Although many US rap stars mask poverty with ostentatious status symbols, Stereo MCs are a model of level-headed frugality. Vocalist Rob Birch and DJ/producer Nick Hallam founded their Gee Street studio and label with money they were given to leave their London flat and, instead of using a backing band, traveled to early gigs on buses with bags of tapes.
When Gee Street caught the eye of 4th and Broadway, they recorded the debut Stereo MCs album 33-45-78 (1989) on a shoestring budget with DJ Cesare, drummer Owen If and backing singer Cath Coffey. In 1990, 'Elevate My Mind' by the Stereo MCs was the first British rap record to reach the US R&B chart. At home, the emergent Indie Dance scene (they supported Happy Mondays in the USA) and a hook-up with The Jungle Brothers ensured ultimate hipness for Supernatural (1990) and remixes for the likes of U2, PM Dawn, Queen Latifah, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Monie Love and Electronic.
Their acclaimed live shows—they assembled a furious live band (including singers Andrea Bedassie and Verona Davis) and were one of the (then) few rap outfits to play rock festivals—paved the way for 1992's breakthrough Connected, a UK No.2 which spawned the smashes 'Connected', 'Step It Up', 'Creation' and 'Ground Level' and won them BRITs for Best Group and Best Album. When Hallam and Birch set up music publisher Spirit Songs (who signed Finley Quaye), the Stereos confirmed their rock star status by taking an eternity to record Connected's follow-up. A spokesperson told Q magazine in 1997 'They are very keen not to repeat themselves'. But remixes for Madonna ('Frozen') and The Jungle Brothers ('Jungle Brother') in 1998 confirmed that the Stereos were at least still alive.