Longtime friends with a cosmic bond (the same birthday), Nick “The Head” Hallam and Rob Birch are considered British hip-hop pioneers. Their group, the Stereo MC’s, married rock, pop, and rap, introducing a “synthesis of hip-hop beats and milky acid-jazz-infused dance groves,” according to MusicHound Rock. After releasing three albums, the Stereo MC’s earned the worldwide fame they sought, scoring hits in the United States with the singles “Elevate My Mind” and “Connected” during the 1990s.
Hallam and Birch met as children at the age of six in Nottingham, England. Sharing a mutual love of music, the duo formed the rock band Dogman and Head. In 1985, when they were 17 years old, Hallam and Birch moved to London to tap into the city’s vibrant music scene. Upon arriving in London, the duo changed their focus from rock to rap and soul. They recorded new songs for their label, Gee Street Records, which was formed with Jon Baker and DJ Richie Rich. The Gee Street Studio followed after a real estate developer gave Baker and Rich £7,000 each to move out of their flats. The label and the studio were named after a London-area street.
The Stereo MC’s’ first single,” Move It,” and its follow-up “What is Soul?” were released in 1987. The following year, the duo hired Italian-British DJ Cesare to work with the group and their side project, Ultimatum. “Move It” received wider distribution in March of 1988 when Gee Street signed a distribution deal with Island Records. Island also put into stores Ultimatum’s first remix,” Black is Black,” by the Jungle Brothers.
Ultimatum headed out on the road opening for Jesus Jones. In 1989, the Stereo MC’s released their debut album, 33–45–78, which was recorded for $21,000. In the United States, the album was issued as a five-track EP dubbed Stereo MC’s. The album was a considered a musical landmark in the United Kingdom where the amalgamation of rock and rap was rare. Unhappy with the group’s direction, Cesare left Ultimatum and Stereo MC’s to become a renowned producer. Hallam and Birch found a new partner in the Jungle Brothers’ Afrika Baby Bam, with whom they recorded the Stereo MC’s Supernatural, named Supernatural American Mix in the United States. Bam was considered a full member, co-writing, co-producing and appearing on the album, which was released in 1990.
For its live performances, the trio recruited percussionist Owen If, whose previous entertainment experience included serving as a special effects trainee at Pin-ewood Studios for the films Batman and Full Metal Jacket, as well as background vocal work for Cath Coffey. The band headed out on tours with the rock group Living Colour and Manchester Britpop group the Happy Mondays. Meanwhile, the Stereo MC’s scored their first hit, 1991’s “Lost in Music,” which was based on Ultimatum’s remix of the Jungle Brothers’ “Doin’ Your Own Dang.” In 1991, the song “Elevate My Mind” became the first American top 40 hit for the Stereo MC’s.
The group’s follow-up album, Connected, was much anticipated upon its release in September of 1992. The record spawned the American top 20 hit of the same name, as well as the British favorite “Step It Up.” Connected went platinum in 18 countries and earned the band a place as the opening group for U2 on its Zooropa tour. The success of Connected led the band to its first major awards, Best Group and Best Album prizes at the 1994 BRIT Awards. Claiming burn-out and hinting at allegations of exploitation on the part of its record label, the group stepped out of the spotlight and into the studio. Birch later told British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio Online that promotion and traveling wore on the group. Plus, touring occupied all of the group’s time, making it difficult to write new material. Hallam and Birch briefly took the Stereo MC’s out of retirement in 1998, however, to record the song “Flash” for the soundtrack to the film The Avengers starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes.
The duo remained in music during their time off from 19;the Stereo MC’s. They resurrected their Ultimatum identity and found success as remixers, working on pieces by Aswad (“Warrior Re-Charge”), Madonna (“Frozen”), Definition of Sound (“Wear Your Love Like Heaven”), Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (“Television: The Drug of the Nation”), Dream Warriors (“Follow Me Not”), Electronic (“Idiot Country Two”), and U2 (“Mysterious Ways”). In March of 2000, more than six years after releasing Connected, the duo released the
Members include (born on November 7, 1957; joined group, c. 1988); Rob Birch (born Robert Charles Birch on June 11, 1961, in Ruddington, Nottinghamshire, England), vocals, songwriter, producer; DJ Cesare (joined group, c. 1988), DJ; Cath Coffey (born Catherine Muthomi Coffey in Kenya; joined group, c. 1988), backing vocals; Verona Davis (born on February 18, 1952, in London, England; joined group, c. 1988), backing vocals; Nick “The Head” Hallam (born on June 11, 1962, in Nottingham, England), synthesizers, music orchestration; Owen If (born Ian Frederick Rossiter on March 20, 1959, in Newport, Wales; joined group, c. 1988) Andrea Bedassie (born on November 7, 1957; joined group, c. 1988); Rob Birch (born Robert Charles Birch on June 11, 1961, in Ruddington, Nottinghamshire, England), vocals, songwriter, producer; DJ Cesare (joined group, c. 1988), DJ; Cath Coffey (born Catherine Muthomi Coffey in Kenya; joined group, c. 1988), backing vocals; Verona Davis (born on February 18, 1952, in London, England; joined group, c. 1988), backing vocals; Nick “The Head” Hallam (born on June 11, 1962, in Nottingham, England), synthesizers, music orchestration; Owen If (born Ian Frederick Rossiter on March 20, 1959, in Newport, Wales; joined group, c. 1988), percussion.
Formed group in East London, England, c. 1987; started Gee Street Records with John Baker and DJ Richie Rich, late 1980s; released debut album, 33–45–78, on Gee Street/Island Records, 1989; released album Supernatural, 1990; released single “Elevate My Mind,” 1991; released Connected, 1992; released Deep, Down and Dirty on Island/Def Jam Records, 2001.
Awards: BRIT Awards, Best Group and Best Album for Connected, 1994.
Addresses: Record company —Island Def Jam Music Group, Worldwide Plaza, 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.islandrecords.com. Website —Stereo MC’s Official Website: http://www.stereomcs.com.
mix album DJ Kicks, one in a series of records issued by the Berlin-based Studio K7. Billboard magazine’s Gary Smith described the release as “a selection of tunes ranging from the classic early hip-hop of the Ultra-magnetic MCs’ ‘Poppa Large’ and Kool G Rap’s ‘Road to Riches’ to the contemporary Afro-funk of Blueman Presents Funky Lowlife’s ‘Funk Connection.’” The duo’s music has also found new life in television and radio commercials.
In early 2000, Hallam and Birch decided that it was time to record a new Stereo MC’s record. They worked diligently in their studio, located in a building that formerly housed an illegal nightclub. After nine months, the Stereo MC’s produced Deep, Down and Dirty, a 13-track album released on May 28, 2001, in Europe and in June in the United States on Universal/Island Records. In advance of the release of Deep, Down and Dirty, the Stereo MC’s returned to the stage in early 2001. The band had undergone a few changes, however. Hallam, Birch, If, and Coffey made up the core of the Stereo MC’s, while two new backup singers entered the mix. Hallam told BBC Radio Online that it was nerve-wracking to tour once again. “I guess we are pretty freaked out by doing shows again. We wanted to do a few and get back into the vibe, but it’s great. I think we always really loved playing live.”
The critics were not as thrilled about the Stereo MC’s’ return as fans. Jeremy Wilks, a writer for the European news organization ITN, panned the record, calling the music dated: “The Stereo MC’s end up looking, and sounding, as washed out as Rob himself.” However, Wilks did backpedal a bit: “This record should not be avoided, but it does lack a certain magnetism and energy.” Christine Weydig of Interview magazine gave it a back-handed compliment: “Despite a few awkward rhymes… these pioneers of electronica still spin an inspired web of funk, hip-hop, rock and soul.” In early 2001, the Stereo MC’s prepared for a massive United States tour to celebrate the release of Deep, Down and Dirty, but most of the jaunt was postponed so the group could return to Europe to play festivals.
33–45–78, Gee Street, 1989.
Supernatural (includes “Elevate My Mind”), Gee Street, 1990.
Connected (includes “Connected”), Gee Street/Island, 1993.
(Contributors) The Avengers (soundtrack), Columbia, 1998.
DJ Kicks, Studio K7, 2000.
Deep, Down and Dirty, Island/Def Jam, 2001.
Graff, Gary, and Daniel Durchholz, editors, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Billboard, December 4, 1999.
Interview, June 2001.
BBC Radio Online, http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/alt/alt_features/stereo_mcs_interview_apr2001.shtml (July 25, 2001).
IMusic/ARTISTdirect, http://imusic.artistdirect.com/showcase/urban/stereomcs.html (July 25, 2001).
ITN, http://www.itn.co.uk/news/20010523/entertainment/04stereomcs.shtml (July 25, 2001).
New Musical Express, http://www.nme.com/NME/External/News/News_Story/0,1004,3005,00.html (July 25, 2001).
Sonicnet.com, http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/biography/169O4.jhtml (July 25, 2001).
Additional information was provided by Island Def Jam Music Group publicity materials, 2001.
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