By ANN OLDENBERG
Gannett News Service
Sugarhill Gang member Big Bank Hank, who helped change the course of hip-hop with the group’s 1979 classic, Rapper’s Delight, died early Tuesday after a battle with cancer. He was 57.
Born Henry Jackson but also known as Imp the Dimp, the rapper died from kidney complications due to cancer, David Mallie told USA TODAY. Mallie, the manager of the group’s two remaining living members, said he had seen Jackson “several times” over the past few years and that his health had been declining as he went through chemotherapy and dialysis treatments.
The hip-hop community and music fans mourned Jackson’s passing. “Rest in peace… Big Bank Hank… Hip hop pioneer dies of Cancer …. Legend… Sugarhill gang August 5th-1957 / Nov11th-2014,” wrote DJ Funkmaster Flex on Instagram.
Jackson’s fellow Sugarhill Gang members, Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright and Guy O’Brien, known as Master Gee, honored him in a statement.
“So sad to hear about our brother’s passing. The three of us created musical history together with the release of Rapper’s Delight,” they said. “We will always remember traveling the world together and rocking the house. Rest in peace, Big Bank.”
Before Rapper’s Delight became a multiplatinum hit — one of the first rap songs played on the radio and the first hip-hop single to become a Top 40 success — rap music was seldom heard outside of its Bronx birthplace.
Sylvia Robinson, founder of Sugar Hill Records who died in 2011, brought together the Englewood, N.J.-based trio of Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee in 1979 for the label’s debut record to capitalize on the new trend. What began as a novelty song, with the catchphrase “hip-hop and you don’t stop” and lyrics chanted over a repetitive bass-line, gave rise to a new music genre that has since exploded worldwide.