The early years of UK hip-hop are often forgotten, what with the limited recorded output and lack of documentation outside of those involved in the relatively small scene at the time. Nevertheless, there are a number of groups whose impact reached beyond their releases and for that they should be acknowledged. One such group was Family Quest, who came up out of Islington, North London around 1983.
The group consisted of a quartet of performers in Chico MC, E-Mix, Dirty Harry and Mystery MC. Mystery MC is widely considered to be the first British female rapper and, while outnumbered by her three male counterparts, was given an equal footing and regularly stood out for her lyrical ability receiving much praise despite being younger, white and a woman. They made their name initially as the resident MCs at Spats on Oxford Street. Hosted by Tim Westwood, the event on a Saturday afternoon was a regular haunt for fans ranging from the age of ten to twenty one and was the core venue to get yourself seen and known in the burgeoning London hip-hop scene. The group achieved their gig as the resident MCs by submitting a mixtape to Westwood’s LWR radio show, catching the ear of the host in the process.
Family Quest’s first release would come in 1984, with “Outer Space ’84 Rap” recorded alongside Automation coming out on Jungle Rhythm Records. The track is considered by many to be the first song that created a distinctive UK sound, incorporating a reggae vibe, and making a point of differentiating between the vocabularies of UK and US rappers. Something that the likes of London Posse and Demon Boyz would bring to the fore four years later.
1986 would be the key year for Family Quest. After entering and winning the “King of the Streets” competition on Mike Allen’s Capital Radio show, they were awarded the opportunity to release a single on Morgan Khan’s Streetwave label. Streetwave was the sister label of Streetsounds who produced the cult Electro LP series that were essential for early UK hip-hoppers. The track to come out of this would be the early classic “Sleepwalking”, co-produced by David Toop, author of Rap Attack, and the only UK recording to appear on Electro 13. This connection with Streetsounds would lead to them being the only UK act to perform at the legendary hip-hop show UK Fresh 86 at Wembley Arena, alongside many of the American heavyweights of the time like Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash and Mantronixin front of 16,000 people.
Unfortunately, “Sleepwalking” would be the last recording the group would release. A lack of interest among the British public for this new sound, dismissed by many as a fad, who preferred the New Romantics meant they struggled to make an impact. Differences in opinion with Streetsounds would also result in them leaving the label. Nevertheless, Family Quest were an important group in the early years of hip-hop in London and should be remembered for what they contributed to a scene just starting out.