Updated: Jul 8
Few bands can be attributed with having such an everlasting and widespread influence over many genres of music; primarily Hip-Hop and Electronic music, as Newcleus can. Having released what is perhaps the most popular Hip-Hop tune to date, "Jam On It", the group recorded other fabulous hits like "Jam-On Revenge (The Wikki-Wikki Song)", and "Computer Age"; all hitting the R&B top 40 charts in the 80's, and all still heavily a part of true Hip-Hop culture. Newcleus is also credited by the Detroit pioneers of Techno music as a key influence in the creation of their sound, Newcleus has been at the core of the development of Electro music as a whole, with their masterful programming, beautiful melodic arrangements, and positive vibes, as a huge source of inspiration.
Starting off in the late 70's as a DJ'ing crew called "Jam-On Productions", members Ben "Cozmo D" Cenac, David "Dr. Freeze" St. Louis, Cenac's cousin Monique "Nique D" Angevin, and her brother Pete "Master Quadro" Angevin; who were all teenagers, and some still in high school, would begin to carve their path in music in New York city, rocking park and block parties all throughout Brooklyn. In 1981, Cenac decided to start a recording group, which after having many members joining and leaving the crew over the years, would finally be comprised of Cenac's wife Yvette "Lady E" Cenac, his cousin "Nique D", her future husband Bob "Chilly B" Crafton, and of course, Cozmo D himself. The group was originally named "Positive Messenger", but would later be renamed "Newcleus"; which the group felt was because of the "coming together of their families" as one.
After amassing a good collection of electronic music instruments and recording equipment, the group finally recorded their first demo tape; including one of their old school favorites from their block party days, "Jam-On's Revenge", at the very end of it. The song would heavily impress producer Joe Webb, and would soon be released as their first single in 1983 on Mayhew Records as "Jam-On Revenge", under the name "Newcleus feat. Cozmo D and The Jam-On Production Crew". The song was a huge street success in the city, going on to unofficially become known as "The Wikki-Wikki song" , and would soon later that year be re-released on Sunnyview Records as the 7" single, "Jam-On Revenge ( The Wikki-Wikki Song )"; which was subsequently followed by the 12" version of the single, but this time including the version, "Jam-On Revenge ( The Wikki-Wikki Rap )". The song was also released this year on what was then the young Streetsounds label, on their Electro 1 compilation.
In 1984, the group went on to record and release their all-time biggest hit, "Jam On It". The single also featured an instrumental version, and would soon be followed by the release of two more hit singles, "Computer Age", and "Automan"; which also included the song, "Where's The Beat". A song that was actually not written by the members of Newcleus, but included a small vocal bit at the end by Cozmo D. Later in that year, and after much success for the band thus far, the song "Jam On it", was featured on Streetsounds' Electro 3 compilation, and would soon be followed by their first LP, "Jam-On Revenge", which included the songs "Computer Age", "Automan", "I am Not A Robot", "Destination Earth (1999)", "Jam On It", "Where's The Beat", "No More Running", and a special re-edit of "Jam-On Revenge". The innovation for the time, and the careful composition and production of this LP, sealed Newcleus' fate as one of the true pioneers of the Hip-Hop and Electro Funk sound, and what would later branch off into the Techno Bass sub-genre in Miami and Detroit; both cities which were heavily influenced by the band's sound.
Unfortunately for the group, the release brought along with it some disappointment, as Sunnyview Records decided to release "Destination Earth"; a song very near and dear to the heart of the members, as an instrumental, which the group felt took away not just from the song, but the overall mission that they were trying to accomplish as a band. It would not be until the 2004 release of "Destination: Earth | The Definitive Newcleus Recordings", that the band would finally have some closure on this, and would reveal to their fans the original recordings of their most sought after songs.
In 1985, Newcleus released a 7" promo for "Destination Earth ( 1999 )", as well as Newcleus' second album, "Space Is The Place"; which would include a wide variety of single releases from the album on 7" and 12" vinyl, with tracks like "Let's Jam", and "I Wanna Be A B-boy", becoming very popular in the New York scene, and going on to make an impact on the evolution of the Electro Funk sound on the International stage. Their signature sound, funkier and even more redefined than before, brought you classic Electro beats thanks to their acquisition of the infamous RX-11 drum machine, with wildly inspiring strings and pads which over the years would become their key signature sound. The vocal work between all the band members, even in its quirkiest of moments, was incredibly creative and harmonious, with their raps becoming known as some of the most well delivered of the time.
In 1986, Newcleus returned with the release of "Na Na Beat", which was written by Amos Larkin, and featured lyrics and vocals written by Cozmo D and Chilly B. This slower tempo Hip-Hop tune was already beginning to reflect the changes the Hip Hop sound was going through, and where it would ultimately end up not long after. Sadly, this would also be the end of Newcleus releasing some of their own original work for some time, as problems with producer Joe Webb would begin to grow exponentially, with the band being exploited for their obvious talent and success, having their name used for material that they did not write or produce.
Shockingly enough, Joe Webb would continue to release under the name Newcleus, following up on the heels of "Na Na Beat" with "Huxtable House Party" in 1987; a single released on Super Power Records, and featuring 4 different versions of the song. It was also released that year on Streetsounds Hip Hop 17, and was soon after followed by the re-release of "Jam-On Revenge", on their Crucial Electro 3 compilation. This year was the last release for some time for what had unfortunately become of Newcleus, as the decline of Electro Funk began to set in. However, the influence of the music written by the original members would begin to become evident in the later years, as the sounds of Electro music retreated primarily to the cities of Miami and Detroit, and the sound began to evolve into a more Techno and Bass music hybrid, reflecting strong influences of early artists like Newcleus, and Juan Atkins, and spawning a whole new generation of music that would carry "Electro" music forward into the 21st century and beyond.
The real Newcleus, as the philosophy behind the name would have it, stayed together, and continued recording through the late 80's. Their love for each other, the music, and their message was strong, and they were not about to give up, or stop doing what they loved simply because public perception towards a specific sound had shifted to something else, or because someone saw it fit to exploit such a talented group merely for personal gain.
After a 3 year hiatus, Joe Webb would unfortunately return with his impostor group "Newcleus", with the album, "Jam On This", which hit the shelves in 1990 on Bellaphon Records out of Germany. The group would also later release in 1994 on the Canadian imprint Unidisc with the album "The Next Generation"; which included many of the songs from the previous album, as well as hits from the '80s by the original members like "Computer Age", and "Jam On It". Joe Webb also put together the EP "Wikki Wikki/Jam On It/Jam On This", also released on Unidisc, as well as "Trigger"; which was released on Homebase Records.
The fight for the real Newcleus would reach its climax in 1997, as two new compilation albums continuing to exploit the original group were released, "Jam For The 90s", and a re-release of "The Next Generation", once again on Homebase Records. Fortunately, these releases would be counteracted by what would be the first release in quite some time with works from the original Newcleus members on Rhino Records, with "Jam On This! The Best Of Newcleus". The compilation featured all their biggest classics from the early 80s, and would begin to set the record straight as to who the real Newcleus was, and which material was that of those who were not!
In 2004, Jam-On Productions would return as a label with the original crew members, and as mentioned earlier, releasing the definitive collection of their most sought-after classics on a compilation album called "Destination: Earth | The Definitive Newcleus Recordings". The album featured hits like "Jam-On It", "Computer Age", "Jam-On Revenge". Later in 2005, the German label Dominance Electricity put together an EP containing two of their most sought after songs from the 80's, "Destination Earth", and "Why", and featured remixes by Sbassship, and legendary New York producer Reeno. Just in time for the growing Electro Funk and Electro Bass scenes, and with the advent of the internet as a tool for promotion in the music industry, the group had found a perfect way to reach out to the younger generations, reminding them of one of the true pioneers of Hip-Hop and Electro music, and helping to unite a sound once fragmented and in many ways forgotten, solidifying a foundation for it to continue to grow and expand.
Throughout the past 3 decades, many of their all-time greatest hits have also been released on countless labels, all featuring reworks and re-edits, and all reflecting just how much, even still, the music of Newcleus reverberates through the halls of time and continues to be looked at as an influence that will probably continue to have an effect for generations to come.
Unfortunately in 2010, Chilly B, who was such an integral part of the band, passed away due to complications from a stroke, leaving behind not just his family, but a band he had helped create and launch into International stardom over the years. The rest of the group has not disbanded however, and is actually working on a new album called "Dreams In The Distance", which they once claimed could be the last for the group. It was originally to be called "Return To Earth", but with Chilly B's passing, the members did not find the title appropriate, and so the old concept was scrapped. The band also continues to tour the world, performing as Newcleus, with one of their original members, Al "T" Mclaran, while Cozmo D continues to host a weekly internet radio show on Global Funk Radio called, "Jam-On The Groove", with his son Matt Cenac, who goes by the name "DJ Dogtrane".
As the saying goes, an apple does not fall far from the tree, and in the case of Ben and his son Matt, this could not be more true. A talented DJ, remixer, and a producer well taught in the arts by his father, Matt "DJ Dogtrane" Cenac, will undoubtedly carry the legacy of Newcleus to the future and beyond, injecting his own energy and vision into the music, and hopefully bringing us something that will be a constant reminder of what the group means to everyone. If you caught his scratches on DJ Xed's remix of "Jam-On It", then you know exactly where things might be headed, and just the kind of energy this young and talented artist has to offer.
After 30 years, there is so much that can be said for a group that has had such an incredibly positive impact, not just on our sound, but on the whole world, with their upbeat, funky, and deeply emotional music. Delivering a message filled with good energy is such an essential purpose for music, and in an era where music has all but lost its very soul, we can only look to bands like Newcleus for inspiration and as a reminder of how it used to be...how it can be! If we just come together as one, as a nucleus if you will. Like one living organism that works for the benefit of all, and not just that of the few. That is perhaps one of the core principles in the message of Newcleus as a band, and is something that we should all strive to acknowledge and put into perspective as we move forward towards our destination...Earth!