Guardian of Sugar Hill hip-hop label dies at 53

NEW YORK - Joey Robinson Jr., the surviving guardian of Sugar Hill Records which helped bring hip-hop into the mainstream, has died at age 53, associates and reports said Monday.

Lady Luck, a rapper and relative, posted about his death on social media. The Record, a newspaper in New Jersey's Bergen County near New York City, said Robinson died of cancer in his town of Tenafly.

Sugar Hill Records in 1980 put out "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang, which became the first hip-hop song to break into the mainstream Top 40 chart in the United States.

Rap was born in the 1970s in New York's Bronx borough but it had rarely been recorded until Robinson's mother Sylvia - a former R&B singer - put together the Sugarhill Gang.

Legend holds that Joey Robinson Jr. had encountered one of the rappers, Big Bank Hank, as he was working as a dough kneader at a New Jersey pizza parlor, and the family organized the trio with members Wonder Mike and Master Gee.

"Rapper's Delight" was like nothing many listeners outside of New York had heard before but its format - verses by rappers boasting of their exploits set to a music sample - remains the basis for much hip-hop.

Sugar Hill Records went on to sign artists including Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, who are often credited with coining the term hip-hop to describe the genre.

The Robinsons eventually sold Sugar Hill Records to mainstream label MCA and became mired in debt.

After his parents' death, Joey handed royalties for the former label but had a poisonous relationship with many of the former artists.

Joey and his two brothers, who helped him run the business, pleaded guilty in 2012 to charges of tax evasion. But a judge spared them prison as he cited their charitable work.

One of the brothers, Rhondo, and Big Bank Hank both died last year.

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