Master Gee of the legendary rap group the Sugarhill Gang joins Michael Franti’s Stay Human podcast for a discussion about his rap career, the success of “Rapper’s Delight” and more.
Growing up with a dad who was a sound engineer, it isn’t hard to imagine that Gee’s transition into playing music would be pretty easy. Starting on the drums, Gee explains that during his early teenage years music was everywhere in the neighborhood. Music became a way for him to escape his “weird childhood”— a topic he digs into further throughout the episode.
“I used to get a shopping cart from the supermarket, this place called Food Town, load my drums up and then push my drums to my friend’s house,” Gee recounted. “Then, I’d set up in the basement, and then we’d jam. That was something we would do… I had great friends. Guys on the block, we grew up together, we went to school together. There were a lot of good things happening outside of the house.”
Nevertheless, at some point in his teens, Gee felt like it was time for him to step up and start paying his dues, which is when DJing came onto his radar. In the episode, he shares how DJing helped him discover rapping. Everything happened in accordance with “fate” as Gee calls it.
“So I’m in the backyard at this party in Paterson, New Jersey and I say ‘Okay, Imma come drop this rhyme on them.’ This is like the first time I got my rhyme together. So they dance and dance to the drums and everybody was moving and I come and drop this rhyme. Well, as soon as I get into the rhyme, everybody turned around and looked at me and for a second, I got scared. I was like, ‘Oh snap,’ because, as a DJ, you don’t want to clear the floor. That’s like the cardinal sin. But I didn’t stop, I just kept going on. And the cool thing was they looked at me at first, but they kept dancing. They never stopped dancing. And then they kind of turned around and kept on doing what they was doing. And I was like, ‘Okay, this is it.’ That was my aha moment.”
From there, the rest is history. He recounts meeting Sylvia Robinson and her vision for the Sugarhill Gang as well as the moment he realized “Rapper’s Delight” was blowing up everywhere.
As far as what it means to be human, as Franti always asks at the end of his episodes, Gee is clear with his answer: spreading love.
“Human to me is to understand the blessings that you have. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a big success musically or whatever. Understanding your blessings. Your ability to spread joy when you can or your ability to be able to just absorb whatever they got going on. That chance just to make it better. That to me is so important, man. Every day I work to try to give love and spread love. You know what I mean? I’ve been on a very serious journey where I love life, I hated life, I was in a dark place, I found the light again. And part of me finding the light is to always make sure that I’m giving out good vibrations, man. I’m making sure that people understand that I’m going to give what I’m getting and then, to that, I am thankful for what I have been given.”