There are bands. And then, there are bands, man.
Here’s the deal with Us3. Everyone knows their song “Cantaloop”. It’s a sampled flip of Herbie Hancock’s 1964 classic “Cantaloupe Island”. It’s a fun little 90s one-hit-wonder… right?
A couple years later (1997), Us3 recorded what I and many MANY people consider their magnum opus, Broadway & 52nd. You don’t know good, jazzy hip-hop until you’ve heard this in its entirety. And holy FUCK… the lyrics.
Us3 basically is the brainchild of England’s Geoff Wilkinson, and various rappers. After the success of Us3’s first record Hand On The Torch (1993), the president of Blue Note Records let Geoff dig into Blue Note’s entire back catalog, and sample whatever he wanted. And what resulted, was this fucking brilliant and extremely underrated hip-hop/jazz album! The Rhodes piano samples in “True To The Game” and “I’m Thinking About Your Body” are worth the price alone. God DAMN. And the track “Snakes”? A hip-hop masterpiece in 5/4 time. That’s a rarity, man. And the ending solo as it dips into the next track… the single “I’m Thinking About Your Body”… whoa. Does it get any better than this record? Not really.
This album made me OBSESSED with the sound of the Fender Rhodes electric piano, and Wurlitzer 200A electric piano (I’m still obsessed with that sound and playing style, 20 years later).
“Intro” (Geoff Wilkinson, Hawkins, Powell, De Moraes)
“Come on Everybody (Get down)” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Armstead, McLean)
“Caught Up in a Struggle” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Vialva)
“True to the Game” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Armstead)
“Snakes” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Armstead)
“I’m Thinking About Your Body” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Vialva, McFerrin)
“Grand Groove” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Armsteads)
“Nowadays” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Armstead)
“Sheep” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Vialva)
“Doin’ a Crime” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Vialva)
“Recognise and Realise” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Armstead, Vialva)
“Time and Space” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Vialva, Jordan)
“Soul Brother” (Wilkinson, Hawkins, Armstead)
“Hymn for Her” (Wilkinson, Hawkins)
Us3 has released a handful of albums since their first…. and NOTHING… and I mean NOTHING tops this brilliance. Bask in the production and lyrical perfection. God DAMN this album still kills. 20 years later.
Here’s the spoken-word masterpiece “Sheep” (the record’s intermission):
The entire world can agree that A Tribe Called Quest cornered the market on jazzy hip-hop…. but…. this is a force to be reckoned with, by an extremely creative, and imaginative producer, and two great NYC rappers: KGB and Shabaam Sahdeeq.
Fucking MASTERPIECE!!! This album is all I listened to from 1997 to 1998, literally.