The origins of the phrase go deeper than Sugarhill Gang
Hip-hop — they were the first words on the genre’s first big hit, the Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 song, “Rapper’s Delight.” But at the time no one—not even the young kids who had invented the music, the dances, the rhymes, and the visual art of this burgeoning movement emerging from the Bronx—was calling it that. Hip-hop wasn’t hip-hop yet.
That moment would come in September 1982, when a downtown reporter named Steven Hager published a longform piece in the Village Voice. Hager was the one of the first white downtown reporters to cross the Harlem River to see how a bunch of forgotten Black and brown youths were passing their time. Through dogged, sensitive reporting that still represents the gold standard in cultural writing, he brought back an amazing story—in the shadow of the world’s media central, in a borough abandoned as a necropolis, a vibrant youth movement had displaced gang violence with music, dance, art, language and style.