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Sylvia Robinson's All Platinum Universe

by Mosi Reeves

Sylvia Robinson'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 one-half of Mickey & Sylvia.) All Platinum Records, which she cofounded 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' 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 resulted in 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 the aforementioned hits made All Platinum part of the black music mainstream, the label (and its offshoots such as 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 $100. 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.

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