Soul II Soul Biography

This highly successful UK rap, soul and R&B outfit originally consisted of Jazzie B (Beresford Romeo, 26 January 1963, London, England; rapper), Nellee Hooper (b. Bristol, Avon, England; musical arranger) and Philip ‘Daddae’ Harvey (multi-instrumentalist). The early definition of the group was uncomplicated: ‘It’s a sound system, an organisation (which) came together to build upon making careers for people who had been less fortunate within the musical and artistic realms.’ The name Soul II Soul was first used to describe Jazzie B and Harvey’s company supplying disc jockeys and PA systems to dance music acts. They also held a number of warehouse raves, particularly at Paddington Dome, near Kings Cross, London, before setting up their own venue. There they met Hooper, formerly of Bristol’s Wild Bunch sound system which evolved into Massive Attack. Joining forces, they took up a residency at Covent Garden’s African Centre before signing to Virgin Records’ subsidiary 10 Records.

Following the release of two singles, ‘Fairplay’ and ‘Feel Free’, the band’s profile grew with the aid of fashion T-shirts, two shops and Jazzie B’s slot on the then pirate Kiss FM radio station. However, their next release would break not only them but vocalist Caron Wheeler, when ‘Keep On Movin’’ reached number 5 in the UK charts in 1989. The follow-up, ‘Back To Life (However Do You Want Me)’, once more featured Wheeler, topped the UK charts in the summer. The song was taken from their inspired debut Club Classics Vol. One. The ranks of the Soul II Soul collective had swelled to incorporate a myriad of musicians, whose input was evident in the variety of styles employed. Wheeler soon left to pursue a solo career, but the band’s momentum was kept intact by ‘Keep On Movin’’ penetrating the US clubs and the album scaling the top of the UK charts. ‘Get A Life’ was a further expansion on the influential, much copied stuttering rhythms that the band had employed on previous singles, but Jazzie B and Hooper’s arrangement of Sinéad O’Connor’s UK number 1, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U, was a poignant contrast. Other artists who sought their services included Fine Young Cannibals and Neneh Cherry.

The early part of 1990 was spent in what amounted to business expansion, with a film company, a talent agency and an embryonic record label. The band’s second album duly arrived halfway through the year, including Courtney Pine and Kym Mazelle in its star-studded cast. However, despite entering the charts at number 1 it was given a frosty reception by some critics who saw it as comparatively conservative. Mazelle would also feature on the single ‘Missing You’, as Jazzie B unveiled his (ill-fated) new label Funki Dred, backed by Motown Records. Although Volume III, Just Right made its debut at number 3 in the UK album charts, it proffered no substantial singles successes, with both ‘Move Me No Mountain’ and ‘Just Right’ stalling outside the Top 30. Jazzie B would spend the early months of 1993 co-producing James Brown’s first album of the 90s, Universal James, and Virgin issued a stopgap singles compilation at the end of the year. Soul II Soul’s fourth studio album was not available until July 1995, as Caron Wheeler returned to the fold. However, the accompanying hit single, ‘Love Enuff’, was sung by ex-Snap! singer Penny Ford. The band was dropped by Virgin in April 1996, but signed up to Island Records for the release of Time For Change. In 1999, Virgin Records released a 10th anniversary special edition of Club Classics Vol. One.

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