Us3 is the brainchild of London-based producer Geoff Wilkinson. Formed in 1992, alongside production partner Mel Simpson, Us3 rose from the ashes of 2 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 brought the attention of a (then) fledgling indie label, Ninjatune, and the result was NW1’s 1991 12” “The Band Played The Boogie”. By sampling one of the biggest dancefloor tunes of the burgeoning jazz dance scene, Geoff had unknowingly started a chain reaction. The tune he sampled was Grant Green’s “Sookie Sookie”, originally released on Blue Note Records.
London’s Kiss FM playlisted “The Band Played The Boogie” and Geoff received a call summoning him to EMI’s offices in London. Knowing the sample had not been cleared Geoff was nervous, but somehow talked himself out of being sued and into the Blue Note vaults. By allowing complete access to their legendary back catalogue, Blue Note went back to the future. “It was a brave decision by Bruce Lundvall (Blue Note President)”, says Geoff, “but he made me record some demos first, to prove I could do it”. One of those demos, recorded in March 1992, was “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)”.
Exactly two years later it was sitting pretty in the US top ten. By then the resulting album, “Hand on the Torch” had become a global phenomenon, collecting plaudits and Gold & Silver discs in equal measures. It was the first Blue Note album to achieve Platinum status (1,000,000 sales) in the USA.
The worldwide success of Us3 took everyone by surprise, and proved a point to Geoff. “I always thought there was a huge potential audience for jazz amongst younger people, and I wanted Us3 to be a point of access for them. By sampling classic jazz tracks, mixing them with beats and raps, and having younger jazz cats playing on top I was acknowledging the past, staying rooted in the present, and looking forward to the future, all at the same time.”
After several world tours with the Us3 band, Mel left for pastures new, and in 1996 Geoff set about making the follow-up. “It was always my intention to change the vocalists with each ” says Geoff, “it keeps things fresh and exciting for me too.” NY rappers KCB and Shabaam Sahdeeq came in to replace Rahsaan Kelly, Kobie Powell & 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 “Sheep” (a spoken word poem) broke new ground, drawing great performances from K and Shabaam.