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Sugarhill Gang feat Melle Mel & Scorpio live at Concorde 2, Brighton (published in Metro, August 2015)

These,” according to Melle Mel, “are the groups that build the pyramids of hip hop.” Well, yes and no. Cognitive dissonances abounded on this double bill. “I'm Big Bank Hank!”, shouted a Sugarhill Gang member who wasn't. (The real Hank died in November.) “We're the Furious Five!”, shouted precisely two members of that depleted troupe.

Once upon a time, both acts were trailblazers. If “Rapper's Delight” by Sugarhill Gang wasn't strictly the first rap record, it was the one absolutely everyone heard. Fifteen minutes of goofy bragging and tall tale-telling over a bassline stolen from Chic's “Good Times”, but a world-changing track on its 1979 release.

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five brought a chilling urban realism to rap with “The Message” in 1982, blew many a teenage mind by storming Channel 4's The Tube dressed like P-Funk Hell's Angels, and – after a membership reshuffle – laid down an all-time party classic with deeply ambiguous anti-cocaine romp “White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)”.

Both were on Sylvia Robinson's Sugarhill label (interesting that in a genre perceived as male-centric, the first major power in the industry was a woman), whose rainbow-curlicued logo was a guarantee of quality.

In 2015, not so much. The remaining Gang members Wonder Mike and Master Gee (plus the pretend Big Bank Hank) began with a karaoke section, cavorting in sequinned tops to other artists' chestnuts (“Walk This Way”, “Jump Around”), setting the tone for a show which had more padding than an ice hockey goaltender: endless hands-in-the-air cliches, a pointless fish-in-a-barrel assassination of Vanilla Ice, an intelligence-insulting nursery rhyme section, and a wedding disco ending (the moment any hip hop show irrevocably jumps the shark is when the DJ drops “Smells Like Teen Spirit”).

Melle Mel, who has the formidable V-shaped physique of a retired heavyweight champion, and sidekick Scorpio, who has the nerve to wear a Grandmaster Flash T-shirt (Flash having quit the band 32 years ago in a royalties dispute), deliver their hits in style, plus Mel's cameo on Chaka Khan's “I Feel For You” cut short by a gunshot, but when Sugarhill Gang return for “Rapper's Delight”, they manage just five minutes before rewinding to start again. Most audience members could get to the eleven minute mark without even consulting the internet.

Rappers delight? Sometimes. Rest of the time? Rappers disappoint.










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