10 Black British Groups to take in. The relationship between Britain and its Black artists is one of frustration especially in regards to Black male/female groups. Let’s not get started on record labels’ recent tokenistic approach in regards to a group’s racial mix.
Apparently, you can only have one Black girl/boy but not too much as that could alienate potential fanbases.
Even those who managed to break through the prejudice and become successful in their own right, seldom receive their flowers. Yes, we know about the Beatles invasion but we would also like to learn more about how 5 Birmingham youths (Musical Youth) became the first Black acts to appear on MTV. Some of the most defining musical releases have come from these groups and shaped the eclectic and distinctive scene we see today.
Black history month may have ended a while ago but just like uncle Bobby Brown used to say – “Every day is Black history!” Today we pay our dues to the slew of Black British groups and their legacy on music. Granted it’s impossible to name all the acts but we’ve managed to whittle down our top 10.
1. Musical Youth
Formed in 1979 at Duddeston Manor School in Birmingham, these five kids are best remembered for their successful 1982 Grammy-nominated single, “Pass The Dutchie”.
Selling over 5 million copies worldwide, the 0121 youths suddenly found themselves rubbing shoulders and with Donna Summers, filmed a movie with Mr.T and were even the first black artists to be played on MTV – beating Michael Jackson by several months.
Marred by personal conflicts and label corruption, their success was fleeting but nonetheless spectacular.
2. Mel and Kim
Mel and Kim were an East London duo whose story is pop gold. Originally, dancers, the women landed themselves a deal with Supreme Records. Introduced to the talented up-and-coming producers Stock Aitken and Waterman otherwise known as “The Hit Factor”, the rest is history. Their first single “Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend)” was a hit but it was truly their second single “Respectable” that created an eruption. One thing that really made the duo exceptional was their homegrown flava.
At the time Black R&B/Pop music in Britain was mostly being represented by our cousins over the Atlantic. So, to see two streetwise Hackney girls with strong accents flying the flag for us was incredible. Unfortunately, their run was cruelly cut short due to Mel’s shocking passing at aged 23 from cancer.
This is one band that does not get its flowers enough. When it comes to the male side of UK R&B groups these fellas deserve the top spot! Their gorgeous second single – “Forever” is notable for being both the first song that legendary songwriters, Steve Mac, and Wayne Hector wrote together. The song caught the attention of Syco’s Simon Cowell which effectively led to Mac becoming the chief songwriter-producer for Cowell’s subsequent projects. With a string of top ten hits including the anthem – Ghetto Romance- and two studio albums, the quintet have ascended into UK R&B royalty.
Fun fact: did you know Craig David’s first writing credit came from winning a national song-writing contest with the tune “I’m Ready” for the boy band.
When it comes to Black teenage representation, a group like Cleopatra was a much important one. They dressed like us, wore the same hairstyles, spoke the same lingo, they were one of a kind. Consisting of Cleo, Yonah, and Zainam Higgin, three teen sisters from Manchester, the girls were a pioneering act. Their television series include the unique format of splicing actual backstage tour footage and performances into a written comedy, this formula would soon be used by later acts in generations to come. Their theme song was a smash hit and has undoubtedly earned a space next to the Fresh Prince theme and Destiny’s Child “Proud Family”.
The Mancunian sisters created a space for us black pop girls and deserve all their flowers.
5. Soul ll Soul
First formed in the late 1980s, this collective was truly sensational. An entire collective said to be made up of around 15 individuals with DJ/producer Jazzie B as leader, the group won two Grammy Awards, and has been nominated for a total of five Brit Awards.
A goated discography, their single “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)” gained monstrous success and has been repeatedly sampled by artists worldwide. The song was even featured in the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.
6. The Real Thing
We’re dipping into our parents’ generation with this entry.
Formed in 1970, these Liverpudlians are credited as being Britain’s most successful Black Rock/Soul act of the 1970s. Their incredible single “You to Me Are Everything” soared up the charts thus the group became the first black British band to achieve a no.1 hit.
Their success was rather a personal one for Black British folks as it further proved that homegrown talent could rival their American counterparts. Not afraid to tackle sensitive issues, the group recorded a song that would later become a hit for other music giants such as Philip Bailey and Mary J Blige. A response to the Toxteth riots of 1981, “Children Of The Ghetto” was rather a bold move considering the backlash from their record label and white fans alike. In retrospect, the song is an anthem of Black Britain.
When it comes to UK R&B girl group royalty, Eternal have earned their crowns. Signed to EMI Records in early 1993, their debut single “Stay” achieved crossover status on both sides of the Atlantic. Numerous top 10s and 5s under their belt, their single “I Wanna Be The Only One” featuring US Gospel singer Bebe Winans became the group’s biggest seller of all. Considering the group’s short-term success the fact that their impact on the latter of UK girl groups can still be heard today is remarkable.
Blending Garage with a twist of R&B, Mis-Teeq is one of the most unique groups to ever touch the music.
The trio represented women who were stylish, sophisticated, and sexy. Every girl wanted the beauty of Sabrina, Alesha’s swag, and Su Elise Nash’s infectious personality. Though only having three albums in their pouch, their success was impressive. In under two years, the girls became recipients of two MOBO awards and were nominated for four Brit Awards. Their edgy sound and image laid the foundations for future groups such as Stooshe and M.O.
9. Big Brovaz
Faux American rap accents aside, R&B/ HipHop group Big Brovaz were really the gift that kept giving. “Favourite Things”, “OK” “Nu Flow” and the legendary “Baby Boy”, the Brixton posse has blessed us with classic jams that even our grandkids will become obsessed with.
Hopefully, by the time this article is out, the group would have already announced the reunion tour that we have all been praying and fasting for!
10. Fun*dmental 03
Oh, how we miss choreography!
America may have had B2K but we had Fun*dmental 03. Bursting on the scene in 2006 with singles Jump and Playground, the trio pioneered themselves as UK’s premiere R&B boyband. Indeed, all the ingredients of a classic male group were in this trio. Slick vocals paired with dance moves we’ve yet to see any other UK boyband replicate (yes not even JLS!). The short-lived group injected music charts with sunshine that is now truly missed.