Big Bank Hank, one third of pioneering rap group the Sugarhill Gang, has passed away from cancer at the age of 58. David Mallie, manager of the group’s other members Wonder Mike and Master Gee, confirmed the rapper’s death to Rolling Stone, saying the two surviving members were informed of his death on Tuesday morning.
Hank, born Henry Jackson, was best known as the splashiest and most colorful voice on 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight,” the runaway 12-inch that served as rap’s musical ambassador and the record that almost single-handedly brought hip hop culture from the crumbling streets of the South Bronx to the rest of America and beyond.
“So sad to hear about our brothers passing,” his bandmates Wonder Mike and Master Gee said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “The three of us created musical history together with the release of ‘Rapper’s Delight.’ We will always remember traveling the world together and rocking the house. Rest in peace, Big Bank.”
Thirty-five years later, there still remains some debate as to whether the timeless, 14-minute rhyme spree was technically the first recorded hip-hop song; and controversy still shadows it, as the Sugarhill Gang were mostly New Jersey interlopers borrowing directly from Bronx-born Grandmaster Caz’s rhyme book. But there is no question that the vivid, hilarious tales of dinnertime manners and cuckolded superheroes of “Rapper’s Delight” was suburbia America’s first experience with the nascent culture. It reportedly sold millions upon millions of copies, though Sugar Hill Records, notoriously close to their own accounting, never had it officially certified.