Avowing a positive and multicultural philosophy with their “funky dred” logo and the catch phrase “A happy face, a thumpin’ bass, for a lovin’ race,” Soul II Soul started spreading the similar ideals of London sound system culture across the globe at the end of the 1980s. At a time when the highly mechanized sound of new jack swing was dominating contemporary R&B, the group — led by producer, songwriter, and occasional vocalist Jazzie B — found a way to synthesize breakbeat-driven hip-hop and house music with the elegant dancefloor R&B of disco-era groups such as Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra, MFSB, and Chic. The two biggest hits off Soul II Soul’s debut Club Classics Vol. One (1989), “Keep On Movin'” and “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me),” both powered by the silken voice of Caron Wheeler, turned the group into chart-topping stars at home and abroad. The latter also made them Grammy winners. Soul II Soul’s output since then is highlighted by a second number one U.K. album, Vol. II: 1990 – A New Decade (1990) and the number three hit Volume III: Just Right (1992), plus 11 additional U.K. Top 40 singles, each one featuring a different lead voice.
Jazzie B (Trevor Beresford Romeo) and Daddae Harvey (Philip Harvey) ran their first sound system in their early teens. They moved crowds with reggae before expanding their sets to incorporate soul, funk, and jazz, and in the mid-’80s reached full flight with an inclusive Sunday-night residency at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden. In 1988, Soul II Soul branched out from sound systems and pirate radio to wax with “Fairplay,” their debut for Virgin’s 10 subsidiary. Jazzie B co-wrote and co-produced the track, also co-produced by Nellee Hooper (Maximum Joy, the Wild Bunch) with co-writer Rose Windross featured as lead vocalist. Before the end of the year, the group followed up with the Do’Reen showcase “Feel Free,” written and produced by Jazzie B and Hooper. The singles respectively reached number 63 and 64 on the U.K. pop chart.
Soul II Soul achieved their breakthrough in early 1989 with singer Caron Wheeler, who had previously been in the reggae vocal group Brown Sugar and was also a high-profile background vocalist, as heard on (and seen in the videos for) Elvis Costello’s “Everyday I Write the Book” and the Special A.K.A.’s “Free Nelson Mandela.” Third Soul II Soul single “Keep On Movin'” entered the U.K. chart that March and peaked at number five before the full-length Club Classics, Vol. One landed the following month. On the heels of that chart-topping album was “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me),” written by Wheeler, Jazzie B, Hooper, and group keyboardist Simon Law. The song topped the U.K. chart and also became the group’s biggest international hit, reaching the Top Ten in numerous countries, including the U.S., where Club Classics, Vol. One was issued under the title Keep On Movin’. Soul II Soul subsequently won Grammy Awards for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (“Back to Life”) and Best R&B Instrumental Performance (album track “African Dance”). Additionally, they were nominated beside fellow cosmopolitan Londoner Neneh Cherry for Best New Artist.
Club Classics, Vol. One was barely a year old when Soul II Soul offered their second album, Vol. II: 1990 – A New Decade. The record was released the same month as UK Blak, the solo debut of Caron Wheeler, who had left the group (and would return, leave, and return throughout the band’s existence). Another number one LP in the U.K., Vol. II yielded the Top Ten U.K. hits “Get a Life” and “A Dream’s a Dream,” respectively featuring Marcia Lewis and Victoria Wilson-James, as well as “Missing You,” a Top 40 entry fronted by Kym Mazelle. As with “Keep On Movin'” and “Back to Life,” these singles also fared well on the R&B/hip-hop and dance charts in the U.S. Without Hooper, an increasingly in-demand collaborator across genres, Jazzie B handled the production for the group’s third album on his own, and rounded up a mostly new crew of vocalists including Richie Stephens, Kofi, and Rick Clarke, the singers featured on the singles. Volume III: Just Right topped out at number three in the U.K., and the Clarke-assisted “Joy” became a number four pop hit. “Mood” was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best R&B Instrumental Performance, but not before 10/Virgin assembled Volume IV: The Classic Singles 88-93. The anthology was released in November 1993 and included a new single, the Melissa Bell collaboration “Wish” — the ninth Soul II Soul track to peak within the Top 40 of the U.K. pop chart.
Soul II Soul made two more albums in the ’90s. The first one, Volume V: Believe, arrived in July 1995, and was followed in September 1997 by Time for Change, released through Island instead of 10/Virgin. Penny Ford and Charlotte Kelly sang the U.K. Top 40 hits off the former, “Love Enuff” and “I Care,” and Paul Johnson was the voice of “Represent,” the Top 40 single from Time for Change. By the end of the decade, Soul II Soul had disbanded. Do’Reen died in 2002, struck by multiple vehicles while attempting to cross the A27 on foot. Since 2007, the group, still led by Jazzie B (who in 2008 was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire), has performed with various lineups that have included Wheeler and many of the other vocalists throughout their history. Jazzie B has also remained active as a DJ.