17. Sylvia Robinson
Title(s): Co-founder of Sugar Hill Records
Artists They Worked With: The Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five
Sylvia Robinson may have been one of the most reviled businesspeople in hip-hop. But you can’t front on the facts: She was the first record executive to sign and produce a commercially successful rap record.
As the Great Mother of all Rap A&R, she deserves her place on this list.
The most notorious aspect of Robinson’s first signing is also the most impressive: She created a hit record by fabricating a rap crew out of nothing. The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” was a pure in-studio creation, musically masterminded by Robinson.
As the first successful entrepreneur in the game, Robinson immediately had her pick of real, reputable artists from across the river in New York City. Still, we gotta give her props for picking right: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five featuring Melle Mel; the Treacherous Three; Sequence; and the Funky Four plus One.
Robinson’s avarice and inauthenticity would betray her within a few years. She may or may not have had a heart. But the woman had ears.