NOTE: Around 2009, I wrote a bunch of music biographies for Amoeba Music, which was then planning an ambitious project which ultimately never came to fruition. Some of the biographies I wrote did make their way onto Amoeba’s current, scaled back website — although they’re somewhat buried and often don’t credit the authors. A lot of time was spent researching and writing them, though, and Amoeba may not be around forever; therefore I’m re-posting them here with minimal updates or editing.
Mantronix was initially a 1980s hip hop and electro group composed of DJ Kurtis Mantronik and rapper MC Tee. After a line-up change, they became a popular house and pop-dance act. Ultimately, however, Mantronix and Kurtis Mantronik are one in the same.
Kurtis Mantronik was born Kurtis el Khaleel in Jamaica on 4 September 1965 to a Syrian father and a Jamaican mother. The family immigrated to Canada when Kurtis was seven. In 1980, the family moved to New York City. Whilst attending high school there, el Khaleel unsuccessfully tried to form and band before turning to technology in the form of a Roland TR-606 and a Roland TB-303 and rechristening himself Kurtis Mantronik.
In 1984, whilst working as the in-store DJ for Downtown Records in Manhattan, el Khaleel met MC Tee (Touré Embden), a Haitian-born, Flatbush, Brooklyn-based rapper and regular customer. The duo recorded their first song, a demo of, “Fresh Is the Word,” and eventually signed with William Socolov and Arthur Russell‘s Sleeping Bag Records.
The first single was “Needle to the Groove” b/w “Jamming On The Groove” and “Radio Groove,” was also released in 1985. It was followed by “Fresh is the Word” also released as a single in 1985. “Bassline” and “Ladies” followed in 1986.
All four singles were included on Mantronix – The Album (1985 Sleeping Bag Records), an amazing showcase for Mantronik’s poly-rhythmic, heavily synthesized take on hip-hop and MC Tee’s energetic rapping.
Whilst still signed to Sleeping Bag, Mantronik also produced other artists including Joyce Sims, Just-Ice, KRS-One, Nocera, T La Rock, and Tricky T. Mantronik also worked in A & R at Sleeping Bag and in that regard, was also responsible for signing EPMD to the label.
The follow-up, Music Madness (1986 Sleeping Bag Records), however, saw the duo moving in an increasingly dancey direction.
In 1987, Sleeping bag claimed they were owed two more albums by the group, who (after some legal wrangling) signed to Capitol. In Full Effect (1988 Capitol/EMI) was the first album to be mastered from DAT instead of reel-to-reel tape and was the duo’s biggest commercial success. However, after its release, MC Tee quit the music business and enlisted in the United States Air Force.
Mantronik met Bryce “Luvah” Wilson, a fellow Sleeping Bag Records label mate, while doing production for Luvah’s solo project in 1989. After the project was shelved, Mantronik formed new line-up of Mantronix with Wilson and Mantronik’s cousin, DJ D. The new line-up issued This Should Move Ya (1990 Capitol/EMI) which was a full-fledged house album. Singles “Got to Have Your Love” and “Take Your Time” (featuring vocalist Wondress) peeked at numbers four and ten in the UK.
For The Incredible Sound Machine (1991 Capitol/EMI), Jade Trini (full name Jade Trini Goring) replaced DJ D and seven of the eleven tracks were co-written by Angie Stone. Its unabashed mix of commercial R&B, dance-pop and New Jack Swing resulted in the group’s first critical and commercial disappointment and after a European tour the group disbanded.
Afterward, Mantronik dropped out of the music scene for the better part of a decade, resurfacing the the UK, where he intermittently produced house and techno acts. After Jade Trini found God, she settled in Connecticut. Wilson formed Groove Theory and got into production. MC Tee reportedly lives somewhere in Georgia.