Massive Attack Biography

This loose UK collective, formed by rapper 3D (Robert Del Naja, 21 January 1966, England), Daddy G (b. Grant Marshall) and Mushroom (b. Andrew Vowles, Knowle West, Bristol, England), emerged from Bristol’s experimental music scene. The trio spent several years working on various mobile sound systems, as well as releasing records as part of the Wild Bunch (‘Fucking Me Up’, ‘Tearing Down The Avenue’). Nellee Hooper, a former member of the Wild Bunch, left to work with Soul II Soul and subsequently became one of the leading producers and remixers of the 90s. Another original member, Milo Johnson, began work in Japan. Liaisons with Neneh Cherry eventually led to a meeting with Cameron McVey, who produced Massive Attack’s 1991 debut. The resultant Blue Lines boasted three hit singles; ‘Daydreaming’, ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ (which featured an orchestral score) and ‘Safe From Harm’. The blend of rap, deep reggae and soul was provocative and rich in texture, and featured singing from Cherry and Shara Nelson. An outstanding achievement, it had taken eight months to create, ‘with breaks for Christmas and the World Cup’. ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ was particularly well received. Melody Maker magazine ranked it as the best single of 1991, and it remains a perennial club favourite. One minor hiccup occurred when they were forced, somewhat hysterically, to change their name during the Gulf War in order to maintain airplay. It was duly shortened to Massive. Their philosophy singled them out as dance music’s new sophisticates: ‘We don’t ever make direct dance music. You’ve got to be able to listen and then dance.’ That status was confirmed when U2 asked them to remix their single ‘Mysterious Ways’.

Despite Blue Lines being widely acclaimed, the band disappeared shortly afterwards. Shara Nelson pursued a solo career, with Massive Attack put on hold until the mid-90s. Another early contributor, Tricky, launched himself to considerable fanfare with Maxinquaye, which was heralded alongside Blue Lines as the key album in what critics were dubbing the new ‘trip-hop’ genre. Massive Attack’s second album Protection finally arrived in 1994, with former collaborator Nellee Hooper returning as producer. The featured singers this time included Tricky, Nigerian-born Nicolette, Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn and Horace Andy (who had also contributed to the debut) on a selection of tracks that sadly failed to recapture the magic of Blue Lines. Many critics suggested that others had now run so far with the baton handed them by the collective that the instigators themselves were yet to catch up.

Apart from a dub remix of Protection recorded with the Mad Professor, little was heard from Massive Attack until ‘Risingson’ was released in autumn 1997. The single’s menacing atmosphere was a taster for the downbeat grooves of Mezzanine, which was released to widespread critical acclaim in April 1998, and also became their first UK chart-topper. Guest vocalists included Horace Andy, newcomer Sara Jay, and Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, the latter featuring on the wondrous ‘Teardrop’, which deservedly broke into the UK Top 10 in May 1998, aided by a stunning video.

Rumours of personality clashes were confirmed when Mushroom left to pursue solo interests in 1999. Marshall then went on an extended sabbatical, leaving Del Naja to record new album 100th Window. With Massive Attack’s trademark sound now inescapable on ubiquitous ‘chill-out’ compilations and film and television soundtracks, Del Naja chose to move further away from coffee table slickness into the paranoid and broody soundscapes of Mezzanine. Sinéad O’Connor and the reliable Horace Andy provided the vocals to complement Del Naja’s rapping. Daddy G returned to the fold later in the year for select live dates, but was not present on the next Massive Attack release, a soundtrack to the Luc Besson/Louis Leterrier collaboration Danny The Dog (retitled Unleashed in the USA).

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

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