Mantronix Biography

DJ Kurtis Mantronik (Curtis Khaleel, 4 September 1965, Jamaica, West Indies, moving to Canada at age seven, then New York as a teenager) was the creative force behind these New York-based hip-hop innovators, a multi-instrumental talent whose knowledge of electronics was central to the band’s sound. That sound, electro in its purest form as suggested by the band’s name, was highly popular in the mid-80s. Mantronik’s use of samplers and drum machines proved pivotal to the genre’s development, not least on tracks like ‘Music Madness’, which used a snatch of ‘Stone Fox Chase’ by Area Code 615 (better known in the UK as the theme to The Old Grey Whistle Test). Indeed, the raps of MC Tee (b. Touré Embden) often seemed incidental to the formula.

The duo met at Manhattan’s Downtown Record Store in 1985, where Mantronik was mixing records behind the turntables and introducing customers to new releases. A few weeks later, they made a demo tape and started looking for a label. Soon afterwards, William Socolov, the astute founder of independent label Sleeping Bag Records, was in the store and was sufficiently impressed with the demo tape Mantronik played him to offer a recording contract. The first single, 1985’s ‘Fresh Is The Word’, was a huge street and dancefloor hit, as was their production of Tricky Tee’s ‘Johnny The Fox’. In late 1985, the duo released their first album, which included the hit singles ‘Bassline’ and ‘Ladies’, and took the marriage of street rhyme and electronic studio wizardry to new heights. Mantronik further built up his reputation with his production of Joyce Sims’ ‘All And All’ and 12.41’s ‘Success Is The Word’, before going on to record the second Mantronix album, the competent but relatively disappointing Music Madness. The duo was one of the most popular acts at the historic UK Fresh hip-hop festival at London’s Wembley Arena in the summer of 1986, but were dropped by Sleeping Bag a year later.

Mantronix appeared to have run out of fresh ideas but were signed by Capitol Records for their third album, In Full Effect, on which they experimented with a more dance-based sound, but they were quickly being overtaken by a new generation of rappers/studio maestros. In the late 80s, Tee signed up to the USAF, to be replaced by two stand-in rappers, Bryce Luvah (cousin of LL Cool J) and DJ Dee (Kahleel’s cousin). Mantronix did hit the UK charts in 1990 with the singles ‘Got To Have Your Love’ and ‘Take Your Time’, featuring the vocal sheen of Wondress, reaching number 4 and number 10 respectively. The attendant This Should Move Ya featured a cover version of Ian Dury And The Blockheads’ ‘Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll’. The distinctive bass lines were still in place, though by now Mantronik was branching out into soul and R&B horizons, illustrated by Mantronix’s last album, 1991’s The Incredible Sound Machine, which saw the introduction of singer Jade Trini.

Mantronik has continued to produce for others, notably UK soul vocalist Mica Paris, and provided remixes for Future Sound Of London and Dr. Octagon among others. He made a comeback in 1999, releasing I Sing The Body Electro, on which he was aided by rapper Traylude, under his own name. Drawing on the methods of contemporary DJs, most of whom had been influenced by Mantronix in the first place, he managed to fashion an impressive fusion of old school electro and modern breakbeats. He now composes all his music on an Apple Macintosh computer, a trait he shares with many of dance music’s leading lights.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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