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The Sugarhill Gang Goes Downhill

November 25, 2009

| Image by City Paper Digi-Cam

The historic early hip-hop trio Sugarhill Gang are currently on a 30th anniversary tour, commemorating a career that began with the release of the watershed single “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979. And that might feel like more of a momentous occasion if not for the fact that it feels like the Sugarhill Gang had already been taking victory laps for its early accomplishments for, well, almost three decades now. So the performance Wednesday night in Baltimore, at Ram’s Head Live, couldn’t help but feel anticlimactic, yet another chance to see three fiftysomethings run through their handful of classic singles in T-shirts and track pants. Even with the support of several opening acts from Baltimore’s underground hip-hop scene, including Ogun, A-Class, and Saleem and the Music Lovers, the headliners pulled in a sparse crowd that couldn’t have have been more than 200 people strong, if that, in the cavernous venue.

After running through non-”Rapper’s Delight” such as “8th Wonder,” the headliners finally got around to closing the show with their raison d’etre. It’s almost impossible to overstate the significance of “Rapper’s Delight,” but Wonder Mike still found a couple ways in his brief introduction of the song on Wednesday, including the dubious boasts that it was both “the first rap record ever made” and “still the highest-selling” rap record of all time. Most disappointing of all, the trio couldn’t even be bothered to perform all 14 minutes of the signature song-which is kinda like going to see Iron Butterfly and getting just one verse and chorus of “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida.” After the first 5 minutes of the track, the DJ dropped the beat, and Wonder Mike mentioned that he was going to perform a verse they don’t usually do live and rapped the infamous rhyme about his girlfriend’s terrible cooking a cappella. It was a fun, spontaneous moment that the crowd ate up, but also one that felt unearned. Shouldn’t we expect him to perform that part, not be grateful that he was in the mood to tell us about how the chicken tasted like wood?