NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t AIR

In 1979, producer Sylvia Robinson heard hip-hop music at a birthday party in Harlem and had a hunch that it would be commercially successful. She called her son, Joey Robinson Jr., and asked him to gather a group of musicians who could perform like the rappers she saw in Harlem. She then held makeshift auditions for a rap group outside a pizza parlor in Englewood, N.J. “She put these three guys together who had never met each other before, had the backing track all ready and created a record in a matter of minutes,” says Dan Charnas, a former rap industry executive who chronicles the history of hip-hop in a new book, The Big Payback. The group that Robinson put together, Charnas says, would become the Sugarhill Gang, and the track they recorded was “Rapper’s Delight,” the first hip-hop single to break into the Top 40 charts. “Basically, it’s a record that created an industry,” Charnas says. “Nobody thought the stuff that was in the streets was even music. It was stuff that people did at parties. But Sylvia Robinson had the notion that she could turn it into a record. And she did, and it was extremely successful, due in no small part to her own production genius.” Dan Charnas has worked on projects with Rick Rubin, Sir Mix-A-Lot, DJ Kool, Special Ed and Run-D.M.C. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Scratch Magazine, The Chicago Tribune and The Source. He was also a music supervisor on the Showtime program Interscope Presents: The Next Episode.

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