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The song was recorded in one single take. There are three versions of the original version of the song: 14:35 (12" long version), 6:30 (12" short version), and 3:55 (7" shortened single version).
In late 1978, Debbie Harry suggested that Chic's Nile Rodgers join her and Chris Stein at a hip hop event, which at the time was a communal space taken over by teenagers with boombox stereos playing various pieces of music that performers would break dance to. Rodgers experienced this event the first time himself at a high school in the Bronx. On September 20 and 21, 1978, Blondie and Chic were playing concerts with The Clash in New York at The Palladium. When Chic started playing "Good Times", rapper Fab Five Freddy and the members of the Sugarhill Gang ("Big Bank Hank" Jackson, Mike Wright, and "Master Gee" O'Brien), jumped up on stage and started freestyling with the band. A few weeks later, Rodgers was on the dance floor of New York club Leviticus and heard the DJ play a song which opened with Bernard Edwards's bass line from Chic's "Good Times". Rodgers approached the DJ who said he was playing a record he had just bought that day in Harlem. The song turned out to be an early version of "Rapper's Delight", which also included a scratched version of the song's string section. Rodgers and Edwards immediately threatened legal action over copyright, which resulted in a settlement and their being credited as co-writers. Rodgers admitted that he was originally upset with the song, but later declared it to be "one of his favorite songs of all time" and his favorite of all the tracks that sampled (or in this instance interpolated) Chic.[better source needed] He also stated: "As innovative and important as 'Good Times' was, 'Rapper's Delight' was just as much, if not more so."
A substantial portion of the early stanzas of the song's lyrics was borrowed by Jackson from Grandmaster Caz (Curtis Fisher) who had loaned his 'book' to him--these include a namecheck for "Casanova Fly", which was Caz's full stage name. According to Wonder Mike, he had heard the phrase "hip-hop" from a cousin, leading to the opening line of "Hip-hop, hippie to the hippie, to the hip-hip-hop and you don't stop", whilst he described "To the bang-bang boogie, say up jump the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat" as "basically a spoken drum roll. I liked the percussive sound of the letter B". The line "Now what you hear is not a test, I'm rappin' to the beat", was inspired by the introduction to The Outer Limits ("There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture").
According to Oliver Wang, author of the 2003 Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide, recording artist ("Pillow Talk") and studio owner Sylvia Robinson had trouble finding anyone willing to record a rap song. Most of the rappers who performed in clubs did not want to record, as many practitioners believed the style was for live performances only. It is said that Robinson's son heard Big Bank Hank in a pizza place. According to Master Gee, Hank auditioned for Robinson in front of the pizza parlour where he worked, whilst Gee himself auditioned in Robinson's car. A live band was used to record most of the backing track, including members of the group "Positive Force": Albert Pittman, Bernard Roland, Moncy Smith, and Bryan Horton.
Chip Shearin claimed during a 2010 interview that he was the bass player on the track. At the age of 17, he had visited a friend in New Jersey. The friend knew Robinson, who needed some musicians for various recordings, including "Rapper's Delight". Shearin's job on the song was to play the bass for 15 minutes straight, with no mistakes. He was paid $70 but later went on to perform with Sugarhill Gang in concert. Shearin described the session this way:
The drummer and I were sweating bullets because that's a long time. And this was in the days before samplers and drum machines, when real humans had to play things. ... Sylvia said, 'I've got these kids who are going to talk real fast over it; that's the best way I can describe it.'
There's this idea that hip-hop has to have street credibility, yet the first big hip-hop song was an inauthentic fabrication. It's not like the guys involved were the 'real' hip-hop icons of the era, like Grandmaster Flash or Lovebug Starski. So it's a pretty impressive fabrication, lightning in a bottle.
Phil Austin - mastering, original US vinyl release
An official music video was made for the song in 1979, making it one of the earliest hip hop music videos. It features the Sugarhill Gang emceeing at a discotheque. Club patrons dance on the floor, while the respective members of the group rap their verses of the song. The video represents the early history of hip hop, which in fact overlapped with funk and dance subcultures. Other versions of the music video exist as well. One appears to have been recorded by Dutch broadcasting company AVROTROS at a hotel pool in early 1980.
"Rapper's Delight" peaked at number 36 in January 1980 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, number 4 on the U.S. Hot Soul Singles chart in December 1979, number 1 on the Canadian Singles Chart in January 1980, number 1 on the Dutch Top 40, and number 3 on the UK Singles Chart. The single sold over 2 million copies in the United States, grossing US$3.5 million for Sugar Hill Records. In 1980, the song was the anchor of the group's first album The Sugarhill Gang.
It was the first Top 40 song to be available only as a 12-inch extended version in the U.S. Early pressings (very few) were released with a red label, with black print, on Sugar Hill Records, along with a 7" 45rpm single (which is very rare). Later pressings had the more common blue label, in orange colored "roulette style" sleeves, while even later pressings were issued in the more common blue sleeves with the Sugarhill Records logo. In Europe, however, it was released on the classic 7-inch single format on French pop label Vogue, with a shorter version of the song. It was this 7" single that reached number one in the Dutch chart. The song ranked number 251 on Rolling Stone magazine's 2004 list of "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
A British version of the song, with rewritten lyrics, was recorded for the song's 25th anniversary in 2004 by an ensemble of performers including Rodney P, Chester P, Kano, Simone, Yungun, Sway, J2K, Swiss, Baby Blue, Skibadee, Luke Skys, and MC D.