Sylvia’s All Platinum Universe

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Before she launched rap into the mainstream by releasing the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” Sylvia Robinson owned one of the odder labels of the 1970s. (And before that, she made the 60s novelty “Love is Strange” as part of Mickey & Sylvia.)

All Platinum Records, which she co-founded with husband Joey in New York, had a roster that included the Philly soul ensemble the Moments and Sylvia herself. Both racked up hits: the Moments recorded the classic ballad “Love on a Two-Way Street,” and Sylvia landed a crossover pop smash with “Pillow Talk.” There was also Shirley & Company and “Shame, Shame, Shame.”

In his essential book Rap Attack, David Toop noted that All Platinum had a taste for “vocal eccentrics.” Linda Jones’s gospel-like exhortations on “For Your Precious Love” frequently ascended into yelping melisma, and staff songwriter George Kerr’s clumsy attempts at a love rap sparks the Isaac Hayes-like grandeur of “Three Minutes to Hey Girl.” “Pillow Talk” wraps itself around Sylvia’s breathy, kittenish voice, and she sashays in ecstasy over a tuft of string arrangements like a negligee barely hanging over her body. Her follow-ups included “Sweet Stuff,” where she coos seductively over a louche rhythm that epitomizes disco sleaze. The Moments made “Girls,” a platform boot groove that mixes up its falsetto appreciation for the fairer sex with cheerily lunkhead lines like “I like ‘em fat, I like ‘em tall, some skinny, some small.”

While those aforementioned hits made it part of the black music mainstream, All Platinum (and its offshoots like Vibration and Stang) espoused a grungy, home-cooked variation of 70s soul far removed from the tastefully appointed elegance of Philadelphia International Records. It’s catnip to collectors – copies of the Whatnauts’ 70s debut, which features the essential “Message from a Black Man,” have traded for over a hundred dollars. It’s been a sample source for producers like Kanye West, who rearranged Jackson 5 acolytes the Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s “Bound” into “Bound 2,” and sped-up a section of the Whatnauts’ “I’ll Erase Away Your Pain” for the chipmunk soul of “Late.”

Today, Sylvia Robinson is best known for creating the Sugarhill Gang – controversy exists to this day on whether she assembled the trio herself or discovered them at a party in New Jersey – and the first important rap imprint, Sugar Hill Records. It was a triumphant coda to one of the funkier tangents of the soul era.

(October 16, 2016: It’s well-established now that the late Sylvia Robinson assembled the group after discovering the hip-hop scene at a party. However, her empire is controversial for many other reasons.)

Recommended:

  • The Moments, “Love On a Two-Way Street”
  • Ponderosa Twins Plus One, “Bound”
  • The Whatnauts, “Message From a Black Man”
  • Linda Jones, “Fugitive From Love”
  • The Moments, “What’s Your Name”
  • Sylvia, “Pillow Talk”
  • Shirley & Company, “Shame, Shame, Shame”
  • The Moments, “Girls”
  • Sylvia, “Lay It On Me”
  • Positive Force, “We Got the Funk”
  • The Moments, “Sexy Mama”
  • Linda Jones, “For Your Precious Love”
  • The Whatnauts, “I’ll Erase Away Your Pain”
  • Linda Jones, “Let It Be Me”
  • George Kerr, “Three Minutes to Hey Girl”
  • Sylvia, “Sweet Stuff”
  • The Moments, “Look At Me I’m In Love”
  • The Moments, “When The Morning Comes”
  • Sylvia, “Didn’t I”
  • The Sugarhill Gang, “Rappers Delight”

(Rhapsody – January 19, 2014)

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