1990 single ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ from New York, New York dance band Deee-Lite’s debut album ‘World Clique’ could not be made today. It’s not that there is no convergence between hip-hop, dance and RnB. You don’t have to look further than any of Calvin Harris’ collaborations with the likes of Ne-Yo and Rihanna to realise that the three genres continue to overlap in the world of pop music. It’s not that Q-Tip is no longer around or willing to lend a hand to an off-beat dance track like this. A quick trip down memory lane brings to mind ‘Bang Bang Bang‘ from Mark Ronson and the Business Intl.’s recent ‘Record Collection’ to realise that the former Tribe Called Questman is still very much one for the quirks. And it’s not that the market for strange melanges of sound no longer exists. The popularity of ‘Bangarang‘ amid much else recommends that it certainly does. Rather, it is the possibility of all these factors coalescing, the stars aligning so that ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ a) got released and b) got the reception it did in 1990, that seems less plausible.
Surely, the argument is moot when you realise that musical tastes have moved on significantly since the early 1990s. I’m not necessarily arguing that ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ wouldn’t be the hit it was then today, however, but that the symbol it stood for – free love, exhuberance, myriad samples and cross-genre references and integration – is one that is more distant from our conception of music today. While there is talk of genre to genre cross-pollination of music, this is generally much more structured, with opportunity costs discussed between marked silos, then many might have you believe. What ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ stands for is something inherently more organic, more of a genuine party, than these often organised kumbayas. ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ sounds devoid of all the politics and bullshit that usually goes into making music and was rewarded, at least in Australia, with a number 1 chart spot in 1990 (reaching #4 on the US Billboard chart).
For the most part, ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ is an engima. It is unclear how the band cleared the bass line which is at the foundations of the track from Herbie Hancock’s 1966 song ‘Bring Down The Birds’. It is unclear how the fledgling three-piece, including one Ukranian producer and a Japanese keyboard player, managed to pick Q-Tip, of all up-and-coming rappers, and convince him to record a verse before Tribe’s first album even dropped. It is unclear how the band had the kind of cachet to qualify for trivia like this: the tambourine you hear throughout is actually a loop of Tina Turner performing after the soul legend dropped by the studio while Deee-Lite were recording. But for all the unknowns that surround ‘Groove’, it is a triumph because of what is patently obvious. Samples and borrowed genres have been liberally sprinkled across the track but never seem to overwhelm it. Q-Tip’s appearance is familiarly mellow, not stealing the limelight either. Instead, it is the message of love and music, delivered through that vague, central refrain, that characterises this track. It’s full of the sort of warmth and abandon that wouldn’t cut it in 2013. Thank Deee-Lite they got their act together in 1990.
Deee-Lite – Groove Is In The Heart