Approaching 20 years into their musical journey, The Herbaliser just keep getting bigger, stronger and better. It all began in the early 1990s when West London duo Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba discovered a shared passion for hip-hop, rare groove, funk and jazz. James Brown, DJ Premier, Lalo Schifrin, Pete Rock and David Axelrod were some of the heroes from their formative years.
Both avid vinyl collectors, Jake and Ollie began using the freshest sampling techniques, coupled with Jake’s musical knowhow from playing guitar and bass, to create the early demos for fledgling label Ninja Tune. These tracks formed the core of their first album, Remedies, released in 1995. It offered an emphatically London-centric take on funky beats packed with samples, scratches and chopped-up rhythms. It remains an influential underground classic from the urban flipside of the Britpop boom.
The second Herbaliser album, Blow Your Headphones (1997), was a more meaty, increasingly vocal affair. The US rock bible Rolling Stone praised the album’s “smooth, nimble rhythms” and called it a “a textured, experimental valentine to US hip-hop.” Most notably, Jake and Ollie discovered the mesmerising talents of underground New York rapper and storyteller Jean Grae, then performing as What What, who has gone on to become one of the most revered rappers working to this day.
Expanding their live line-up to a nine-piece in the late 1990s, The Herbaliser became acclaimed festival favourites around the globe. Playing to increasingly large and appreciative crowds also helped Jake and Ollie broaden their studio working methods.
On their 1999 album Very Mercenary, they began sampling their own playing partners to produce a more organic, full-bodied sound. Having revealed the talents of Jean Grae to the world, Very Mercenary also helped cement their uncanny habit of working with future rap titans such as the Uk’s Blade and Roots Manuva. “While it’s always good to have a really hot MC from the States, we also think it’s important to represent the UK,” says Jake.
Following in 2000, the double-vinyl live album Session One showed the world what a rousing and dynamic affair the Herbaliser road show had now become. A party pack of crowd-pleasers in beefed-up live arrangements, The Guardian called the album “sterling proof that this kind of music invariably sounds better played by musicians than by a sampler.”
The arrival of Something Wicked This Way Comes in 2002 added several new shades of light and dark to the Herbaliser spectrum. A potent cocktail of moody instrumental grooves and funky Hip-Hop, it also featured another impressively forward-thinking gallery of guest vocalists including MF Doom, Phi Life Cypher, opera-singing Seaming To and Rakaa Iriscience from Dilated Peoples. All Music Guide hailed the album as “colossal and cinematic,” while NME praised its “tough, commanding rare grooves.”
Ollie and Jake proved their DJ skills with the acclaimed 2004 mix album Herbal Blend for Solid Steel and their 2006 mix for Fabric. In between, they returned to the studio with Take London, released in 2005. A multicultural manifesto celebrating the UK capital’s unique mix of soul, funk, hip-hop and reggae, it featured the Notts-based Cappo, plus the triumphant return of Roots Manuva alongside Jean Grae, who by now had left her What What alias behind. A rave review on the BBC Urban site described Take London as “tailor-made for cruising over Waterloo Bridge at midnight, preferably in a blacked-out mini with a Union Jack painted on the roof.”
Fast forward to 2008 and The Herbaliser decided to delve back to their funk roots, crafting songs featuring singer Jessica Greenfield, resulting in Same As It Never Was. Glossy and gritty, organic and eclectic, Same As It Never Was was a timeless soul record for a scrambled musical era. However, Jake and Ollie soon realised that what they did best was based around a harder, darker sound.
2012 Saw the release of their seventh album, ‘There Were Seven’ 15 slabs of super heavy, psychedelic, beat-laden, post-hip-hop audio for your ears and mind, from the undulating wobbly dub “Welcome to Extravagance”, through the electronic takeover of “Mother Dove”, to the manic spitting flute funk of “Take ‘Em On” hitting you right in your boogie nerve. Featuring collaborations with George the Poet on “A Sad State of Affairs”, the whispering soulful vocalist Hannah Clive on “The Lost Boy”, and super MCs from across the Atlantic – Twin Peaks and Teenburger.
In 2016 The Herbaliser celebrate their 20th Anniversary.