Us3 is a jazz-rap group founded in London in 1992. Their name was inspired by a Horace Parlan recording produced by Alfred Lion, the founder of Blue Note Records. On their debut album, Hand on the Torch, Us3 exclusively used samples from the Blue Note Records catalogue, all originally produced by Lion.
Us3 is the brainchild of London-based producer Geoff Wilkinson. Formed in 1992 alongside production partner Mel Simpson, Us3 had two previous incarnations. The first, a limited edition white label 12" release in 1990 called "Where Will We Be In The 21st Century". The release garnered the attention of independent label Ninja Tune, resulting in NW1's 1991 12" "The Band Played The Boogie" featuring UK Rapper Born 2 B. It sampled a dancefloor tune of the burgeoning jazz dance scene, Grant Green's "Sookie Sookie", originally released on Blue Note Records.
London's Kiss FM added "The Band Played The Boogie" to its playlist and Wilkinson received a call summoning him to EMI Records's offices in London. Wilkinson avoided a lawsuit and was granted rights to the archives of Blue Note Records. One of the resulting demos, recorded in March 1992, was "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia),"featuring UK Trumpeter Gerard Presencer. It sampled Herbie Hancock's Cantaloupe Island. Two years later, it entered the US top ten and was included on Hand on the Torch, the first Blue Note album to achieve Platinum status (1,000,000 sales) in the USA.
After several world tours with Us3, Mel Simpson left the group for other endeavours. Wilkinson initiated work on a second album in 1996, marshalling New York rappers KCB and Shabaam Sahdeeq to replace Rahsaan Kelly, Kobie Powell, and Tukka Yoot for the 1997 release Broadway & 52nd. The Blue Note samples became more embedded in the grooves and experimental tracks like "Snakes" (in 5/4) and the spoken-word "Sheep".
More touring followed, but personnel changes within Blue Note's parent company, Capitol Records, allowed Wilkinson to leave and sign to Sony, working with the A&R executive that initially signed him in 1992.. Blue Note samples were not included and two new vocalists joined the group: rapper Michelob, and singer Alison Crockett. However, before the album was complete, a major personnel change at Sony left Us3 in limbo..
Eventually the third Us3 album An Ordinary Day in an Unusual Place was released in 2001 by Toshiba EMI in Japan and Universal in Europe. The album itself represented a new direction for the group's sound, incorporating elements of drum 'n bass, Latin, and Indian music into the mix. Several European and Japanese tours took place throughout 2002, but once again there were major label personnel cuts that left Us3 without a label.
Eventually a deal was concluded and the fourth Us3 album Questions was released in Japan by Toshiba EMI in 2003. Brooklyn rapper Reggi Wyns and London-based South African female singer Mpho Skeef were the featured vocalists. Questions was the first Us3 album to be released independently (outside Japan) on the Us3.com label. Two tours of Europe in 2005 resulted in 50 performances in 14 countries.
After the tour, the eclectic more jazz-influenced album Schizophonic was recorded. All members of the Us3 live band were featured, including Chris Storr, Ed Jones, Neville Malcolm, DJ First Rate, Mike Gorman, Sean Hargreaves, John Crawford, and Ernie Cranenburgh. Schizophonic also featured two new rappers, Akil Dasan and Gaston, both of whom Wilkinson found at New York's underground hangout, the Nuyorican Poets Café. The Us3 band toured again, playing in Russia (Moscow and St Petersburg) for the first time.
The 2007 album Say What!? once again included rappers Akil Dasan and Gaston and added 21 year old R&B vocalist Adeline Petricien.
In 2009 Us3 released the grittier more hip-hop influenced album "stop. think. run" featuring spoken word artist turned rapper Brook Yung and Sene. The live band performed 39 shows in 17 different countries. Influential US hip-hop website RapReviews.com made "stop. think. run" the 7th best hip-hop album of 2009.
October 2011 saw Us3 release their 8th album "Lie, Cheat & Steal", featuring NY based Puerto Rican rapper/spoken word artist Oveous Maximus, and UK rapper (& MOBO Award winner) Akala. During the same month, the 8-piece live Us3 band embarked on a European Tour in promotion of the album.
2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)" and the album "Hand On The Torch", and a remastered package with new remixes will be released in celebration. A new album will also be released titled "The Third Way (Hand On The Torch Vol II)" featuring rappers KCB, Tukka, and Akil Dasan.