One of my favorite musical genres just happens to acid jazz. As an avid lover a hip-hop, jazz, funk, and soul music, one of the things I love the most about acid jazz is that it combines all these elements of music into one big ball of awesomeness! Its origins are often linked back to the UK in 1980s and 1990s with DJs and crate diggers bringing it to the forefront. One of the frontrunners in the “acid jazz movement” definitely had to be one of my favorite groups ever: The Brand New Heavies. The Brand New Heavies made inspiring and positive music that you could dance to. I remember coming home from school and throwing one of their CDs into my stereo regularly. I would dance around my bedroom pretending that I looked and sounded like leading vocalist N’Dea Davenport while my stuffed animals held it down as the guys in the band. For many of us that grew up in the 1990s, The Brand New Heavies bring back memories of when all genres of music could be considered “mainstream”. They introduced the world to acid jazz in baby steps by making songs that also had a pop appeal to them. The Brand New Heavies had an ever changing roster of group members, but die hard fans like myself who believed in the truly good music that they made. Just ask M.I.S.S. contributor Randi who sang the song “Fake” from the album Brother, Sister with her brother’s band! She also loved the Brand New Heavies so much that she sent away for label stickers in middle school!
The Brand New Heavies formed in 1985 under the name of Brother International. Long time friends Jan Kincaid (drummer/keyboardist), Simon Bartholomew (guitar/vocalist), and Andrew Levy (bassist/keyboardist ) began as an instrumental acid jazz group that quickly gained a cult following within the London club scene. Inspired and influenced by their love of 1960’s and 1970’s soul and funk music, the group later changed their name to “Brand New Heavies” by borrowing from the title “Minister of New Super Heavy Funk” given to soul singer James Brown. They gained huge exposure when their demo tracks were spun at various clubs, especially the influential Cat in the Hat Club in London. Acid house and jazz music began to take over the London club circuit and would slowly make its way to the United States with the Brand New Heavies arrival.
In 1990, the Brand New Heavies added a vocalist by the name of Jay Ella Ruth and signed a deal with the CoolTempo Records. They released the single “Got to Give” from their debut self-titled album Brand New Heavies. The single was hot and the album was even better! They were both met with widespread critical acclaim assuring the Brand New Heavies a spot on the music charts. Soon after the release of “Got to Give”, Jay Ella Ruth left the group and the band signed to a division of Chrysalis Records in the UK. American distribution was soon picked up by the independent label Delicious Vinyl which is known for signing west coast artists such as the Pharcyde, Tone Loc, and Masta Ace. With the Brand New Heavies added to the roster, the label hand picked a newly signed singer by the name of N’Dea Davenport to replace Jay Ella Ruth.
Even though N’Dea Davenport would be the newest member of the group, she was certainly not a stranger to the music industry. She previously provided background vocals to a number of artists including Tone Loc, Young MC, and Madonna. She proved to have great chemistry with the Brand New Heavies and added the right element of funky and soulful vocals that were needed. Although N’ Dea had solo aspirations, she was drawn to the band out of a love of collaborating. A revamped version of the first album featuring vocals by N’Dea Davenport was then released, spawning the feel good singles “Dream Come True”, “Never Stop”, and “Stay This Way”. N’Dea Davenport’s strong, yet soulfully sweet voice was definitely one to envy. Her style was reminiscent of every popular 1990’s trend. At a time when the resurrection of 1970’s style and Seattle grunge fashion were all the rage, you could find N’Dea Davenport rocking a hippie vest made complete with a choker and a plaid baby doll dress with a knit ski hat. Fresh indeed!
Back in the good old days when MTV actually played music videos, The Brand New Heavies’ “Never Stop” was in constant rotation. The song landed on the American R&B charts making it one of their most successful singles to date. With the Brand New Heavies becoming the first British group to accomplish such a feat with a debut single since Soul II Soul several years earlier, they quickly hit the studio to record their second album, Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1. An earlier performance in New York City that also featured rappers Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest and MC Serch of 3rd Bass inspired the group to incorporate more elements of hip-hop into their music with this album. Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1 was met with widespread acclaim and included guest appearances by rappers Main Source, Gang Starr, Grand Puba, and the Pharcyde.
In 1994, The Brand New Heavies released their third studio album Brother, Sister. The title track to the album (which happens to be my personal favorite) featured a funkier, more soulful sound reminiscent of music legends James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, Vicki Anderson, and Mallia Franklin all combined into one! Against the backdrop of Andrew, Simon, and Jan’s funky instrumentation, N’Dea offered advice that seemed to speak directly to the youth of the world. In words that still strongly resonate with me even to this day, here’s what she said.
“Grandma said, at times you’ll feel a sting. There’ll be sharp turns and up hills and closed doors. Then she said hold onto your faith ’cause in this world you’ve got to go and get yours. So you stand up! Be strong! Go out there! Hold on! To the real things that matter, ’cause no one’s gonna hand it to you on a silver platter.”
Although N’Dea Davenport’s solo aspirations were postponed to join the Brand New Heavies, she stepped out on her own and was featured on rapper Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 album in 1993. The single “Trust Me”, which had N’Dea singing the hook is considered a classic to fans of both N’Dea Davenport and Guru. She eventually left the group after the release of Brother, Sister in 1994 to pursue her solo career. Her self-titled debut was released on V2 Records in June of 1998. While it was only moderately successful, the album gave listeners the funky flavor that they had come to love and expect from her. The album featured production by Atlanta’s Dallas Austin and N’Dea Davenport herself. Singles released from this album include “Whatever You Want”, “Underneath A Red Moon”, “Bring It On” and “Bullsh**in”.
In my humble opinion, the Brand New Heavies just didn’t feel the same without N’Dea Davenport present. After the release of her debut album, things remained relatively quiet on Davenport’s career front but the Brand New Heavies would continue to make music. A singer by the name of Siedah Garrett joined the group for their third studio album, Shelter that was then followed by a greatest hits album entitled Trunk Funk – The Best of The Brand New Heavies . On the greatest hits album, a singer by the name of Carleen Anderson provided vocals on some newly recorded tracks as Siedah Garrett left the group. An Japan only album entitled, We Won’t Stop, was released in 2003 and Allaboutthefunk featuring British singer Nicole Russo on vocals was released in 2004.
In 2006, the Brand New Heavies reunited with N’Dea Davenport for a new album entitled, Get Used to It. They released a live album in October 2009 entitled Live In London and plans to release two more studio albums in 2010. I couldn’t be happier! While the Brand New Heavies certainly continued to make good music without N’Dea Davenport on deck, the combination and chemistry of these two forces are simply magical. The revival of acid jazz is back and in full effect! When it comes to making music, I hope the Brand New Heavies never stop or give it up!
“Stay With Me”
“Dream On Dreamer”
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