I Want My Name Back tells the story of the orginial Sugarhill Gang.
The lyrics “I said a hip hop, hippie to the hippie, the hip, hip a hop, and you don't stop,” don’t typically spawn thoughts of deception and greed. Although The Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 single “Rapper’s Delight” brought hip-hop to the world, changing the music industry forever, it is the sad truths that followed that reveal the far more meaningful story.
After 30 years of corruption, the band’s original creative and musical leaders Wonder Mike (Michael Wright) and Master Gee (Guy O’Brien) are breaking the silence and letting the world know that “the secret’s out, and the truth is the truth.” Their struggle to reclaim their identities, music and place in hip-hop history has been captured solemnly in the defying Roger Paradiso documentary, I Want My Name Back.
The film begins with the group’s three original members: Wright, O’Brien and Henry Franklin (Big Bank Hank). These three brought hip-hip to the masses and rose to international fame for their single “Rapper’s Delight.” Looking back, both Wright and O'Brien couldn’t be more thankful for that time. Wright recalled, “Every time I got to an iconic place, I had to stick my chest out and touch it. I got a chance to see so many different parts of the world.”
However, this story is no fairy tale. I Want My Name Back is your cautionary tale of label Sugar Hill Records and its owners, Sylvia and Joe Robinson, who took their artists for every dollar they made. The Robinsons were pivotal characters in the men’s lives.
“As far as Mrs. Robinson is concerned, she took me in for three months like a mother,” shared Wright. “She had a great ear for a hit even though she wasn’t into hip-hip; she was an aficionado.” He said that Sylvia’s passing in 2010 carried “bitter sweet, mixed emotions.”
When they finally realized that they were practically being robbed, Wright and O’Brien left the label. We then learn what happened after: the identity theft crimes that cheated musical history and stole their identity.
After Wright and O'Brien's departure, the Robinson’s son, Joey Jr., assumed the name and role of “Master Gee,” performing The Sugarhill Gang concerts along with Big Bank Hank and a “Wonder Mike” fill-in; they claimed to be the original group. Joey Jr. eventually went so far as to illegally copyright the names “Master Gee,” “Wonder Mike “and “The Sugarhill Gang.” If owning the names and royalties to all of Wright and O’Brien’s music wasn’t enough for Joey Jr., he went even further and came after them with threats of legal actions if the two tried to perform as the artists they have always been.
“We don’t have time for this,” Wright claimed, “but we will. Our hearts aren’t made of stone.”
In the film, we learn that the battle against the Robinsons has never been about the money for Wright and O’Brien. It was about their mission to legally reclaim the identity of their show names and having an honest platform to reestablish themselves as musicians. O’Brien said, “We are who we are, and we’re not gone.”
Oddly enough, even before “Rapper’s Delight” ever hit stores, lies plagued the track. When Big Bank Hank first spit the lyrics, “But whatever you do in your lifetime/You never let an MC steal your rhyme," the world never would have guessed this irony: his verses are actually those of hip-hop legend Grandmaster Caz, formerly known as Casanova Fly.
“Hank wasn’t a writer and still isn’t a writer; he had a great voice. It’s been known for a while. You better believe he [Grandmaster Caz] will get his props. There is nothing we try to hide,” said Wright.
Joey Jr. may have run their names through the dirt, but the original Master Gee and Wonder Mike are not ready to let The Sugarhill Gang be their last mark on the music industry. In the documentary, we see their fight to recapture their rightful names and begin reconnecting with their global audience through their old classics and new eclectic-style hip-hop. They are no longer The Sugarhill Gang. Instead, they are Rapper’s Delight with Master Gee, Wonder Mike and Henn Dogg. Wright and O’Brien will be first to tell you, though, that Henn Dogg isn’t the original Big Bank Hank, and they want nothing to do with him either.
O’Brien believes their recent international tours have proven that they “still remain in the hearts and minds of a lot of people around the world.”
“Our influence is on the rise,” he said, “because we are being let in through the world of social media. The people are making it happen.”
I Want My Name Back is currently available on DVD.
Article posted on 7/12/2013
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