by Jeff Halpin
A nightmarish tale of manipulation, intellectual property fraud and old fashioned show business chicanery, “I Want my Name Back” details the heartbreaking story of the Sugar Hill Gang, widely heralded as the first rap artists to receive world-wide recognition, and their treatment at the hands of Sugar Hill records owners Joe and Sylvia Robinson.
They three original members of the Sugar Hill Gang were signed to Sugar Hill Records in their hometown of Engelwood, New Jersey in 1978. Their hit single “Rappers Delight” has sold over 10 million copies worldwide, but the musicians did not receive any publishing royalties from these sales.
Through a number of calculated moves the preceded the group’s success, Joe and Sylvia Robinson and their sons Joe, Jr. and Leland Robinson at different points claimed credit for the names, lyrics and identities of the original members of the group. With a dispute that lasted over 30 years and continues to this day, “I Want My Name Back” is a document of exploitation unlike any other in popular music history.
In only his second documentary, Paradiso captures the frustrations and despondency of the original members with a deft hand that allows the audience to see both sides of the story, despite the non-participation of the Robinson family through documents and archival footage.
After DOC NYC creative director Thom Powers’s opening remarks, Paradiso informed the audience at NYU’s Eisner Auditorium to “stick around for a very special ending as we re-write the end of this story.” Immediately following the film, the audience was treated to a short but impressive set featuring Master Gee and Wonder Mike, as they
stormed through spot-on renditions of “Rapper’s Delight,” “Apache,” “The Lala Song” and others.
Jeff Halpin is a film maker and writer living in Brooklyn NY, where he is currently working on a series of short films, “Visus Mentis.” You can follow him at @VanMeterDr on Twitter.