Us3 – Questions and Answers
Questions and Answers
by Abraham Kuranga
You’ve heard the song a thousand times and probably didn’t know to whom you were listening. The hip-hop meets jazz feel of “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” undoubtedly made you move to its infectious rhythm. The name of the group, in case you were wondering, is called Us3 (pronounced Us Three) and they are back with a new album and a fresh perspective on music today.
The mastermind behind Us3 and its infused sound is Geoff Wilkinson, a talented and very opinionated jazz producer from London. Wilkinson, along with production partner Mel Simpson, scored a smash hit with “Cantaloop” which contained a clever sample of Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island.” The hit came as a surprise to all involved, according to Wilkinson. “It was only a single deal,” said Wilkinson or the group’s first label deal with Blue Note. “It started in Japan and made its way around the world. It caught everyone by surprise.”
Who exactly is Us3, though? The formula is very simple. Along with witty jazz samples, toss in a unique singer and a talented rapper all mixed together with innovative hip-hop beats and you have Us3. As perfunctory as it may sound, its not that simple, confesses Wilkinson. “There were never really three people in the group,” says Wilkinson. “I always intended to change vocalists, including the lyricist.” Over the years, Us3 has employed lyricists Kobie Powell, Rahsaan Kelly and Tukka Yoot on Hand to the Torch. Also lending their talents to the collective were New York rappers KCB and Shabaam Sahdeeq on the aptly entitled Broadway and 52nd. The following album, 2001’s An Ordinary Day in an Unusual Place found another change in vocalists, with Alison Crockett and rapper Michelob coming on board. It was this constant change and less formulaic approach that, according to Wilkinson, gave the public relations staff at their record labels a headache. The ever-changing line up was not the only thing that confused the companies – as well as fans.
The eclectic sound attributed to Us3 led to confusion on how to market them. “We got tagged as jazz at first,” says Wilkinson. “Though I’m bound by no restrictions, I consider the music hip-hop jazz, with a little soul influence.” With their music containing much variety, Us3 contributes such a quality to their surroundings. “I consider London a cultural melting pot,” says Wilkinson. “Unlike New York City, where all the ethnic groups are separated in Chinatown, Little Italy, Jamaica, everyone lives together in London, contributing to a very diverse musical background.”
After fifteen years and four albums, and many label changes, Us3 has returned with Questions. “This album was made at a strange time,” confesses Wilkinson, whose daughter had just been born prematurely. “My daughter’s birth and complications made me question everything.” Questions is full of Us3’s trademark jazz, with a surprising twist to its 1994 hit entitled “Cantaloop 2004: Soul Mix.” But, why re-record your first smash hit ten years later? The answer is very simple. “I could do it,” reveals Wilkinson. He later goes on to explain that when signing a recording contract, there are certain re-recording restrictions and in this particular case, it was a ten-year restriction. “I also wanted to keep up with the jazz tradition,” says Wilkinson. “Jazz musicians redo their music all the time.”
Questions boast the vocal talents of South African singer Mpho Skeef and Brooklyn rapper Reggi Wyns. Their individual influences can be heard throughout the album but it is Mpho, who adds the most intriguing ingredient to this collection — soul. “Mpho is very R&B and I wanted to showcase that on this album,” says Wilkinson. In his own right, Reggi Wyns’ talent doesn’t go unnoticed. “He’s a phenomenal free-styler,” boasts Wilkinson. “He is non-stop. Can free-style for ages.” Combined, these two talents interpret songs that embody what Wilkinson says is a snapshot of moments in his life. “It truly represents what I am feeling,” says Wilkinson. “I’m a huge subscriber to the belief that life is a journey, not a destination.” Songs like “A New Beginning” represent the brave step of releasing the album independently. “The Healer,” written about is daughter’s complications, is another song that Wilkinson feels truly represents life.
Wilkinson now feels that Us3 is on the path he had envisioned more than a decade before. In 1990, the group released a single entitled “Where Will We Be in the 21st Century,” and according to Wilkinson, he is “much further along” than he imagined. “Which is nice,” he says. With many projects on the horizon, including a new label, Kwerk Records, a few compilation albums as well as touring the states with his band. When it’s all said and done, Wilkinson doesn’t want his name to linger just because of a hit record. “I’d like them to think I was a great producer,” says Wilkinson, speaking of his memory. “I hope to leave behind a great body of work that truly represents the arts and feeling.”Photo Credits:#1 © 2005 Courtesy of Us3. All rights reserved.#2 © 2005 Ade Osaba. Courtesy of Us3. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 2, 2005.
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