Black History Month: The Best of Black British Musicians in the 90’s
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Today we are celebrating Black Musicians from the 90s!
Soul II Soul
First up, we’ve got Soul II Soul!
Soul II Soul is best known for their chart-toppers “Back to Life” and “keep on moving”. These tracks saw them transform into chart-topping musicians in the UK and the states. This British musical collective won two Grammys and was nominated for five Brit Awards, twice for Best British Group. Their second album Vol. II: 1990 – A New Decade; landed them another number one album.
To date, Soul II Soul has sold over 10 million albums in over 35 countries. The group first attracted attention as a sound system and made themselves a household name in their community. However, the African Centre changed the game for Soul II Soul and British black music. It allowed them to get the attention of Virgin Records, which catapulted into stardom once signed in 1988.
Soul II Soul started the ‘funki dred’ lifestyle celebrating their British, Caribbean and African heritage. Soul II Soul became more than just music when they opened their store in Camden, and the store sold clothes, sound equipment and records. Over time, their shop evolved into a place that celebrated the black British music scene.
Soul II Soul music is still popping in recent times! Mary J Blige and Sean Kingston have released covers of ‘back to life. This smash single was featured in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. In 2008, there was royal recognition for the ‘Funki Dreds’. Jazzie B, the founder of Soul II Soul, was awarded an OBE for his music services, making him the first sound man recognised by the queen.
Let’s celebrate the best of 90s Hip Hop with London Posse.
London Posse was a Hip-Hop group recognised as one of the most influential groups in the English 90s Hip Hop scene. Best known for their hit single “Money Mad”, The Daily Telegraph credited them for giving “British rap an identity of its own”. The group consisted of Rodney P, Bionic MC, Sipho the Human Beatbox and DJ Biznizz. Rodney P and Bionic MC transformed UK Hip Hop by spitting their bars in a fusion of cockney chat and Jamaican patois, forming a new London slang.
They refused to conform to the standard of rapping with fake Yankee accents. This act of defiance shocked the scene and transformed it forever. Rodney P described the album as a turning point in the sound of the music. They showed British MC’s they did not need the fake American accent! The British accent and music are just as strong as their American influences. Matching the home-grown style was producer Sparkii Ski. His contribution helped define a new sound in UK Hip Hop. He was responsible for assisting the London posse in creating their fusion sound of rap and reggae.
The London posse achieved success with their first single, “Big Life”, produced by radio DJ Tim Westwood. The single peaked at number eleven on the UK Independent Chart and lasted for eleven weeks. The b-side, “My Beatbox Reggae Style”, was the first UK track to consist of a beatboxer providing the instrumental. Eventually, Sipho and DJ Biznizz left the group, but Rodney P and Bionic remained, becoming a duo.
Next up, we’ve got the one and only Seal!
Seal emerged on the English house music scene in the 1990s. He then transitioned and becoming the most popular British soul vocalist of his time. He was well known for his distinctive sound of fusion of soul, rock and pop. His unique sound brought him success both in the UK and across the pond. This British singer-songwriter has sold over 20 million records worldwide. Known for singles like “Crazy”, released in 1991, it earned Seal a Grammy nomination for ‘Best Male Pop Vocal Performance’.
However, his track ‘Kiss from a Rose’ is unarguably his most famous song. The track was first released as a single in July 1994 and included the NeverEnding story III in the film. It was re-released in 1995 as part of the Batman Forever film soundtrack, helping it top the charts in the US and Australia. Seal won various awards throughout his career including, three Brit Awards, four Grammy Awards and an MTV Video Music Awards.
Seal was born and raised in London in 1963 to Nigerian parents. Before becoming a household name and dominating the UK Charts, Seal graduated with an architecture degree and worked various jobs. He first got into music by singing in local clubs and bars. He then joined an English funk band, touring Japan. He, later on, joined a Thailand based blues band. Seal proves that you do not need to conform or limit yourself to one category and genre to make it. His fusion of different sounds broke boundaries and catapulted him into a global star.
Time to round off the 90s, with none other than the R&B Queen Gabrielle!
Before Gabrielle became a household name, her singing career had humble beginnings. The British house and R&B vocalist first started her career singing for free in London West End clubs. Gabrielle got her big break with her demo track Dreams, which sampled Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car. This track was re-recorded without the Chapman sample and ended up in the Guinness Book of Hit Singles as the highest UK Chart entry for a debut female act! This track dominated the charts for three weeks.
A Gabrielle completed her image with a sequinned eyepatch which became her signature look. Gabrielle kept her right eye covered due to a condition called ptosis. Rather than getting cosmetic surgery, she turned her insecurity into her signature look. Her debut album “Find your way” sold over a million copies worldwide, filled by the release of her second self-titled album in 1996. Both established Gabrielle as one of the UK’s top Soul vocalists of her era!
By Danni Tesfay