British hip-hop has always been a poor cousin to its US counterpart. Only when Brits corrupt the formula by crossing it with other styles do they come into their own. So it was in Bristol – a UK town with one of the largest and oldest black populations – in the 80s, where the Wild Bunch crew became revered for their party DJing, mixing US rap and electro with reggae soundsystem stylings, dance and new wave.
Among their number were Grant “Daddy G” Marshall, Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles and graffiti artist Robert “3-D” Del Naja.
As the Wild Bunch members set about their own projects – Nellee Hooper notably became a star producer – this trio coalesced into Massive Attack.
They released the single Any Love in 1988 but it was their debut album, Blue Lines, released on 6 August 1991, which made their reputation.
Featuring younger Bristol rapper, producer Adrian “Tricky” Thaws, and guest vocalists including reggae legend Horace Andy, the album built new songs on sampled loops of old soul and reggae tracks, creating a relaxed melancholic mood.
The single, Unfinished Symphony – with singer Shara Nelson – in particular became a classic chill-out track for the rave generation, and the album inspired the laid-back genre known as trip-hop.
Massive Attack were prone to falling out and their line-up would shift over the years but Blue Lines assured their place as one of the most respected and influential groups of the 1990s. Their track Teardrop was later used as the theme tune to the high-rating US television drama series, House, starring Hugh Laurie.
When Shara Nelson left, the group confused their fans by briefly changing their name to Massive to avoid controversy during the first Iraq war, and endured a disastrous tour of the United States.
The surviving members returned with Protection (1994), which met with mixed reactions. While it proved that Massive Attack could produce a fine album – and hits – without Nelson, the album took a different direction that some critics did not appreciate. It was every bit as elaborate and interesting as Blue Lines, but was largely instrumental.
Among the exceptions were collaborations with Tracey Thorn from Everything But The Girl.
Original member Tricky left for a solo career during the making of the album.
Robert Del Naja (3-D)
Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles
Grant “Daddy G” Marshall
Adrian “Tricky” Thaws