"The First Family of Hip-Hop" aim to revitalize Sugar Hill Records
The family sit with REVOLT to talk new series and new music.
Started in 1979 by married couple Sylvia and Joe Robinson, Sugar Hill Records blazed a trail and helped lay a foundation in hip-hop with a roster that included the Sugar Hill Gang, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five and the Kool Moe Dee led Treacherous Three. Not only has the output of classics from the company including “Rapper’s Delight,” “The Message” and “White Lines,” help hip-hop touch the mainstream while making Sugar Hill one of the number one labels at the time, but the timeless music that has been sampled by everyone from Jay Z, Diddy, Kanye West and Ice Cube has kept the Sugar Hill name alive despite not putting out any hits in over 30 years. Now, the next generations of the Robinson Family are stepping to the plate to try and add on to the music legacy on the new show “First Family of Hip-Hop.”
Described by the family as a “docu-series” as opposed to a reality show, “First Family” centers around Sylvia and Joe’s son Leland Robinson, his children Leland Jr, Lea (an aspiring singer), and Darnell, the siblings’ cousins Antonio, Rhondo, and Shanell, better known as Lady Luck. Luck’s girlfriend Somaya Reece is also a big part of the show.
The series picks up with the family in the midst of dealing with a great loss. Joe Jr, who was running Sugar Hill records and actively performing concerts as part of the Sugar Hill Gang, been dead a year and Leland has taken over the reins. While “Big Lee” has his vision for the company, his younger relatives have their own most of them think they should be running the label.
“It takes a lot to take that position that I’m in,” Leland SR says about wearing the crown. “It’s a lot of hard work to take that potion.”
“I’m still learning [the business] myself,”Lea told REVOLT on Friday about wearing the crown as the head of the label. “But I know as a woman and as an artist I’m fit for this. I was born into this and I’m fit for the job. I’m still learning day by day but I know that my grandmother would have loved this, if her granddaughter was in charge, running this whole ship. It’s a really interesting part of the show and it makes it different because from other shows because besides the fact we are a real family having our beefs, having our good times, you still get a history lesson as well, which is most important. We want people to learn. With us, we’re all learning together.”
Good, bad or indifferent, “The First Family” says we’ll see it all. They didn’t shy away from the cameras.
“I’ve always been 100,” Somaya Reece said. “[Luck] has always been 100 times 20. This is definitely a different side you will see of Ms. Lady Luck. She’s still a beast, don’t get it fucked up.”
“I’m not used to reality TV,” Luck, who even shed tears on camera, described. “Even though the cameras were always there, this was real emotions going on. It really documented things that we were really going through at the time. No, I don’t cry, I don’t be doing that much. But in certain situations, that affected my ‘thump thump’ [heart]. And we let those out.”
“I always say this, whatever you put out there, if you said it or you did it, you meant for people to see it,” rationalized Rhondo, the producer in the family. “If you ain’t want it to be seen or heard, don’t say it. They don’t force you to say anything.”
“It’s a lot of characters, it’s fun,” Darnell described. “Everything that happened on television is real with us. It was 100 percent real. It was no fabrication. It was no ‘let’s set up this or that.’ It was ‘pick up the camera and shoot.’”
Leland SR, who used to be an A&R at Motown records and worked with such acts as Queen Pen and 3LW, says Sugar Hill’s catalog and the royalties from all the artists who sample that catalog has been handsomely generating revenue for decades, but the label does have some big records in the vault that they are looking to release.
“We’ve got hits after hits after hits,” he promised. “We’ve got some songs with Jay Z, we’ve got some songs with Pitbull, we’ve got some songs with Kanye West, we’ve got songs with Chris Brown, so where is it that we’re not relevant? We’re just making what they call quiet money.
“There’s a few different sides of the record business,” he added. “There’s the artist side, there’s the company itself, the publishing. The masters part of it. We own it all, so we’re able to do a lot more things than other people can do. It means a lot. Coming up our parents taught what was more important than anything else in this music business, which was the publishing. As long as you kept the publishing, you always going to keep the money. Artist will come and go, but the publishing is forever. Being taught ‘own your own’ means a lot.”
“I feel like from the old generation to now, they’re going to see a big difference,” Rhondo detailed. “We may never be able to do what my grandmother did. You may never be able to start another rap label but we can take it to a whole ‘nother level that they may not have been able take it to. And [my grandparents] took it to a level that’s astronomical. Obviously, because everybody from here to Shang -Hi knows what rap music is and that’s what we’re going to do with the show and with our music is take our family’s history to the next level.”
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