VOD Spotlight On Wonder Mike & Master Gee (I WANT MY NAME BACK)August 25, 2013

VOD Spotlight On Wonder Mike & Master Gee (I WANT MY NAME BACK)

Rapper's Delight Featuring Wonder Mike & Master Gee

I WANT MY NAME BACK highlights the rise, fall, and rise again of original members of The Sugarhill Gang, Michael  Wright (aka Wonder Mike) and Guy O'Brien (aka Master Gee). One of the most influential songs in the history of the music industry and #2 in Rolling Stone’s Top Hip Hop Songs of all time, "Rapper's Delight" was the first commercial hip hop release, forever changing the face of the music industry. 

 

“Rapper's Delight” is still, to this day, the number one selling single in hip hop history. The group followed up their first hit with another song still played today called “Apache”. Their first three albums went platinum. While this success should have cemented the legacy and careers of the original members, reality tells a much different story--one that most people, including those in the hip hop world, are not even aware of.

 

A story of unprecedented identity theft, copyright and trademark violations, Master Gee and Wonder Mike fight a more than 30 year battle against their label to get their names and legacy back. The film also features Grandmaster Caz (The Cold Crush Brothers), Melle Mel (Grandmaster Flash), and Vinnie and Treach (Naughty by Nature).I WANT MY NAME BACK is the journey of two men who want what was taken from them: their names, their legacy and their music!

 

ODW: How did you get the name Wonder Mike?
Wonder Mike (WM):
The first name I came up with was Savoir-faire. But I didn’t like the way it was spelled. It was too close to Savior. Back then rappers names were on a super hero trend. I’m in my cousin kitchen finishing a sandwich and I’m looking around and I see a loaf of Wonder Bread. It hit me right there: Wonder Mike.

ODW: How did people respond when you first used it?
WM:
They dug it. 

 

Master Gee (MG): I got the name from my great grandmother. When you’re a young man, a boy, you’re considered a master. When you grow up and become an adult, you’re considered a mister. My grandmother used to send me cards and letters, entitled Master Guy Anthony O’Brien. I was into the Renaissance. Kings and queens and knights of the round table. I liked how regal Master Guy O’Brien sounded. And I took the first initial to my first name G and added two “ee”s to it and that’s how I came up with Master Gee.

 

ODW: When did you meet Master Gee?
WM:
In ’79. We used to battle. We were called Sound on Sound and he was Phase Two.


I found out about an audition with Sylvia. When I got there, Hank was there. Master Gee was there. We used to battle all the time. He used an echo box to rap in. It was supposed to be for one guy, but she liked how our voices contrasted and blended together. And trios were popular from the Supremes to ZZ Top.

Where did Sugar Hill Records get its name? How was it decided Sugar Hill Gang would be the band name?
MG:
It all came in one sitting after in studio, we talked about names of the group, Sylvia, myself and Mike. She decided to call it Sugar Hill Gang, an affluent area in Harlem in the 30’s and 40’s. she always wanted to give us that distinction.

 

WM: They had other labels. Turbo. All Platinum. They started a new label and named it Sugar Hill and we were Sugar Hill Gang. 

 

ODW: Who were your influences?
WM:
Rap wise, I really didn’t have any influences, except for my cousin, Daddy Right. I was on my front stoop, and he came down the street with a boom box. He said check out my show at the Teaneck Rec. His group was telling stories with inflection and tone. I found myself making up rhymes on my job and approached him to join his group. 

 

MG: My influences were Jazz.and Funk related. Miles Davis. Max Roach. Funkadelic. Rufus and Chaka Kahn. That’s what I was listening to at the point in my life. 

 

ODW: How many records did “Rapper’s Delight” sell?
WM:
We lost count after 10 million. I heard from different people at the studio it was up to 14 million by 1994.

 

ODW: When did you first realize something was wrong?
WM:
We went on an extensive tour in 1980 (5 months after Rapper’s Delight was released). Before we left, we were told the foreign royalties should be when we got back. When we did get back, we asked where was the money? And they said, ‘what money’?

The label couldn’t concentrate on more than one band at a time. 

 

MG: I knew the records were doing well. I knew I wasn’t getting the money the record company was getting. I couldn’t prove what was going on, but I knew something was going on. 

 

ODW: When did you leave the band?
MG:
I wasn’t involved with Sugar Hill situation from 1985 – 2005. But I was always involved with Mike as a friend. And we always agreed that if Mike stepped away from the sugar Hill situation that we do something together. He called me in 2005 and made all of this happen. 

 

WM: Guy left in early ’85. I left in Fall of ’85. That was it. I didn’t see any point in staying with the label not being to focus on all of their groups.

ODW: But you returned to the band? During what years?
WM
: In ’94. Angie Stone called to tell me Hank and Joey were performing. I went to the show and performed. Joey told me they had other shows lined up. I stayed. One show lead to another and another. That lasted until 2005. It wasn’t a bad run. By March, shows were dying out. I called to tell him I had a good run and it was time for me to bounce.

ODW: When did the current band’s rebirth begin?

WM: The day I hung up the phone with Joey and I called Master Gee. I told him I left the group and do you want to make new music? He dropped the phone and I heard him hollering ‘he did it. He did it!’ That was it. We started right there.

 

ODW: Tell me about the ‘La La Song’?
WM
: It was our first hit record since ’84 with ‘Hot, Hot Summer Day’. We toured all over with it. It was a milestone record. 

 

MG: That was huge. It cemented the fact of Mike and my writing ability and style. 

 

ODW: Tell me about the band’s popularity in Europe.

WM: Everyone on earth has what I call a ‘Tapestry of Music’ that makes up their lives while they’re getting ready for work or in their car. It’s the same there as well as here. I think in the US, the more current your hit the more popular you are. We like performing there. 


MG:
Amplify it 10 times. Think about the history of music. Back when Josephine Baker had all of her problems in the states, where did she go? Europe. When all the jazz musicians were not getting the revenue, where did they go? Europe. Europeans have a true appreciation. There’s a different value they put on American music. We might put on a 20-minute show here, in Europe, we have to do at least an hour. They just want to hear the hits here. In Europe, they want to hear hits, classics, they want you to play instruments. They give you a whole arena to do your thing.

ODW: You can really see that in the film.
MG:
No question. That was our saving grace. When everything was shutting down in the states, we spent most of our time in Europe. 

 

ODW: Whose idea was the film?
WM
: The first person to approach us was the actor Anthony Michael Hall. We met in New York. He got called to be in one of the Batman movies and that was it.


A few years later we were introduce to Roger Paradiso (I WANT MY NAME BACK director). We told him our story and he said really, someone is going out as you guys that’s not you? We’re world renown and you’re going to get up on stage to play the records on stage and then mimic to it. The vocals are the original tracks. They’re using the name Sugar Hill Gang, but me and Guy are not with them. That’s a slap in the face to the fans. That’s what a fraud does. 

 

Who came up with the film name, I WANT MY NAME BACK.?
MG:
That was collaboration too. Once we got talking about the whole name issue, the controversy, it just sounded like the right thing to call the film.

What do you hope the film will accomplish?
MG:
I want it to be a preventive measure to people aspiring to do anything. Identity theft is one of the largest crimes in the world right now. Theft of musical ideas, movies runs rampant in the entertainment business. I want to get that across to people. Be on your P’s & Q’s. And understand that no matter how ad things are, if you maintain a positive attitude, you will prevail. It’s one thing that’s kept Mike and I going through all of this. 

 

WM: No matter what your situation is in life, people are always fighting a battle with a formidable foe in their mind. The little guy vs. the big buy. There is always a bigger guy. We want our name back. Never give up. When you give up, it is a guarantee you’ve lost.


ODW: What’s been the feedback since the film has been released?
WM:
Total love. Total love. People say they never knew. Their vision of who The Sugar Hill Gang is, is shattered by the doc. 

 

So now, you no longer go by the Sugar Hill Gang, but Rapper’s Delight Featuring Wonder Mike and Master Gee. What’s next?

MG: Everything. We’re writing new material as we speak. We’re collaborating with Dough Wimbash, the bassist of Living Color. Our team is powerful. It gives the ability to create in a protected environment giving us more freedom also. We’re working on an Anniversary album. 

 

ODW: Who else performs in the band?
MG:
Henry Williams: “Hen Dog.” Diamond Temple: “T Dynasty.” Rob Temple: “Rob Da Noise”. They’re our current band. Mike brought them to the situation. 

 

ODW: Lastly, what are your favorite lyrics in “Rapper’s Delight”?
WM:
Chicken taste like wood. 

 

MG: My name is known all over the world
By all the foxy ladies and the pretty girls.
I'm goin' down in history
As the baddest rapper there ever could be.


At that time I was 17 years old. I had never been past Connecticut. So when I wrote those lyrics, I was thinking I’m the best. I didn’t know 30 years later, I’d be all over the world and had an opportunity to meet some of the most beautiful women. 

 

#

 

 

 

- Britt Bensen



Britt is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-founder of On Demand Weekly. He is currently at Intel Media. Previously, Britt worked for Miramax Films and Sundance Channel. He also on the Advisory Board of the Palo Alto Intl Film Festival.


For more of their story and the fight for their names, see I WANT MY NAME BACK on iTunes or Amazon. You can find the band at www.wondermikemastergee.com and on twitter and facebook.

 

 

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