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Big Bank Hank, Sugarhill Gang Rapper, Dead at Age 57

Big Bank Hank; Sugarhill Gang; Dead; Rappers Delight

Big Bank Hank, who along with Wonder Mike and Master Gee comprised the pivotal early rap group Sugarhill Gang, died today, with cancer believed to be the cause. “So sad to hear of our brother’s passing,” Mike and Gee wrote in a statement to TMZ. “Rest in peace Big Hank.” The rapper was 57 years old.

Hank, whose real name was Henry Jackson, was working in a pizzeria when he was approached by music impersario Sylvia Robinson to be part of a rap group she was putting together. That group turned out to be the Sugarhill Gang, who would eventually release some of the most important singles of hip hop’s early years — most notably, “Rapper’s Delight,” the genre’s first-ever top 40 crossover hit and the song cited by many later MCs as their first exposure to rap in general.

Though the origins of Hank’s verses on “Delight” were not without their controversy — his lyrics were “borrowed” from the rhymes of legendary MC Grandmaster Caz, to put it charitably — they have since become thoroughly iconic: “I got a color TV so I can see the Knicks play basketball,” “Ho-tel, mo-tel, Holiday Inn,” and of course, the entire Superman verse, in which Hank woos Lois Lane away from the Man of Steel with the boast, “He can’t satisfy you with his little worm / But I can bust you out with my SUPER SPERM.”

“Delight” was the biggest Sugarhill hit, but hardly the only: “Apache,” with its timeless “Jump on it, jump on it” refrain is still heard at parties and sporting events from coast to coast, and “8th Wonder,” with its squelchy synth-and-horn hook and “Everybody, just clap your hands” intro, ranks among the most recurringly sampled songs in hip-hop history. Hank was instrumental in the genesis of all three, and for his contributions to these and many other old-school classics, he will be missed.