Incognito may have been early pioneers of Acid Jazz, but the Brand New Heavies brought it to the masses. In the early 1990s, they incorporated the hip hop beats of the time with 1970s organic soul, adding touches of jazz to create an extremely catchy brand of music. Like Incognito, they began as an instrumental outfit, but found success incorporating vocals (most notably those of N'dea Davenport). While they racked up numerous hits in the UK, the song that brought them to America was 1992's "Never Stop."
The Brand New Heavies date back to 1985, when drummer/keyboardist Jan Kincaid, guitarist Simon Bartholomew, and bassist/keyboardist Andrew Levy formed the group in London. After adding a brass section, they gradually earned a reputation playing in local clubs. They eventually earned a record deal with the Acid Jazz label after adding original vocalist Jay Ella Ruth. Once their debut album gained critical and commercial success, they reached a distribution deal with American label Delicious Vinyl (then known for launching rapper Tone Loc). Delicious Vinyl had one condition: they wanted to replace Ruth with vocalist Davenport, and forced the Brand New Heavies to re-record their debut LP with the new singer. While the singles "Stay That Way" and "Dream Come True" scored in Britain, they failed to crack the US until "Don't Stop," a slice of hip hop-inflected soul. The track performed well on the R&B and dance charts, but the band still found it difficult to earn radio exposure.
Davenport recorded one more album with the Brand New Heavies--1994's Brother Sister--but soon departed the group to embark on a solo career. Siedah Garrett, known for her work with Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson, joined the band for one album, 1997's Shelter; Nicole Russo would soon follow. But Davenport reunited with the Brand New Heavies in 2006 for Get Used to It; a subsequent tour celebrated this welcome return.
While the Brand New Heavies never conquered America, their brand of Acid Jazz appeals to classic soul and contemporary R&B fans alike. "Never Stop" begins with a strong beat, followed by wah-wah pedaled guitars straight out of "Theme from Shaft." However, Davenport is the star of the song, her rhythmic vocal style accenting the fast tempo. "Give it up, feels so good to be together," she chants, immediately establishing the track's good-time vibe. By the refrain, she demonstrates her jazz leanings by the way she delivers the lines "True, there ain't a minute in the day that's without you / Hoping that you feel it too / What you want, what you're feelin' I am feelin' too." The phrasing sounds almost improvisational, very jazz oriented.
The lyrics may be simple, but the infectious beat and Davenport's smooth performance distinguish "Don't Stop" from other early '90s singles. Explore their catalog--or begin with the greatest hits collection Trunk Funk Classics 1991-2000--to learn why the Brand New Heavies rank as one of the most important groups of the Acid Jazz movement.