1st April 2021
I’m re-visiting a band that formed in London at the beginning of the Hip Hop scene in 1985. Not that I regard Stereo MC’s as a Hip Hop band, but they incorporated enough of the new style into their music to be labelled as such.
Hip-Hop can be a polarizing topic amongst older music-lovers. I always found that British Hip-Hop tends to be more melodic and easier on the ear than its American counterpart. Although pure Hip Hop and RAP are not my favourite genre, their impact is undeniable. The genre outlived trend status and has been incorporated into numerous musical styles.
So, are Stereo MC’s a Hip-Hop band? Although they use elements of Hip Hop, the duo managed to perfectly marry Rock, Pop, Funk, Jazz and RAP – all the elements that, to me, place them firmly into the realms of Acid Jazz.
Nick Hallam and Rob Birch, the founders, became friends at 6-years-old and are so close that they even share a birthday. Their love of music saw the formation of the rock band ‘Dogman & Head’ when they were 17-years-old. They headed for London where they quickly forgot their Rock aspirations and embraced the Soul and RAP styles that were gaining popularity.
Fate was smiling on the boys when a property developer offered them each a considerable amount to move from their flat to make way for a high-rise development. They took the money and formed their own label Gee Street, and started writing and recording at their newly created Gee Street Studios.
Their first singles ‘Move It’ and ‘What is Soul?’ were released in 1987, and a distribution deal with Island Records helped boost the popularity of this new act. I listened to both singles while deciding on a starting song for today’s feature and it’s a hard choice. Both tracks show what was to follow from these Nottingham born lads. In the end, I resorted to the ‘eeny-meeny-miney-mo’ method and ‘What Is Soul’ won.
The Stereo MC’s first EP ‘33-45-78’ was considered a landmark in the British music scene, where the fusion of RAP and Rock influences was rare. The Acid-Jazz scene was still in its infancy and It is doubtful if the band realised how instrumental they were in cementing the sound that defined the emerging genre.
Apart from the Stereo MC’s, Nick Hallam and Rob Birch also had a side-project called ‘Ultimatum’ along with the future big-name producer, DJ Cesare. The side-project dissolved when Cesare left both Ultimatum and Stereo MC’s, and the boys co-opted to replace him with ‘Jungle Brother’s’ member, Afrika Baby Bam, who soon became a full member of the band.
This new team released the album ‘Supernatural’ in 1990. A touring band was put together and they hit the road along with acts such as Living Colour and Happy Mondays. 1991 saw their first successes with the songs ‘Lost in Music’, and ‘Elevate my Mind’ which became the first American Top 40 hit for them.
It’s a song that has stood the test of time and is still being used in dance floor mixes 30 years after we first heard it. It’s time to ‘Elevate my Mind’ with today’s second song. I know there are some of you that remember hitting the dance floor to this.
If the music-listening public didn’t know who the Stereo MC’s yet, 1992 changed all that with the release of what was probably their biggest album. ‘Connected’. The album was a tour de force and showed a new sophistication.
The single ‘Connected’ shot up the charts on both sides of the pond, and the album went platinum in 18 countries. At the 1992 Brit Awards, the band won both Best Group and Best Album categories. The popularity of both the song and the band saw Stereo MC’s open for U2’s Zooropa tour, and even wider recognition among a new audience.
I’m leaving the Stereo MC’s story here, not because they disappeared, disbanded or dissolved, but because the second and third stages of their career encompassed not only another 5 excellent albums but numerous collaborations with artists such as Madonna, Tricky, as well as some of the biggest outfits to emerge on the dance scene.
If I had to try and cover everything they have done subsequent to this album we may have to dedicate another week to this one band! I’m sure I’ll revisit the Stereo MC’s again at some stage, but until then, here’s my favourite of theirs; the song that made them, and that evokes lots of memories of wild dance floor moves – Connected.
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music’s Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that does more than just share a song.
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Words © Andrew Knapp 2021