Hip-Hop is equally loved and commodified. Within every instance of present day pop culture, hip-hop manages to find a place, either casually informing or directly navigating its course. Despite acceptance into the mainstream, many have forgotten, if not been completely ignorant to its expansive history.
Shift to Sylvia Robinson.
Today, Robinson passed away at the age of 75. Her name is more likely to draw a look of recognition from someone of my mother’s generation more so than my own. And yet, she is a figure who has in so many ways shaped my current investment in hip-hop music.
Known to many as “the mother of hip-hop,” Robinson not only founded the groundbreaking music label Sugar Hill Records, but spearheaded two of the genre’s most important singles, The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message.” Robinson’s greatest contribution may have come in her role as a pioneer in the art of music sampling, a technique that would go on to drive the majority of hip-hop records through the present.
My own introduction to Robinson was slightly more devilish, however. Grazing through a collection of older records, I came across the sultry bedroom classic “Pillow Talk” recorded by Robinson in 1973, under the name “Sylvia.” Robinson carried the song’s loose production and hedonistic lyricism with a sensual vocal performance, making an unforgettable mark on the music scene as a viable solo performer.
Looking back on her career, it’s almost comical to think that we live in a generation that widely labels its female rappers solely by gender and rarely recognizes them outside of an occasional moment of inappropriate oversexualization. Despite many of hip-hop’s issues around gender and sexuality, it was, against obvious odds, built by a woman. However, you may feel about the business side of artistic creation, Robinson’s achievements, not only for a woman, but any individual within this particular arena, are beyond admirable and deserving of praise. She is truly the mother of my generation’s first love. Today we mourn the loss of one of music’s most important ambassadors, Sylvia Robinson.