as a member of the Juice Crew. She also took part in Roxanne Wars, which was a series of hip-hop rivalries in the mid-1980s.
Shante said “Rapper’s Delight” was the record most parents brought into their home as the “party song.” But in her mind, Russell had just as much of an impact.
“That would be my first encounter with loving what would become hip-hop,” she continued. “This way of having a certain cadence, this way of being able to do these certain rhymes was just incredible to me. … He was able to freestyle all day, every day. And that’s who I am. That’s what I still do today.”
It’s 1979. Too Short was around 13 years old. He normally listened to a variety of funk songs ranging from the Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster” and Funkadelic’s “Knee Deep.” Then one day at his father’s house, he heard “Rapper’s Delight” blaring through a stereo system.
“I was on my funk stuff, then this ‘Rapper’s Delight’ record came out and it was like 15 minutes long,” he recalled. “I’d be at my pop’s house just bumping the loud stereo.”
As “Rapper’s Delight” gained momentum in 1980, Too Short gravitated more toward beatboxing. That led him to hit up the local record store where he would buy the latest hip-hop album then blasted it on his radio for anyone to hear in Oakland.
“I had to get a radio with two speakers. That was mandatory,” he said. “I was the guy with the radio who was hitting play going ‘You ain’t never heard that before.’ … I had the whole room, the whole bus jumping.”
Hearing “Rapper’s Delight” for the first time changed the trajectory of Doug E. Fresh’s life.
“I remember when my sister came home and told me about a guy named D.J. Hollywood, who we considered the first real M.C.,” he said. “She came home and told me about a rap he had. And the rap went, ‘Ding, ding, ding, ding, dong, dong, dong the dang, the dang, dang, dang, the ding dong dong. To the hip hop. …’”
Fresh then added: “I turned around and said, ‘Teach me that, show me.’ And after that, it’s been me and hip-hop since that point.”
DJ Kid Capri, arguably one of hip-hop’s most famous DJs in the ’90s, grew up on soul music. His father was a soul singer. His grandfather played the trumpet. And his uncle, Bill Curtis, was the leader of the Fatback Band — which he says made the first hip-hop single “ King Tim III (Personality Jock) ” before “Rapper’s Delight” was released a few months later in 1979.
Capri’s uncle gave him the opportunity to hear a rap song for the first time.
“I was right there,” Capri said about the Fatback Band, a funk and disco ensemble who became known for their R&B hits including “(Do the) Spanish Hustle,” “I Like Girls” and “I Found Lovin’.” But it was “King Tim III” that had a strong influence on him — especially since it came from family.
“The world thinks ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was the first rap record, but it was ‘Personality Jock,’” he said. “My uncle, he’s my family. He’s the one that did it. So, I’ve always been around it. That’s what made me be so infectious in it, because I’ve seen every level to where I’m at right now. I took all those things important to me on stage right now. When you see me on stage, you can see all those things wrapped up in me.”
Yes, “Rapper’s Delight” was the first-ever rap song Method Man ever heard. But the first hip-hop song that really resonated with him was Run-D.M.C.’s “ Sucker MCs (Krush-Groove 1 ).”
“I had never heard this record and I thought I was up on everything at the time,” Method Man said of the 1983 song, which proceeded Run-D.M.C.’s first single “It’s Like That” from their self-titled album. He said “Sucker MCs” helped pave a way to usher in a new school of hip-hop artists.
“We were on a sixth-grade class trip to Long Island, and everybody was singing it word-for-word,” the “Power Book II: Ghost” actor remembered. “They must have played that record 24 times on our class trip.”
Around age 12, Big Daddy Kane might not have remembered all of his homework assignments, but he certainly could recite every lyric to the late Jimmy Spicer’s 1980 song “ Adventures of Super Rhymes,” one of hip-hop’s first songs recorded in a studio.
Kane heard “Rapper’s Delight” first, but Spicer’s storytelling on the 15-minute song resonated with him the most.
“When this song came out, just the way Jimmy Spicer was styling on them and telling the story about Dracula and a story about Aladdin, I thought it was real slick,” he said.
DJ Jazzy Jeff always had an affinity for music. But when the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” star heard “Rapper’s Delight” for the first time, he felt like the song spoke to him like no other.
“I think that was the first time I felt like the music was mine,” he said. “Before then, I loved the music, but the music was kind of my older brothers and sisters, and I just liked it because it was theirs. This was the one that somebody made just for me.”
Jermaine Dupri couldn’t have envisioned his successful career without listening to “Rapper’s Delight” around the age of 10.
“I remember the lyrics of the song. I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Dupri, a rap mogul who was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018. “I just started learning the song. I never knew it was going to take me on this journey.”