Recent years have been pretty lean for the Sugar Hill Gang when measured against more financially successful rappers. But now that a New York District Court judge has awarded the hip-hop pioneers nearly $3 million in a case against the Snapple Beverage Corporation and Turner Broadcasting System Inc. the Gang will no longer have to eat at friends' houses where "the macaroni's soggy, the peas are mushed, and the chicken tastes like wood."
Those culinary catastrophes are bemoaned in the group's legendary single "Rapper's Delight," a live video performance of which Snapple and Turner were found guilty of unlawfully pilfering in a 1998 ad for the Goodwill Games, an event produced by Turner.
In a case filed in January 1999, the Sugar Hill Gang claimed it was told the performance in question would only be broadcast by Snapple on closed-circuit monitors during a party at Studio 54. The rappers said they were shocked to later see the clip used for the Goodwill Games.
"A month after we did the show, I get calls congratulating me on my new commercial," said Gang member Joey Robinson Jr. "I went, 'What are you talking about?' We never consented to it, we never got paid for it, and Snapple never wanted to settle with us."
In court, both Snapple and Turner claimed the group knew in advance that footage would be used for television advertisements, but the judge sided with the rappers. In June he granted a summary judgement on behalf of the Sugar Hill Gang, and on Friday a jury awarded it $165,000 in compensatory damages and another $2.8 million in punitive damages.
"It was a blessing," Robinson said. "It was like three-and-a-half years of fighting had finally come to a head. It was a cheerful joy of happiness."
Snapple and Turner did not return calls for comment.
Recently, the Sugar Hill Gang appeared in a commercial for Coca-Cola that they were actually paid for, and in January the group will return to the studio to finish its first album of new material in 21 years.
"It's not gangsta at all," Robinson said. "It's a little bit like Will Smith, a little bit Sisqó like a 'Thong Song.' It's got a little Aersomith/Run-D.M.C. flavor. We did a remake of [Def Leppard's] 'Pour Some Sugar on Me' that's really hot. The album won't confuse people, so they'll know it's Sugar Hill Gang, but it's updated to what's happening now."
The group has recorded seven of 13 songs, including a duet with LFO called "Girl I Want You," and there are plans to record a new song with 'NSYNC, whom the Sugar Hill Gang opened for during 1999 and 2000.
"They want to do a record with us, and we want to do one with them, so we're getting some tracks together to submit to them," Robinson said. "Those guys are great guys."
Also, the Sugar Hill Gang is trying to recruit Def Leppard to contribute to the "Pour Some Sugar on Me" cover. But that's not the most surprising development for the old-school rappers in March they'll play what might be their strangest venue to date.
"We were just with Liza Minnelli at her private party with [event producer] David Gest, and David asked us to perform in March for their wedding," Robinson marveled. "He said, 'Joey, please, I'm gonna ask you, would you mind performing?' And I said, 'Are you kidding? It would be an honor.' "
Needless to say, nobody from Snapple is invited, and the event will not be broadcast on Turner.