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Us3 is a jazz-rap group founded in London in 1991. Their name was inspired by a Horace Parlan recording produced by Alfred Lion, the founder of Blue Note Records. On their debut album, Hand on the Torch, Us3 used samples from the Blue Note Records catalogue, all originally produced by Lion.
Us3 is the brainchild of London-based producer Geoff Wilkinson. Formed in 1992, alongside production partner Mel Simpson, Us3 had two previous incarnations. The first was a limited edition white label 12” release in 1990 called “Where Will We Be In The 21st Century” featuring rapper MC Honey B and jazz pianist Jessica Lauren. This attracted the attention of an indie label named Ninjatune, and the result was NW1’s 1991 12” “The Band Played The Boogie” featuring London rapper Born 2 B. It sampled one of the biggest dance-floor tunes of the burgeoning jazz dance scene, Grant Green’s “Sookie Sookie,” which was originally released on Blue Note Records.
London’s Kiss FM added “The Band Played The Boogie” to its playlist and Wilkinson received a call summoning him to EMI Records’s offices in London. Wilkinson avoided a lawsuit and was granted rights to the archives of Blue Note Records. One of the resulting demos, recorded in March 1992, was “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia).” This sampled the main Piano part of Herbie Hancock's recording, Cantaloupe Island. Two years later, it entered the US top ten. By then, the resulting album, “Hand on the Torch” had become a global phenomenon. It was the first Blue Note album to achieve Platinum status (1,000,000 sales) in the USA. After several world tours with the Us3 band, Mel Simpson left for other endeavors, and in 1996 Wilkinson set about making a follow-up album. New York rappers KCB and Shabaam Sahdeeq came in to replace Rahsaan Kelly, Kobie Powell, and Tukka Yoot, and the resulting 1997 album was Broadway & 52nd. The Blue Note samples became more embedded in the grooves and experimental tracks like “Snakes” (in 5/4) and the spoken-word “Sheep." More touring followed, but personnel changes within Blue Note’s parent company, Capitol Records, allowed Wilkinson to leave and sign to Sony, working with the A&R executive that initially signed him in 1992. Blue Note samples were not included and two new vocalists joined the group: rapper Michelob, and singer Alison Crockett. However, before the album was complete, a major personnel change at Sony left Us3 in limbo.
Eventually the third Us3 album An Ordinary Day in an Unusual Place was released in 2001 by Toshiba EMI in Japan and Universal in Europe. The album itself represented a new direction for the group's sound, incorporating elements of drum’n’bass, Latin, and Indian music into the mix. Several European and Japanese tours took place throughout 2002, but there once again were major label personnel cuts that left Us3 without a label. Eventually a deal was concluded and the fourth Us3 album Questions was released in Japan by Toshiba EMI in 2003. This time Wilkinson ditched the samples completely and made an album heavily influenced by both his love of Latin music and the nu-soul movement. Brooklyn rapper Reggi Wyns and London-based South African female singer Mpho Skeef were the featured vocalists. “Questions” was the first Us3 album to be released independently (outside Japan). Two tours of Europe in 2005 resulted in 50 performances in 14 countries. After the tour, the eclectic album Schizophonic was recorded. All members of the Us3 live band were featured, including Chris Storr, Ed Jones, Neville Malcolm, DJ First Rate, Mike Gorman, Sean Hargreaves, John Crawford, and Ernie Cranenburgh. “Schizophonic” also featured two new rappers, Akil Dasan and Gaston, both of whom Wilkinson found at New York’s underground hangout, the Nuyorican Poets Café.The 2007 album Say What!? once again included rappers Akil Dasan and Gaston and added 21 year old R&B vocalist Adeline.
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Official Homepage: www.us3.com
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