To hear Lovebug Starski tell it, he was there when the phrase “hip-hop” was coined, trading the two words back and forth while improvising lines with Cowboy of the Furious Five at a farewell party for a friend who was headed into the Army.
He incorporated the phrase into the D.J. sets he was playing in the South Bronx, helping to solidify it as lingo of the scene and inadvertently providing the opening line to “Rapper’s Delight,” the 1979 Sugarhill Gang song that would take hip-hop out of parties and onto the radio.
And about that song: To hear Lovebug Starski tell it, he was the inspiration for it.
“Sylvia Robinson will tell you: I was ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ ” he was quoted in the book “Yes Yes Y’all: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop’s First Decade” (2002), referring to the record executive who formed the Sugarhill Gang and released the song. (She died in 2011.)
“She got the idea off of me,” he said. “I did her birthday party at Harlem World, and that’s where she got the idea. She said, ‘I’ve got to have him.’ She’ll tell you that, but I wasn’t interested in doing no record back in them days, ’cause I was getting so much money for just D.J.-ing.”
Lovebug Starski, a versatile D.J. and rapper who was a key figure in the development and early evolution of hip-hop in the South Bronx throughout the 1970s, died on Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 57.
His manager, Jeremy Crittenden, confirmed the death but did not specify the cause.
Lovebug Starski was born Kevin Smith in the Bronx on May 16, 1960. In his teenage years, he was a member of the Black Spades gang, one of the borough’s most notorious. “Everyone used to carry machetes,” he told Rolling Stone in 1993.
But he had musical aspirations and aptitude.
Decades before hip-hop was the dominant influence on American popular culture, it was the work of Bronx teenagers gathering in parks, recreation centers and clubs and improvising a new approach to music by jury-rigging old records and technology.