The Story Behind Stereo MC’s’ Angry yet Uplifting Hit “Connected”

In 1990, the London-based group Stereo MC’s had the distinction of becoming the first British hip-hop band to enter Billboard’s Hot 100 and R&B charts with “Elevate My Mind.” Calling Stereo MC’s a hip-hop band is sort of like calling Eurythmics a synth pop band, as their sound encompasses so many different elements as to make categorization moot. Two years after breaking through with “Elevate My Mind,” the world got to hear the group’s blend of rap, disco, electronica, and modern rock on “Connected,” the lead single and title track of their third album.

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“Connected” would become Stereo MC’s’ biggest hit in the U.S. and in much of Europe. With its pulsating beat and eclectic blend of sounds, the song is an earworm, and in the best way possible. But it’s also a song with a message—one that contains some anger that belies the upbeat musical vibe. Here’s how Stereo MC’s created a funky, catchy masterpiece that cleverly masked its bitter undertones.

What Makes “Connected” so Infectious?

If “Connected” sounds like a KC and the Sunshine Band song to you, you’re not just imagining it. The song was built on a beat sampled from a minor 1978 disco hit by Jimmy “Bo” Horne called “Let Me (Let Me Be Your Lover).” Horne’s song was co-written and co-produced by KC and the Sunshine Band co-founders Harry Casey and Rick Finch. Also, several members of the Florida-based disco band performed on “Let Me (Let Me Be Your Lover).”

There’s more than just a KC and the Sunshine Band sample that makes us want to put on our boogie shoes when we hear “Connected.” Stereo MC’s frontman Rob Birch explained his approach to creating a groove in the Dutch documentary series Top 2000 a gogo, saying, “It’s not necessarily the kick or the snare. It’s something in between the gaps that gives it that little atmosphere and vibration.” That approach applies to “Connected.” In between the beats, there’s the constant sizzle of hi-hat along with saxophone riffs and record scratches.

“Something Ain’t Right”

For all of “Connected’s” danceability, its lyrics deal with some distressing events. In a 2015 interview with Songwriting magazine, Birch said he came up with the refrain Make sure you’re connected / The writing’s on the wall while riding a bus. It took another six months to finish the lyrics, and when he did, his mind was on what he termed as “grim” events, such as the 1980s riots in the Brixton area of London, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and the introduction of a poll tax in Great Britain in the early 1990s. This is why, despite the happy vibes of the music, Birch sings Something ain’t right just before launching into the first verse.

Though “Connected” features scathing lines like Your dirty tricks / You make me sick, Birch doesn’t see them as incompatible with the song’s overall positive message and feel. He explained to Top 2000 a gogo, “It’s grim, but we were happy. …We’re living life, making music, and it doesn’t mean you can’t be an energized human being.” In this context, we can see that making a song like “Connected” was Birch’s way to get connected to a more positive energy.

The Impact and Aftermath of “Connected”

Stereo MC’s had no trouble connecting with American music fans, at least when it came to “Connected.” The song entered five different Billboard charts, finding its greatest success on the Alternative Airplay (No. 5) and Top 40 Mainstream (No. 11) rankings. “Connected” was also Stereo MC’s’ second and final visit to the overall Top 40, peaking at No. 20 on the Hot 100.

“Connected” is still getting spins decades after its initial release. Its longevity was likely helped by its inclusion in the 1995 movie Hackers and on the film’s soundtrack album. The song was also used in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Saving Silverman, and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. “Connected’ has been streamed more than 57 million times on Spotify, and its official video has been viewed more than 5 million times on YouTube.

The longevity of “Connected’s” popularity is all the more impressive, given that Stereo MC’s lost much of their momentum after the song and the follow-up hit “Step It Up” fell off the charts. Due to burnout, Stereo MC’s took time off from recording, though in 1998, they released remixes of Madonna’s “Frozen,” Tricky’s “Makes Me Wanna Die,” and Jungle Brothers’ “Jungle Brother (True Blue).” When Stereo MC’s returned to the UK charts in 2001 with the title track from their fourth album Deep Down & Dirty, they had a more menacing sound.

Just imagine if they had applied that mood to “Connected.” On second thought, give their signature hit a listen and appreciate how masterfully they created a song that was both angry and uplifting.

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Photo by J.Tregidgo/WireImage

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