Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson from the pioneering rap crew the Sugarhill Gang died on Tuesday after losing the battle to cancer. Hank was a founding member of the group known for changing the music industry with the hit Rapper’s Delight over 35 years ago. According to reports, the New York native died in Englewood, New Jersey after kidney complications from his lengthy illness.
The Sugarhill Gang’s biggest song was the 1979 Rapper’s Delight. This was not their only hit, others such as 8th Wonder and Apache were also well-known. The group consisted of three members who were all from Englewood, New Jersey; Henry Lee Jackson, Michael Wright, known as “Wonder Mike” and Guy O’Brien, known as “Master Gee.” They were founded by producer Sylvia Robinson, who established Sugarhill Records with her husband, Joe Robinson. The rap group and record company were named after the neighborhood known as Sugar Hill Harlem.
Hank, with his massive onstage presence, exchanged rhymes with his partners Wonder Mike and Master Gee on the 16 minute long song. Rapper’s Delight was the first song of its genre to reach the Top 40 on the U.S. Billboard charts. Hank introduced himself as “six-foot-one and tons of fun” and “dressed to a tee.” He also had some of the most memorable lyrics, like the famous line, “Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn what you gonna do today (say what)? I’m gonna get a fly girl, gonna get some spank and drive off in a def O.J.”
Another popular verse from Big Bank Hank included his comparison to Superman where he raps about meeting Lois Lane and talks her into leaving the superhero to hook up with him. In his lyrics he refers to Superman as a fairy who flies through the air in pantyhose. Hank was not the Sugarhill Gang’s only lyrical genius, with many of his rhymes on Rapper’s Delight originating from the legendary MC Grandmaster Caz. Hank and his band members tag teamed lyrics back and forth seamlessly to create timeless hits.
The Superman “wannabe” was born in the Bronx, New York City in 1956. He attended and graduated with an Associate Degree in Oceanography from Bronx Community College. During his tenure there he won several wrestling championships. After graduating Hank found it difficult to find a job in his preferred field so he resulted to working other jobs and eventually became a music manager while working at a pizzeria.
While managing groups and the pizza shop the MC, also known as Imp the Dimp, was discovered by Robinson. She was searching for an act for the new genre of music called hip hop when the producer heard Hank spitting lyrics. Sylvia invited the unknown lyricist to join a group she was forming and the rest is history. The three members of the group did not know each other prior to the formation of the Sugarhill Gang, but this quickly changed with their unforgettable hit Rapper’s Delight.
Manager of the two surviving Sugarhill Gang members, David Mallie, confirmed Hank’s passing. His partners, Master Gee and Wonder Mike issued the following statement:
We are so sad to hear about our brother’s passing. 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.
Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson is gone but not forgotten. Hits from the Sugarhill Gang are staples in the music industry and can still be heard in parties across the globe. The MC died on Tuesday in Englewood, New Jersey after kidney complications due to cancer. The New York native was a founding member of the group known for changing the music industry with their hit Rapper’s Delight.
by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)