Soul II Soul

Soul II Soul

    While the London-based musical collective known as Soul II Soul was unquestionable responsible for creating a major stir in the U.S. marketplace with its solid, hit-filled 1989 debut album, British homegrown soul music first began to make an impact on American audiences over a decade earlier through artists like Billy Ocean, Central Line, Linx and  Junior Giscombe.  Each act professed its debt to American funk and soul of the '60s and ‘70s as did Soul II Soul founders (disc jockey) Jazzie B., (producer/arranger) Nellee Hooper and (musician) Philip ‘Daddae' Harvey who first came together as a unit in the mid-‘80s. 

    Originally, Soul II Soul began as a company created by London-born Jazzie (real name, Beresford Romeo) and Harvey to supply disc jockeys and PA systems for dance music artists as well as holding ‘raves' at warehouses in different parts of London.  It was at one such event - at Paddington Dome - that the two met Hooper, who had been working with the Wild Bunch sound system (which later evolved into the popular British team Massive Attack).  Adopting a distinctive look that included a hairstyle derived from the Jamaican Rastafarians' ‘dreadlock' style which they called ‘Funki Dred' and t-shirts sporting the ‘Funki Dred' logo, the members of Soul II Soul expanded their activities to start a line of clothes sold out of a small store in Camden that also housed a record section. 

    Inevitably, the members of the growing collective began creating original music, working with - among others - singer Rose Windross, a regular performer at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden, a venue where Soul II Soul could often be found spinning the latest sounds from the U.S.  In 1988, the group signed with 10 Records, a subsidiary of Virgin Records in the U.K.; two singles were released and while neither charted, both cuts became major club hits.  At the time, Jazzie was a regular on London's popular KISS-FM radio station; with momentum building around all its activities, Soul II Soul finally achieved mainstream success in March 1989 with the release of the hypnotic "Keep On Movin'" single which featured the lead vocals of Caron Wheeler, the production skills of Hooper, Jazzie and Simon Law and the participation of members of Massive Attack. 

    Within a matter of two months, the single began to take off in the U.S., finally topping the R&B charts, landing in the pop Top 10 and achieving platinum status; the equally infectious follow-up "Back To Life" was also a platinum record and R&B chartopper, a Top 5 pop hit that earned the group a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The "Keep On Movin'" album sold over two million copies in the U.S. and included key cuts like "Jazzie's Groove," a Top 10 R&B hit in early 1990 and "African Dance," which gave the group its' second Grammy (for Best R&B Instrumental Performance).

    The impact of Soul II Soul's hybrid music, which fused classic ‘70s funk and Philly soul with hip-hop, dance music and reggae, was international: Jazzie B. and members of the group began traveling worldwide, creating a solid following eager for Soul II Soul's second album.  Released in the summer of 1990, "Vol. II - 1990 - A New Decade" spawned its own share of hit singles via cuts like "Get A Life" (a Top 5 R&B and Top 60 pop hit), "A Dream's A Dream" (a Top 20 R&B chartmaker), "People" (Top 50 R&B) and "Missing You" (Top 30 R&B).  The personnel for the album had changed: Wheeler had begun a solo career so vocalists featured on Soul II Soul's gold sophomore album included U.S. born diva Kym Mazelle and Victoria Wilson-James.

    By the time Soul II Soul released its third album "Vol. III Just Right" in 1992, Hooper had left to pursue a successful career as a producer working with Madonna, Bjork and U2.  With Jazzie B. still at the helm, the CD included vocals by U.S. singer Penny Ford (formerly with Snap);  overall sales did not reach the level achieved by the first two albums but the set yielded two charted singles, "Joy," a Top 20 R&B hit, and "Move Me No Mountain," a Top 40  R&B cover of a song previously recorded by Love Unlimited, Dionne Warwick and Chaka Khan.

    In 1993, Virgin in the U.K. released the compilation, "Vol. IV - The Classic Singles 1988-1993" and two years later, Jazzie B. reunited with singer Caron Wheeler and producer Simon Law for Soul II Soul's "Vol. 5 - Believe" which included the charted single, "Love Enuff" and the track "Ride On."  Since that time, Soul II Soul have released one new album (1997's "Time For Change") and two compilations (1999's "Club Classics" and the 2000 release "Club Mix Hits") which feature remixes of the group's hits and key album cuts.  With the motto "a happy face, a thumpin' bass for a lovin' race," Soul II Soul created a special blend of music in the ‘90s, bringing acclaim for a uniquely British form of neo-soul.

    Contributed by David Nathan,