Defendants: Rhino Entertainment Co.; The Sanctuary Group; Sugar Hill Music Publishing Ltd.; Joseph Robinson Jr.
Accusation: Wonder Mike and Master G, two of three original members of Sugarhill Gang, say the son of the couple who signed them back in 1979 stole their names through fraudulent trademark applications and has put together a replacement band that performs — well, lip-syncs — Sugarhill’s songs. In a lawsuit filed October 20 in a Manhattan federal court, Wright and O’Brien also say the poseur is laying claim to their royalties, and that they haven’t been paid for at least fifteen years on any of their recordings.
Robinson’s parents are music mogul Joseph Robinson Sr. and Little Sylvia, of “Mickey and Sylvia” fame. Legend has it that Sylvia caught wind of the emerging trend of hip-hop on the streets of New York, came to check it out, and quickly assembled the three-man group that became the Sugarhill Gang. Their “Rapper’s Delight,” released in 1979, became the first hip-hop tune to hit the Top 40 charts, and it’s often credited with putting the genre — then dismissed as merely a fad — on the map.
“The group hasn’t done a whole lot since,” admits Wright and O’Brien’s attorney, Oren Warshavsky, in a telephone interview Tuesday. “But it is one of the seminal groups for rap music.” And, yes, Robinson now runs Sugar Hill Records, but, according to Warshavsky, he never recorded as a member of the group.
So why is this suit happening now, if Wright and O’Brien say they haven’t been paid in fifteen years? Maybe one bit in the sixteen-page complaint explains. “Robinson is considered to be an inadequate performer,” it says. “Audiences that see Robinson … performing under the names ‘Master Gee,’ ‘Master G’ and/or ‘Wonder Mike’ believe that they are viewing an inferior product.”
And nobody likes an inferior product.
Disposition: Now Wright and O’Brien are waiting for Robinson to respond to the complaint. Nothing is yet scheduled.
You can read the complaint here.