The Brand New Heavies began in the 1980s as an instrumental acid jazz group called Brother International.
The group came up with the Heavies name after signing their first record contract, borrowing from a liner note on a James Brown single declaring the artist "Minister of New Super Heavy Funk". As The Brand New Heavies they gained a cult following in the London club scene and soon signed toCooltempo as acid jazz replaced rare groove in clubs. The band issued a debut recording for Eddie Piller's Acid Jazz label in 1990 with Jay Ella Ruth as lead singer.
A single, "Got to Give", came out on Cooltempo before the Brand New Heavies signed to Acid Jazz Records and released Brand New Heavies to critical acclaim. The band signed to a division of Chrysalis Records in the UK, and American distribution was picked up by influential label Delicious Vinyl, and N'Dea Davenport (who had signed an artist development deal with Delicious Vinyl) joined the group. A revamped version of the first album with vocals by N'Dea Davenport was then released, and the singles "Dream Come True", "Never Stop" and "Stay This Way", all with Davenport on lead vocals, became hits on both sides of the Atlantic, with the latter becoming a music video directed by Douglas Gayeton that saw heavy rotation on MTV.
The group's appearance with MC Serch (formerly of 3rd Bass) and Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest) at a performance in New York City, inspired the group to incorporate elements of hip hop music. Their next album was the critically acclaimed Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1, which included collaborations with Guru of Gang Starr and The Pharcyde, among others, but lacked any female vocals.
While under management by Colin Lester's and Ian McAndrew's Wildlife Entertainment, The Brand New Heavies released Brother Sister (1994) which was the last album for a while with N'Dea Davenport, who had left to complete her solo album (which she had put on hold to join the Heavies). The album spawned more singles, though one of them, a cover of Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis", was popular only in the UK because it was not included in the US version of the album.
Siedah Garrett joined the group for their next album, Shelter (1997). It contained the minor hit, the Carole King-penned song "You've Got a Friend" that was originally made famous by James Taylor. Again, though, this song did not appear on the US version of the album. The album also contained the hit "Sometimes". The remix of "Sometimes" included the rap vocals of Q-Tip.