You find the most interesting stories in the newspapers. I usually scroll through the usual scrap heap checking out the scoops of the day, Russia raping the world, the US raping the world, Muslims killing each other, voting across the prairies of India, and other nonsensical bullshit, and entertainment. Today, I stumbled upon an interesting article in the New York Times about Al Sharpton’s role as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Heaven forbid that such a pillar of MSNBC would be scrutinized for his early days as the track suit clad music business insider. But, there is some truth to this matter as certain books have acknowledged. Sharpton was actually part of a sting, whether he knew or not, hovering over one of the most corrupt music men in the business. He was involved in recording an associate of his by the name of Joe Robinson, who owed Morris Levy. Joe Robinson was Sylvia Robinson’s husband, and the co-owner of a small rap music label, Sugar Hill Records. Levy provided the money for the first powerhouse Hip-Hop record label. If the seed money wasn’t planted the history of recorded rap music would be very different. If there were only Jews like Morris Levy in the world today, things might be going a bit smoother.
Morris Levy was mentioned in the article as an accomplice with organized crime. Levy and the mob were working together. The mob would use his record companies, especially Roulette Records, in order to have spare cash in hand. Levy, for all his corruption and extortion deserves credit. The credit comes from the fact that he was responsible for funding many lucrative music labels and artists. Levy owned, and at times fully operated, many record labels and companies throughout his life including Buddah, Domino Records, Kama Sutra, Roulette, and many more. He was the epitome of the image of the stereotypical thieving Jew. He is known to have taken credit for songs that he had no input on what so ever. He allegedly would white out the names of the rightful authors of songs, and place his name instead. This meant that he substituted his name to file with the United States Copyright Office, thereby stealing royalties from the artists. In a specific law suit representatives for artists like Dr. John, the Meters, Art Neville, and Aaron Neville claimed that they were owed for lost dues. At his mighty peal Levy owned record pressing pants, tape-duplicating plants, a distribution company, and a New England music store chain that I remember oh so well by the name of Strawberries. The most important label Levy funded was the first real Hip-Hop music label, Sugar Hill Records.
Sugar Hill Records was the idea of Sylvia Robinson who wanted to profit from the new rap scene. Aided by her husband Joe they linked up with Levy through a mutual friend by the name of Jules Rifkind. Jules Rifkind had a history with Levy through his father Harry Rifkind. Harry was a boxer in his youth, until he gave it up and started to work for Levy. He was hired to manage Levy’s nightclubs like the Roundtable in Manhattan and the Boulevard in Brooklyn. Interestingly enough it should be noted that it was Jules’s sons who would start one of the most notorious 1990’s rap music label, Loud Records, which signed such the legendary Wu-Tang Clan to their lucrative deal. Once they hooked up with Levy he gave them money up front as proceeds for the label. Levy also had history with Sylvia, as she helmed the hit song “You Talk Too Much” by Joe Jones on the Levy owned Roulette Records. Levy provided the money to dig Joe Robinson out of debt, and other financial obligation from nondescript sources. Once the label kicked into full gear the possibilities were endless.
By the end of the 1970’s dipping into the new decade Sugar Hill Records would be the most prominent rap music label. They boasted the best artists on the label from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to the Treacherous Three, and many more. Also, one of the benefits from mob connections was the sure-fire use of intimidation. Just lime the line in the great film Goodfellas, no matter the case we gotta get paid. Levy had the backing of the mob making all the distributors pay on time, which they would never have done if he didn’t have the force. Besides Sugar Hill Records, Levy also signed to partner up with Charlie Stettler (The man who booked the first rap show at the venerated Rockefeller Center, and was the first to secure corporate sponsorship, which is rather ubiquitous in rap music today), the manager of the group the Fat Boys, to a contract on his Sutra label.
Levy also had deep connections in all the facets of music making. He was the stereotypical hardcore Jew who didn’t take anything from anybody. He also took as much as he could from others, whether they deserved it or not. But, he is an example of the new breed of young Jews who came into the fold after the demise of Sugar Hill Records. They were starting up just as he was being paid out to leave the business for good. Steve Plotnicki and Cory Robbins, the Jews who started Priority Records, had an office close to Levy’s in Manhattan when they first started. He was also indirectly responsible in influencing the Jewish businessmen of the 1990’s such as the Rifkinds and their Loud Records venture. This would be the launchpad for groups like the Wu, as well as their ingenious and very original contract design. Corrupt and innovative are just some qualities Levy possessed. But on the eve of Passover/Pesach I wanted to hook you up with one more Jew who secretly funded the war to break Hip-Hop and bring it to the people.
Peace and Chag Sameach/ Happy Passover