Inner Circle is, of course, best known for "Bad Boys," a ubiquitous crossover hit thanks to its use as the theme song for the long-running Fox TV reality series Cops. But the band had a lengthy history prior to its international breakthrough, dating all the way back to the late '60s. They hit the big time in Jamaica during the '70s as a danceable yet rootsy Rastafarian reggae outfit, fronted by the charismatic singer Jacob Miller. Miller's tragic death in a car accident in 1980 put the group on hiatus for several years, and when they finally regrouped in the mid-'80s, they began to temper their rootsiness with elements of pop, R&B, and dancehall. Originally recorded in 1987, "Bad Boys" became a worldwide smash in the early '90s, and the group soldiered on into the new millennium amid several personnel changes.
Inner Circle was originally formed by brothers Ian (bass) and Roger Lewis (guitar) in 1968. The group's other charter members were guitarist Steven "Cat" Coore, keyboardist Michael "Ibo" Cooper, and multi-instrumentalist Richard Daley. Initially, they made their living playing in hotel lounges. When the rest of the band split to form Third World in 1973, the Lewis brothers assembled a new lineup that included keyboardists Bernard "Touter" Harvey and Charles Farquharson (the latter of whom didn't stick around for long), and drummer Rasheed McKenzie. Inner Circle recorded a couple of albums for Trojan over 1974-1975, Rock the Boat and Blame It on the Sun, which relied to some degree on smooth American soul covers. They also had a small hit single with "I See You."
Inner Circle's musical outlook changed with the arrival of vocalist Jacob Miller in 1976. Miller, a devout Rastafarian and a successful solo artist in his own right, made the band into a more spiritual, socially conscious outfit, and they quickly signed with Capitol Records. Over the next few years, Miller penned hits like "Tenement Yard," "Forward Jah Jah Children," "Tired Fe Lick Weed in a Bush," and "All Night Till Daylight" (some of which were credited to Miller, but nonetheless featured the whole band). Capitol issued two LPs, 1976's Reggae Thing and 1977's Ready for the World; sometime during this period, the group also recorded a bit with disco stars KC & the Sunshine Band.
At the peak of their early popularity in Jamaica, Inner Circle performed at the legendary One Love Peace Concert in 1978, along with Bob Marley and many others. Heartland Reggae, the film documentary of the concert, helped introduce them to international audiences, and landed them a new deal with Island Records. Their 1979 label debut, Everything Is Great, was a hit in Europe, and the disco-tinged title track made the U.K. Top 20 and the French Top Ten. Several more singles, including "Stop Breaking My Heart," "Mary, Mary," and "Music Machine," helped consolidate their success. Tragically, just as the band was poised for a major international breakthrough, Miller was killed in a car accident on March 23, 1980. Devastated, the rest of the band broke up. Ian Lewis and Harvey moved to Miami and opened a recording studio, and Roger Lewis joined them several years later.
Roger's arrival in Miami sparked a renewal of the old Inner Circle chemistry, and soon the band decided to re-form, recruiting new lead singer Carlton Coffie and drummer Lancelot Hall. They recorded the comeback album Black Roses for Ras in 1986, updating their old roots style with elements of contemporary dance music, R&B, pop, and the emerging dancehall sound. The follow-up, 1987's One Way, was a generally acclaimed effort that followed much the same blueprint, and contained the original recording of "Bad Boys." The group mounted a successful tour in support, but took several years to come up with another album, finally returning in 1991 with Identified.
Meanwhile, the Fox television network chose "Bad Boys" as the opening theme song for its police reality show Cops, which premiered in March 1989. As the program swelled into a hit, "Bad Boys" became a household pop-culture reference. Cops was syndicated throughout the world, including Sweden, where "Bad Boys" was released as a single in 1991 and topped the charts. From there, it became a hit in several other European countries as well. "Bad Boys" was finally issued in the U.S. in 1993, and vaulted into the pop Top Ten. An album of the same name was quickly cobbled together from existing material; most of it was from the group's 1992 party-reggae album Bad to the Bone, which supplied the sexy follow-up single, the Top 20 hit "Sweat (A La La La La Long)." Bad Boys won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album, and its title song eventually sold over seven million copies worldwide.
Inner Circle quickly recorded a follow-up album, the pop-oriented Reggae Dancer, which was released in 1994. Its lead single, "Summer Jammin'," was featured in the Eddie Murphy comedy Beverly Hills Cop III, but the enterprise failed to sustain Inner Circle's momentum as a pop-culture phenomenon. In 1995, "Bad Boys" was again used as a title song, this time for the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence action comedy of the same name. Around that time, however, Coffie was hospitalized with a serious illness, and was forced to take leave from the band. When he recovered, he decided to start a solo career, and was officially replaced by his substitute, singer/toaster Kris Bentley. Bentley made his debut on the 1997 set Da Bomb, which was issued in America one year later in a slightly reconfigured version titled Speak My Language. The band mounted extensive world tours over the next few years, and continued to release new albums, including 2000's Big Tings. ~ Steve Huey