Angie Stone has found success across the globe as a soul and R&B singer since she released her first solo album, Black Diamond, in 1999. Three Grammy nominations and five million album sales later, she’s in Australia once more as part of the Soulfest tour. It was back in 1979 that Angie got her start in the music industry, as a third of pioneering hip-hop trio The Sequence and their first hit record, ‘Funk You Up’. She graciously took some time out to reminisce about the Sugarhill Record days when she was calling herself Angie B.
What was your first introduction to music?
My dad was a quartet singer and he sang with local buddies. I was an only child, so I was comfortable with being entertained with music. I think that’s what caused me to go in the direction of music.
What was the next step?
When I got in junior high school I started writing poems, and poems eventually turned into songs. As a result I started getting into local talent shows – winning some, losing some. It conditioned me for what my future was going to be like in music.
When did you first hear hip-hop music?
I heard hip-hop music back in the ’70s. Being a product of high school at the time, that was the new fad. We were just like kids at Christmas when we started hearing hip-hop music. We’d jump around, wild out, just like kids! One night we heard an advertisement that Sugarhill Gang were coming to town, and as a result we started to work on songs. We had already formed a group, which was The Sequence, and the next thing you know they’re in town, we’re at the Township Auditorium. The guy that was road managing the Gang at the time fell in love with me, thought I was a beautiful black woman, and he got us in backstage. We sang our hearts out. Sylvia Robinson happened to be in the concert as a producer. There she was again, the first [tour] of its kind going out, and she discovered us and we got our careers off the ground.
Did you meet Blondie and Cheryl The Pearl at high school?
They were friends of mine from high school. Blondie is actually with me here at my home – she’s been here for about two months. They’re doing a story on me for Unsung and they had to interview The Sequence. That was a blast. It’s afforded us to get back together and start working on some stuff for television and film.
‘Monster Jam’ with Spoonie Gee was a great record. What was it like working with him?
Spoonie is our boy! He’s just the way he sounds: smooth.
I saw some footage of Sequence performing ‘Simon Says’ on TV. What was the program you appeared on?
That was a local television show in our hometown called Job Man Caravan. We had already gone gold, we went home and they approached us to do the show.
‘Funk You Up’ was the first hit single by an all-female rap group. That must be a great honour.
It’s so good to hear you say that, because in the last fifteen to twenty years Sequence is never remembered in all of the honorees and ‘the first’ this and ‘the first’ that. We were actually the first female group to record a record that transcended countries, and for some reason they seem very afraid to tell that story. We’ve been overlooked quite a bit. So now, interesting as it is, a lot of folks want to do the Sequence story. If it gets told the right way it will be amazing. The world will wake up to like, ‘I didn’t know these girls were the first girl group to do a project!’ It would just blow them away.
It seems like the history books haven’t reflected how important women were in the rap scene.
Sha-Rock is a very good friend of mine. She was the first female hip-hop rapper to get on vinyl, but we were the first female hip-hop group. I think that because a lot of those artists that worked in The Bronx in New York were very territorial. They had a lot going on in their communities, but outside of their tri-borough area nobody knew who they were! I’d never heard of them in South Carolina. It’s a bittersweet kind of thing, because you want to acknowledge everyone that contributed to this thing called hip-hop.
Was it hard to be accepted by the New York scene at first?
When Sequence came out, I think it shocked them all. ‘Who are they, and where did they come from?’ We were from South Carolina, and the thing that really transcended was we didn’t just come out – we come out with a gold record in three weeks and surpassed things that was there. I took everybody by surprise – they were dumbfounded. But they couldn’t deny us, because we were rappers who could sing!
When did things fall apart from the group?
I left the group in 1983. I was upset because I felt like we were getting taken advantage of by the company, and I started going to look for other situations for the group. As a result they were upset and a little thrown aback because I was the youngest and I was stubborn. It was like, ‘This has to be fixed!’ I said, ‘I’m not gonna resign this deal.’ The deal was fading out. They weren’t paying us the right money. We were still very young and we were thrown out here to fend for ourselves. I said, ‘If I’m gonna fend for myself then I’m gonna do it the right way.’ I decided to leave the group, because they were comfortable at a point where they could take the crap that was being dealt. I just said, ‘Absolutely not!’
What did you do from that point?
Before I started to really figure out where I was gonna go, I was dating Lil’ Rodney Cee from the Funky Four Plus One More and he taught me a lot about promotions. This should go in hip-hop history, but we’ll see. Rodney and I were the first ones to do a show in The Roxy. Rap had not evolved downtown – rap was still an uptown thing, so you couldn’t go downtown because the whole scene was not embracing hip-hop music. We did a deal with The Roxy, that was a huge skating ring. We had The Sequence, we had Afrika Bambaataa, we had Andre Harrell – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – all of them was on the show, we had cut the skating ring in half. The place sold out! It was one of the biggest events to happen.
Henceforth, rap had now evolved to downtown and The Roxy became a stomping ground for hip-hop music to display their talent. Never once has it ever been mentioned that the first show that was brought to The Roxy was brought by Angie B./Angie Stone and Lil’ Rodney Cee. That in itself made history. I think if people knew the history of just how much we put into the hip-hop game we’d be having a different conversation altogether.
What was your best experience from The Sequence days?
I will always remember that we flew in a Learjet to do two shows in one night. We had to be on stage in Cincinnati or St. Louis and we flew from one show in a Learjet and it was the most frightening experience I’ve ever had. But we landed safely and we went and did the show with the Gap Band. When we worked off the plane and onto the stage the place went into mayhem! That’s the most vivid memory I had of just how huge The Sequence had become.
Angie Stone is in Australia for Soulfest.
Brisbane, Riverstage Amphitheatre – October 25
Sydney, Western Springs Stadium – October 26