#CrateClassics: The Essential Albums of The Brand New Heavies’ Funktastic Discography [FULL ALBUM STREAMS]

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By Justin Chadwick | @justin_chadwick

[Editor’s Note: “Crate Classics” is a new recurring soulhead column that pays homage to the essential albums of artist discographies. While the LPs featured here are chosen thoughtfully and passionately upon exploring the respective artists’ recorded repertoire, the selections also inevitably reflect our subjective preferences. So of course, we encourage all soulhead readers worldwide to weigh in with your personal favorites in the comments section below or via our Facebook and Twitter feeds.]

Citing the “Minister of Super Heavy Funk” James Brown as the inspiration for their band name, the London-bred trio of Jan Kincaid, Simon Bartholomew and Andrew Levy formed The Heavies—later rebranded as The Brand New Heavies—in 1985. After nurturing a devoted fan base across the local London club landscape for a handful of years and helping to elevate the burgeoning Acid Jazz genre in the process, the band earned widespread acclaim with the 1991 North American release of their self-titled debut album. In the nearly twenty-five years since their eponymous breakthrough LP, the Heavies have blessed our ears with eight stellar studio albums, all firmly rooted in the group’s signature confection of funk, soul, jazz and disco, with sprinkles of hip-hop incorporated here and there. A rotating roster of lead vocalists notwithstanding, the band has managed to produce some of the most consistently invigorating and sophisticated sounds around. Much respect.

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Three Essential Brand New Heavies Albums:

Brand New Heavies
Delicious Vinyl (1991)

The formal introduction to the Heavies’ expert musicianship, the band’s stunning self-titled debut album was also the first time most of our ears were blessed by the magical, soaring voice of the lovely N’Dea Davenport. But what many stateside may not know is that the album was originally recorded and released in the UK—in the year prior to the North America release—with a different featured vocalist (Jay Ella Ruth) lending her vocals to three tracks. Upon inking a solo development deal with Delicious Vinyl, Davenport was introduced to the Heavies and they commenced to produce some of the sweetest music you’ll ever hear, including the winsome single “Never Stop,” which did not appear on the UK version. Davenport’s contributions are excellent, though six of the ten tracks are predominantly instrumental affairs without her vocals, each banging and bumping with bass, guitar & horns in glorious abundance. All in all, an inspired, career-galvanizing effort that can’t help but put a permanent smile on the listener’s face. Precisely the kind of joyous, soul-redeeming record that erases all of your urban blues the moment you drop the needle on it.

Top Tracks: “Dream Come True” | “Never Stop” | “People Get Ready” | “Stay This Way”

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Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol. 1
Delicious Vinyl (1992)

After the breakthrough success of Brand New Heavies, the band decided to explore an unorthodox, yet impressively ambitious and distinctive twist of a sophomore album. According to band lore, the group was inspired to introduce hip-hop into their repertoire after a New York City performance that included MC Serch (of 3rd Bass fame) and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest joining them on stage. Their enlivened passion for hip-hop was subsequently manifested on Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1, a brilliantly conceived LP that envisaged the live hip-hop sound that The Roots would make famous a few years later on their debut LP Organix and stellar follow-up Do You Want More?!!!??!. The Heavies assembled an all-star cast of emcees, including Large Professor of Main Source, the late great Guru (of Gang Starr), Grand Puba, Masta Ace, Kool G Rap, Black Sheep, Ed O.G., and all are in top-form, as if the live jam-band setting loosened them up to rip their respective mics to shreds. The album also represented the first time we heard the Heavies’ Delicious Vinyl labelmates The Pharcyde, who made their recording debut on the compilation with the animated “Soul Flower”, just a few months before unveiling their classic debut LP Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. The inventive fusion of some of the game’s most revered rhymeslayers with the band’s bass-heavy grooves (thanks, Andrew Levy) works flawlessly. Which is why it’s such a shame that a Volume 2 never surfaced. But never say never, ya know?

Top Tracks: “Bonafied Funk” | “Soul Flower” | “Wake Me When I’m Dead” | “Who Makes the Loot?”

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Brother Sister
Delicious Vinyl (1994)

N’Dea Davenport’s vocals were noticeably absent from Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1, but she thankfully returned to grace the Heavies’ superb third studio project, Brother Sister. With increased emphasis on the band’s soulful disposition to balance their proven funk pedigree, the album may very well stand as their most consistently gratifying effort to date. While there is plenty of uptempo fare to enjoy (“Dream on Dreamer,” “Spend Some Time”), the group also delved deeper into more subdued tracks like “Mind Trips,” “Forever,” and the title track, reinforcing their adeptness in varying the pace while retaining their signature uplifting spirit. Delicious Vinyl released a companion remix & b-side compilation entitled Excursions: Remixes & Rare Grooves in the US the following year, which provided the more devoted BNH fans among us with double the reward.

Top Tracks: “Brother Sister” | “Dream on Dreamer” | “Forever” | “Spend Some Time”

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Best of the Rest:

Shelter (1997)
Get Used to It (2006)
Forward (2013)

BUY The Brand New Heavies Albums via Amazon | iTunes

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