The Jews who kept Hip Hop Alive


Hip Hop culture came from the grit and dirt steaming out of the ghettos of New York City. The squaller and filth is what made the aesthetic so authentic. However, it was a period of heavy decline for the city itself. The city’s budget had been drowning further into the pits of hell. By the time Abe Beame became Mayor of New York City his dapper predecessor, the boyishly handsome Republican by the name of John Lindsey, had brought the coiffeurs to the brink. Beame, who was demonized by the time he ran again in 1977, slashed and burned all that he could. Unfortunately this meant that the very heart of New York City’s institutions would never be the same again. Gone were the days of free College education as it was before he put into effect mandatory tuition costs. The City University of New York system prided itself on free education and the best quality. That was done away with including heavy cuts to the municipalities, cuts to the police force and the firefighters, and all after school programs, as well as cutting resources. This was the breeding ground for Hip Hop, and you can see the history written for your very eyes in the history books.

After the boiler explosions and many crazy innovations, which swept up by 1977, Hip Hop became more tangible. By 1979 the first Hip Hop recordings were pressed and released on vinyl. Most of the early recordings were seen as novelties, yet the sound caught the attention of Sylvia Robinson. Robinson, along with her husband Joe capitalized on the market by forming the first real Hip Hop label, Sugar Hill Records.

The irony rang clear in the choice of the name. Sugar Hill is a run down ghetto in Harlem, which was called sugar hill due to the cream of the crop of black intellectuals who lived there in the early part of the century. However, by the 1960’s the area was neglected and disheveled so it rang as an authentic ghetto. Sugar Hill records was based out of New Jersey, which was a slap in the face of the many originators who hailed and lived Hip Hop straight from its source, the South Bronx. Sylvia Robinson managed to usher in the new era of big recordings, starting with the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” released in 1979. The label picked up acts like the Funky 4 plus 1 more, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to name a few. However, after the shady deals, and the fact that the artists were not seeing a dime on the return profits, the label feel apart. This left a vacuum for small labels to pick up these artists and record them, when the world mostly saw this as a fad or they hadn’t heard anything at all. In come the Jews!!!

Dan Charnas writes that “By 1984, Sugar Hill Records – the Black-owned company that dominated the early years of rap on record – had been eclipsed by other, smaller companies run mostly by young, Jewish entrepreneurs and executives like Cory Robbins, Steve Plotnicki, Tom Silverman, and Barry Weiss.” I will add that this is not a new story, but rather a long story of the history of Jewish participation in American popular music. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s there were many Jewish businessmen who delved into the recording business. They were a bit seasoned, gruff, and older because they naturally progressed to that type of business. People like the Chess brothers, and many more laid the foundation for these young Jews in the Hip Hop game.

Each of the men mentioned above came into the rap game at a crucial time. They came at a time when, arguably the recording business could have taken a dive. However, like the Jews before them, they believed in the authentic sounds and bonding over Hip Hop culture. They trolled the many clubs in the city turing heads on to the potential of the music. They were inclined to get into the venture in order to make money, but they did it for much more than a profit.

Corry Robbins founded Profile Records in 1981, and remained its head until 1994. Profile is most notable for taking the risk in signing many underground groups, including the first real multiplatinum sellers, Run-DMC. Robbins, along with his partner Steve Plotnicki opened the company in 1981 with loans from their parents. This would become a formidable company signing acts like Dana Dane, Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock, Special Ed, Poor Righteous Teachers, King Sun, and DJ Quick among others.

Tom Silverman was also one of these Jewish go getters who believed in the staying power of Hip Hop, and the recordings. He founded the NMS (New Music Seminar) in 1980, and shortly afterward he formed Tommy Boy Records. Named after his nickname he signed many acts across the spectrum in the early days. One example is Afrika Bambaata and his various groups such as Soulsonic Force. Tommy Boy Signed many notable artists, some who became famous over the years including De La Soul, Naughty By Nature, Queen Latifah, House of Pain, and Everlast to name a few.

Last but not least on the list was Barry Weiss, who I wrote on earlier. He would influence the owner of Jive Records and brought him to all the rap music clubs. This sparked his interest, which led to them signing many important acts like the other labels. The roster included KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and Schoolly D to name a few.

This is no coincidence as many other smaller labels popped up that were also run or owned by Jews. History doesn’t allow for predictions, yet this could be as close as I’m willing to get. However, these Jews had the sheer energy, enthusiasm and money to fund these endeavors. Most of them were lucrative at the time, yet they all folded after some time. These young Jews deserve credit because if it wasn’t for them we might not have heard these super sounds. No one but the higher power can tell, yet the number of Jews in Hip Hop is overwhelming andy will be investigated much further.

Peace, and Shabbat Shalom

#TommyBoyRecords #ProfileRecords #JiveRecords #SugarHillRecords


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