Mantronix underwent several genre (and line-up) changes during its 7-year existence (1984–1991), from old school hip hop and electro-funk to house music, but the group is primarily remembered for its original, heavily synthesized blend of old school hip-hop and electro funk.
Early years: 1984–1988
Kurtis Mantronik (Kurtis el Khaleel), a Jamaican-Canadian émigré, began experimenting with electro music in the early 1980s, inspired by early electro tracks like “Riot in Lagos” (1980) by Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Ryuichi Sakamoto.
In 1984, while working as the in-store DJ for Downtown Records in Manhattan, Kurtis Mantronik met MC Tee, a Haitian-born,Flatbush, Brooklyn-based rapper (and regular record store customer).
The duo soon made a demo, “Fresh Is The Word“, and eventually signed with William Socolov’s Sleeping Bag Records.
Mantronix: the Album
Mantronix’s debut single, “Fresh Is the Word“, was a club hit in 1985, reaching #16 on Billboard Magazine’s Hot Dance Singles Sales chart, and was featured on Mantronix: The Album which was released the same year.
Mantronix’s efforts on Mantronix: the Album and its effect on early hip hop and electronic music is perhaps best summed up by music critic Omar Willey’s observation in 2000:
Featuring “Fresh Is the Word” and the new tracks “Bassline” and “Electro Mega-Mix,” Mantronix defined the new sound of electro-funk. Mantronik used a polyrhythmic style, similar to West African log drumming, but instead of acoustic drums, the rhythm would be carried by the combination of electronic drums, synthesizer, vocoder and/or synthesized voice over a bass line completely played on the synth. No samples of James Brown here. This was truly electronic music: spare, funky and immensely danceable, an homage and simultaneous extension of old-school hip hop’s electronic template that had started with “Planet Rock” in 1982. The feeling of Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, Kraftwerk and Neu all combined in Mantronik’s music. It was a neat tie between old-school and new jack, and Mantronix had the field to themselves.
The influence of Mantronix: The Album is seen among other artists through the sampling of “Needle To The Groove” by Beck in the single “Where It’s At” from the 1996 album, Odelay (“we’ve got two turntables and a microphone…”), as well as, “Fresh Is The Word” by the Beastie Boys in the single “Jimmy James” from the 1992 album, Check Your Head (“for all the Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and the White people too…”) The Beastie Boys later sampled “Bassline” for the song “3 the Hard Way” on their 2004 album To the 5 Boroughs.
Mantronix’s second album, Music Madness, was released in 1986.
While MC Tee’s rhyming style on the album continued in the traditional b-boy fashion of the times, Mantronik’s club-oriented production and mixing in Music Madness tended to attract more electronic dance music and electro funk aficionados than hardcore hip-hop fans.
During this period, while Mantronix was signed to Sleeping Bag Records, Mantronik was employed by the label in their A&R Department, while also producing other artists and groups, including Just-Ice, T La Rock, Nocera, and Joyce Sims.
In Full Effect
Mantronix signed with Capitol Records in 1987, in what was one of the first 7-figure deals for a hip-hop group, and released In Full Effect in 1988, which, according to the liner notes, was the first album to be mastered from DAT instead of reel-to-reel tape.
The album continued in and expanded on the hip-hop/electro funk/dance music vein of its predecessor, eventually reaching #18 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, Mantronix’s highest showing for an album.
In Full Effect marked the last Mantronix album with rapper MC Tee, who left the group to enlist in the United States Air Force.
Later era: 1989–1991
This Should Move Ya
Mantronik met Wilson, a fellow Sleeping Bag Records label mate, while doing production for Wilson’s aborted solo project.
The album spawned two top-10 hits on the British singles chart, “Got To Have Your Love” at #4, and “Take Your Time (featuring vocalist Wondress)” at #10.
In the United States, the album reached #61 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
In a 1991 interview, Kurtis Mantronik commented on the commercial success of “Got to Have Your Love“:
When I did “Got To Have Your Love”, I did it for a reason. I did it because I wanted to get a song on the radio.
The Incredible Sound Machine
Grammy-nominated neo soul singer/songwriter Angie Stone co-wrote seven of the eleven tracks that appeared on The Incredible Sound Machine.
The Incredible Sound Machine, which tended to favor R&B, new jack swing, and dance music over hip hop, was considered both a critical and commercial disappointment.
Shortly after a European tour and promotion related to the release of The Incredible Sound Machine, the group disbanded, and Mantronik left the music industry altogether for seven years.
Kurtis Mantronik resurfaced in Europe in the late 1990s, producing house- and techno-music artists, and remains active in pop-oriented electronic music.
Posted on May 12, 2013, in Bios and tagged 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 90s, billboard, classic, fresh is the word, golden, golden age, hip hop, in full effect, kurtis mantronik, mantronix, mc tee, music madness, new york, old school, rap, rapper, rare, tee, the album, the incredible sound machine, this should move ya. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.