The Sequence is America’s first Southern rap group. A female hip hop trio that was signed to the Sugar Hill label in the late-1970s and early-1980s. The group consisted of Cheryl Cook (Cheryl The Pearl), Gwendolyn Chisolm (Blondie), and lead singer/rapper Angie Brown Stone (Angie B.). The group originated from Columbia, South Carolina as a group of high school cheerleaders. The Sequence were also America’s first Southern rap group. And in a Seventies landscape where the few rap records that existed were chorus-free rhyme marathons, the Sequence seamlessly mixed singing and rapping, unwittingly paving a lane for artists like Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, Nicki Minaj, Foxy Brown, Drake and Future.
The trio was noticed when they bum rushed a performance by the Sugarhill Gang and sang for them and Sylvia Robinson backstage. Their most notable single was “Funk You Up” (1979), which was the first rap record released by a female group and the second single released by Sugar Hill Records. Elements of “Funk You Up” were later used by Dr. Dre for his 1995 single “Keep Their Heads Ringin'”, and Bruno Mars for his 2014 single “Uptown Funk” and other artists such as En Vogue, Boogie Down Productions, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ice Cube, Flavor Flav, De La Soul and Trina. This single actually started as a cheer written by group member Cheryl the Pearl Cook.
“Funk You Up” was one of the very first hip-hop songs ever etched to vinyl. Though never officially certified, it was a nationwide smash, serving as the first rap hit performed by women, and only the third rap song to chart in the Top 50 of Billboard‘s Hot Soul Singles. But yet they are still fighting today for their recognition as pioneers in the hip hop and rap industries. “‘Gangsta rap’ came out of my mouth. Did you know that?” says Cook. She takes a minute to speedily cycle through her verse on the 1980 single “And You Know That” to get to the smoking gun. “I said, ‘We’re not Con Funk Shun, we’re not the Gap, we’re the Sugar Hill girls with the gangsta rap,'” she recites with force. “‘We’re not Chic or Sugar Hill. We’re the Sequence girls with the gangsta thrill.’ We were the only ones talking about ‘gangsta’ in records. It came out of my mouth!” “A lot of female rappers say they’ve been there since Day One,” says fellow old-school legend Roxanne Shanté. “I’ve been there since the night before. And they were there before that. When it came to hearing them on the radio, they automatically let me know, OK, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be no me. And if it wasn’t for me, there wouldn’t be none of them.”
“[VH1] tried to change history and say a lot of people don’t remember Sequence,” Stone says. “They didn’t make a significant enough contribution, and we were devastated.”
For proof of the Sequence’s enduring influence on contemporary music, you might not need to look much further than 2016’s Record of the Year Grammy winner, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” The Sequence feel that the song – a 14-week chart-topper and 11-time platinum mega-smash – has a bridge that is remarkably similar to the chorus of the their signature track, “Funk … you … right on up.” “Bruno Mars took the lyrics, the cadence and the melodies,” says Stone, “and then they went and reached over to ‘Apache’ [the indelible 1981 Sugarhill Gang jock jam co-written by Cook] and got ‘Jump on it/Jump on it.’ I’m like, OK, now y’all done did too much. We need some money. We need some of that, because we created that!”
“Our money was the money that opened doors for music to come from the Bronx all the way down to the Roxy. Nobody knows that,” continues Stone, now in a light shout. “And it bothers me that we gave more than our share of a contribution, and it’s never, ever, ever been acknowledged. It’s terrible! When Danceteria was at the top of its game, Madonna was a waitress and serving drinks! We were in there playing!
“I hope you’re taping this, because I’m wired up now,” she says. “I’ve been waiting for 30-something years to say this. And we still look good, OK? We still look good. We don’t have a crack in our skin. We are flawless. I don’t care if you call me the Grandmother [of Rap] or the Great-Grandmother, but you will not erase my history!”
The group backed Spoonie Gee on the single “Monster Jam” (1980). Their single “Funky Sound (Tear the Roof Off)” (1981) was a remake of the single “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” (1976) by Parliament. The groups other charting single was “I Don’t Need Your Love (Part One)” (1982). Angie Stone subsequently became a member of Vertical Hold and later a solo artist. In September 2011, without Angie Stone, Cheryl Cook and Gwendolyn Chisolm released a single entitled “On Our Way to the Movies”. “On Our Way to the Movies” contains a sample of The Staple Singers’ song “Let’s Do It Again”
The Sequence never officially quit, disbanded or were dropped, but reached their conclusion in 1985. Angela Brown had gotten pregnant with her daughter, Diamond, married Rodney and took his last name, officially becoming Angie Stone. The group was separated, with the Stones in the Bronx, and Chisolm and Cook in New Jersey. Stone says Sylvia Robinson resented her husband for wanting to educate people on the music industry, creating a rift. Meanwhile, booming, shouting MCs like Run-D.M.C., L.L. Cool J and Roxanne Shanté were taking hold. The group saw tours and opportunities slow down. The Sequence would funk no longer.
“My thing right now is,” Stone says, “we are legends. We’ve put down generations of work that we’ve not been paid for, we’ve not been acknowledged for and that we could actually need and use right now to survive. All of us are over 50. I won’t say we’re tired because we’re not tired; we love what we do. But I will say we’re tired of being mistreated.”
Today the trio is working on projects individually and as a group. Their mission is to not only correct the wrongs that have been done to them in history, but to also provide a platform that helps teach and develop up and coming artists on how to properly develop a music career and not make some of the same mistakes that were allowed to happen to them. Their focus is to push and promote their new music as well as make sure their legacy is remembered for all of their contributions in the music industry and to all the artists who came after them that they paved they way for. You can also catch them as co-hosts on the Atlanta based radio show The Real Radio Angels of Atlanta Sundays 2-3 PM on 1420 AM WATB Atlanta