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Massive Attack
Music critics and record company marketing departments have one thing in common ~ their love for categorization. If a new band shows up with a startlingly new sound, they can’t let it pass by without labeling it. And if there isn’t an existing category that fits, they simply come up with a new one.

Which is how in 1991, an eclectic group of Bristol-based rappers called Massive Attack came to be stuck with the ‘trip-hop’ tag. Fortunately, over the course of four studio albums, two movie scores, numerous collaborations (Madonna being one) and stellar remix work (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan received a Massive Attack reworking), Massive Attack have constantly reinvented and revitalised their sound, making it harder now than ever before to categorize their unique and distinct musical style. Always moving, always borrowing and always mixing it up, Massive Attack have never made it easy for people to classify them.

The History
In the late ‘80s, the British port city of Bristol boomed with the dubby bass lines and skittering beats pumped out by the city’s ‘soundsytems.’ With its teeming West Indian community, Bristol’s soundsystems were run much the same way as they were in the Caribbean. Musicians, MCs and artists would hold street parties and club events, mixing their native Jamaican music with the hip-hop sounds filtering into England from the US.

One of the most influential collectives during the late 80’s was a group known as the Wild Bunch. Amongst it’s members were graffiti artist and rapper Robert ‘3D’Del Naja, producer Andrew ‘Mushroom’ Vowles and rapper Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall. Other illustrious alumni of the Wild Bunch included future trip-hop poster boy Tricky and producer Nellee Hooper (Bjork, Madonna, No Doubt and Sugababes).

In 1990, Del Naja, Vowles and Marshall formed Massive Attack and signed to Virgin Records. Working with a revolving cast of vocalists and co-producers from the Bristol scene, including the Wild Bunch’s Nellee Hooper and Milo, they set out to create a blueprint for a unique new sound that would revolutionise British hip-hop.

The Albums
Massive Attack’s debut album Blue Lines was released in 1991 to widespread critical acclaim. Mixing in sparse brooding beats with 3D’s whispered raps and Marshall’s ragga rhymes, the album referenced reggae, hip-hop, jazz and dub sounds to create a new, uniquely British sound. Other guest vocalists included Tricky, Neneh Cherry and Shara Nelson on the seminal tune Unfinished Sympathy. The band also recruited reggae legend Horace Andy, known for his eerie melancholic singing style, to bring in the roots reggae vibe. His voice would subsequently come to be associated with the Massive Attack sound and he would become a regular on all their albums. Blue Lines is now recognised as the album that launched the ‘trip-hop’ sound, paving the way for other acts like Portishead, Morcheeba and the Sneaker Pimps.

After a career spanning 15 years and four studio albums with sales in excess of 9 million albums, Massive Attack are now set to put out a Best Of compilation. With a legacy that includes the genre-inventing Blue Lines and the boundary-pushing Mezzanine, it’s a Best Of Collection that will take some beating. The album is called Collected and is compiled by Del Naja and Marshall. A double CD package, Collected will include a CD of hits including Unfinished Sympathy, Karmacoma, Safe From Harm, Inertia Creeps, Teardrop and Risingson on one CD and rare and reworked material with a brand new single on the other CD. The 2nd CD will also contain all the groundbreaking Massive Attack videos to date.

You can read the rest of our feature on Massive Attack in the March 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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