Rare groove is soul or jazz music that is very hard to source or relatively obscure. Rare groove is primarily associated with funk, R&B and jazz funk, but is also connected to subgenres including jazz rock, reggae, Latin jazz, soul, rock music, northern soul, and disco. Vinyl records that fall into this category generally have high re-sale prices. Rare groove records have been sought by not only collectors and lovers of this type of music, but also by hip-hop artists and producers.
Online music retailers sell a wide selection of rare groove at more affordable prices, offering fast downloads in digital format. This availability and ease of access has brought about a resurgence of the genre in recent years.
In UK the term ‘rare groove’ was originally coined by the British DJNorman Jay, after his The Original Rare Groove Show on pirate radio station Kiss 94 FM (the progenitor of Kiss 100 London). While Norman Jay was actually a witness to, and participant in, the 1970s underground sub-culture of American obscure import music; the person who actually gave rise to the genre (some even credit him with the revival of James Brown‘s career), although there was no name for it at the time, was underground DJ Barrie Sharpe and Lascelles Gordon (previously with the Brand New Heavies). Both played that brand of obscure American import records, 7″ and albums (“looking back retrospectively”), that they had in their collection. These were bought from such specialist import record shops such as Moondogs in East Ham, and Contempo record shop at 42 Hanway Street in the West end of London, owned by John Abbey, founder of Blues & Soul magazine. The magazine also had their own record label (also called Contempo), releasing music from the 1970s which, starting in 1984, played at a club previously known as Whisky-A-Go-Go, founded by Rene Gelston in Wardour Street, Soho (which would later become known as The Wag).
Norman Jay’s show was a collaboration with DJ Judge Jules and featured a mainly urban soundtrack from the 1970s and 1980s mixed with early house music. Tracks similar to “rare grooves” had begun to see a following in the 1970s Northern soul movement, which curated a collection of rare and obscure soul records for play in dance clubs.
The rare groove scene began when DJs presented an eclectic mix of music, that placed a particular emphasis on politically articulate dance-funk recordings, connected to the US Black Power movement. Pirate radio stations and DJs participated in a “recovery, repackaging and retrieval” of obscure music that reflected, related to or translated inequalities of race and gender and the struggles of the civil rights movement. Music that had failed to gain acceptance in a previous time was given a “new lease on life” by DJs on pirate radio stations. Rare groove also provided a musical space where the “symbolic capital” of the music became very important. Northern soul is a part of the rare groove scene since the term was first given by deep soul collector Dave Godin from the record shop Soul City in Covent Garden, London. The scene has many record collectors and DJs who pay large sums of money for rare songs from the 1960s/’70s/’80s/’90s that are original copies.
In America, DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Africa Bambaataa played 70s rare groove records. James Brown , Jimmy Castor Bunch, and Incredible Bongo Band were on their playlist. Popular breakbeats source was bootleg series “Ultimate Breaks and Beats”. The longest-running rare groove radio show in the United States is Soul Power on WWOZ 90.7 FM (New Orleans) and wwoz.org, and is hosted by DJ Soul Sister, who is cited as the “queen of rare groove”. The show began in 1996.