Former member of Sugar Hill Gang speaks to class about today’s hip-hop

Daily Sundial

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In 1979, Master Gee, Wonder Mike and Big Bank Hank of the Sugar Hill Gang were the first pioneers to propel hip-hop onto the charts with “Rapper’s Delight.”

About 26 years later, after fame, fortune and adverse times, Master Gee walked into the Politics of Hip-Hop class at CSUN Tuesday, geared up with experience, advice and opinions for a young generation on the current state of the hip-hop.

“I’m truly inspired to be here because I always feel like young people are the future,” said Gee, who is also known as Guy O’Brien.

In a world of rap music that mostly totes the themes of thug life, “bling bling” and the degradation of women, hip-hop culture has been degraded, he said.

Gee came to talk to the class with a few key points to about 20 students who sat in Sierra Hall room 287 to listen to the rap veteran.

“I think that right now what has to happen with hip-hop is that everybody has to remember their inheritance,” he said.

Negative attitudes have filtered their way into hip-hop and have been a bad influence on listeners, he said, adding that when people do not remember their inheritance, it puts them in a negative state.

But Gee expressed optimism about the direction for hip-hop, saying he thinks it will go back to its original status when it first came around the early 1970s.

“I think history repeats itself, period,” he said, adding that rap artists like Common can bring hip-hop back to a positive state.

In the meantime, Gee continues to work with a new group with his son, Wonder Mike, and others called MG Squad.

Students asked Gee questions from his experiences with the Sugar Hill Gang to the way technology has affected hip-hop.

Garfield Bright, senior political science major, and a self-described hip-hop fan, was happy to hear Gee speak.

“It was more so than a speech,” said Bright, a member of the R’B group Shai. “It was like an experience – like a three dimensional probe through his block of time.”

It was like being in “living history,” he said, adding that he was glad to see Gee develop into a successful businessman today.

The Politics of Hip-Hop course is part of the Pan-African Studies Department and is an experimental course that may become permanent, said Karin Stanford, the Pan-African Studies professor who came up with the idea for the class to get youth interested in politics.

Sanford said she hopes to bring other guess lecturers such as KRS One to the class.

Gee’s speech was “very insightful,” she said, adding that she was intrigued about his experience in the Sugar Hill Gang.

She hoped students learned more about the commercialization of hip-hop, adding that she does not think the culture will change for the better soon.

“I’m much more pessimistic because I think that capitalism is extremely powerful,” she said, adding that there has to be a large-scale, organized effort to change hip-hop. “People have bought into this bling culture.”

Alexandria Barabin, senior Pan-African Studies major, said one of the main things that stuck to her about Gee’s talk was when he said artists should take responsibility for their artistry.

She also said she liked what Gee said about historical inheritance, adding she thought his question-and-answer session was “phenomenal.”

“I like getting the story straight from the horse’s mouth,” she said.

Gee said he wants to be a positive influence.

“You’re not going to find me in East L.A. somewhere buying cocaine from ‘Joe Willy,'” he said, adding that he hopes his positive image will set a good example for today’s generation.

“I’m going to be myself and hope that you like it,” he said. “I’m hoping I’m saying something to you that you haven’t heard.”

Samuel Richard can be reached at city@sundial.csun.edu