b. Battersea, London, England. One of the earliest members of the UK’s indigenous rap clan, Mell ‘O’ began his career in the best traditions of hip-hop by breakdancing and body-popping in the streets of Covent Garden, London during the early 80s. He modelled himself on Grandmaster Melle Mel, calling himself Grandmaster Mellow in tribute, eventually abbreviating it to MC Mell ‘O’. These activities would be followed by improvised jam sets at the Charing Cross Centre youth project. He also cruised with sound systems like First Class and Young Lion, and reggae remains a strong component in his Cockney-delivered rhymes (he was among the first British rappers to reject the process of imitating East or West Coast American accents). Together with fellow pupils Monie Love, DJ Pogo and Sparkie D, he formed the DETT (Determination, Endeavour and Total Triumph) collective, based on the New York Native Tongues principle. Together they released a solitary record, ‘Freestyle’, in 1987. This underground jamming scene lasted for several years, and it was not until 1989 that he released his first records. After a well-received debut album for Republic, he switched to Jazzie B (Soul II Soul)’s Funki Dred label. However, he fell victim to record company politicking (when Motown Records pulled their financial backing for Funki Dred). A completed album, due for release in 1992, was scrapped. Worse, Jazzie B held on to his contract meaning he wasn’t released until December 1993. In the meantime his only sighting was as part of Island Records’ The Rebirth of Cool set, with ‘Open Up Your Mind’. Freed from Funki Dred at last, he signed to the Stereo MC’s’ Natural Response label in 1994. He had at least spent some of the intervening period working - notably on projects with Izit and the Young Disciples. His debut release for his new home was The First Chronicles Of DETT, in the summer of 1994. The first track on the record was ‘I Hear Voices’, which tackled the problem of mental illness in immigrant black generations, and was another intelligent, illuminating epistle from one of the genuine talents of the 80s UK hip-hop scene.
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