African American Studies



INTERVIEWEE: Lamar Hill, aka LA Sunshine

SUMMARY BY: Patrick O’Donnell

Lamarr Hill, aka LA Sunshine, is a Harlem-born rapper who was an important figure in the early New York hip-hop scene. He was a member of the Treacherous Three, an important old-school hip-hop group, along with Spoonie Gee and Kool Moe Dee. Hill grew up on 129th Street in Harlem. His first exposure to music came at a very early age, as his mother and older brother were big fans of R&B, especially Al Green, Otis Redding, and the Temptations. His first formal public musical performance came when he was in the sixth grade. He performed in a talent show at his elementary school. He and his friends choreographed and performed in a rendition of a song by The Moments, and they won the competition. After realizing that he had a flair for performance and choreography, he attended IS 195 Roberto Clemente, a high school for the performing arts. His first exposure to hip-hop was at the Apollo Theater, where DJ Hollywood performed during an intermission. Hill, who had an R&B background, had never heard anything like it. He vowed to become a successful MC, since he knew it would be too expensive to get all the necessary DJ equipment. He started practicing by himself, and then he would serve as the introductory emcee for other rappers. From there, it was a very natural progression to full-time MC.

Soon after, LA Sunshine joined up with Kool Moe Dee and Spoonie Gee, and the trio became the Treacherous Three. The group was hugely influential on subsequent hip-hop. In particular, their fast-rhyming style separated them from many of their old-school peers, and they used the technique long before the Sugar Hill Gang, which is usually credited with giving birth to hip-hop proper. In fact, the Sugar Hill Gang was not a real group at all, but a conglomeration of rappers created by a music production company. While the group’s hit single “Rapper’s Delight” was instrumental in bringing hip-hop into the mainstream, The Treacherous Three were technically the originators of the strain of old-school hip-hop that was especially influential on newer genres, including gangsta rap.

Hill grew up in a rough neighborhood, albeit one in which people looked out for one another. During those days, the neighborhood was almost totally composed of African-American families. He was brought up during the heroin crisis, but before the crack epidemic, so street violence tended to be isolated and targeted—there was no gun violence, and drug dealers surreptitiously occupied limited stretches of territory. As a result, the neighborhood was rough around the edges, but still a relatively safe and close-knit community. In retrospect, Hill thinks that his upbringing was ideal because it took place in a neighborhood that was rough enough for one to have to develop street smarts, but community-based enough for one to have a fulfilling upbringing. Nevertheless, Hill credits his involvement with hip-hop for “saving” him, since many of his friends and associates succumbed to drug use and the violence of the street game. Hill witnessed the drug game first hand, as his brother was involved in that lifestyle. The dealers were about 17 or 18 years old, and they would look out for the younger kids in the neighborhood by giving them cash, food, and gifts.

Hill shares a good deal more information about the formation, rise, and fall of the Treacherous Three, as well as an account of what things were going on in the Manhattan and Bronx scenes in the mid-70’s through the early 80’s. Nowadays, Hill is retired from hip-hop. He manages a basketball league and works as a basketball coach.

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