From ‘Rapper’s Delight’ to tariff-collector fight: sons of hip-hop pioneers face the music in tax case

ByEd Beeson

The scions of one of hip-hop’s founding families have added a different type of hit to their rap sheet: guilty pleas over their failure to file federal tax returns.

Three brothers whose parents formed Sugar Hill Records, the New Jersey music label behind hip-hop’s first commercial hit, the SugarHill GangSugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” admitted today in Newark federal court that they failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income from their work in the music industry.

Joseph Robinson Jr., 50, of Tenafly, along with Leland Robinson, 46, and Rhondo Robinson, 41, both of Englewood, each pled guilty to charges that they failed to file tax returns between 2005 and 2008, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said.

The total tax loss for the government came to nearly $1.29 million, Fishman said.

The brothers’ late parents, Sylvia and Joe Robinson, ran Sugar Hill Records from 1979 to 1986. In addition to releasing the Sugarhill Gang’s debut album, the label also issued recordings by other seminal artists, including Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and amassed an extensive catalogue of songs by other rap and R&B musicians. They also operated the Englewood studio where “Rapper’s Delight” was recorded.

Sylvia Robinson died Sept. 29, while Joe Robinson passed away in 2000.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the three sons’ income came primarily from royalties, music publishing and their work as copyright administrators. Rhondo Robinson, for example, received more than $391,000 in 2005 that he did not report to the Internal Revenue Service, according to a court filing. Leland Robinson netted more than $129,000 that same year, while Joseph Robinson Jr. earned about $321,000, other filings said.

The three men each face a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of $200,000 when they are sentenced July 10, Fishman’s office said. They will also have to pay the IRS all taxes and penalties owed, and file accurate tax returns.

Attorneys for the three men said their clients regret their decisions. “They have neglected a very important civic responsibility that is costing them dearly now, but they are making it right,” said Henry Klingeman, an attorney for Joseph Robinson Jr., who said he is seeking probation for his client.

Frank Agostino, an attorney for Rhondo Robinson, said, “Going forward, Sugar Hill will be a model of tax compliance.”

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