Rare groove is soul or jazz music that is very hard to source or relatively obscure. Rare groove is primarily associated with funk, jazz and pop, but is also connected to subgenres including jazz fusion, Latin jazz, soul, R&B, northern soul, and disco. Vinyl records that fall into this category generally have high re-sale prices. Rare groove records have been sought after 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.
The term was coined by British DJ Norman Jay after his The Original Rare Groove Show on pirate radio station Kiss 94 FM (the progenitor of Kiss 100 London). The 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 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 of life“ by DJs on pirate radio stations. Rare groove also provided a musical space where the „symbolic capital“ of the music became very important.
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.
Rare groove was written about by former LWR pirate DJ and NME writer Paul Wellings in his book I’m A Journalist…Get Me Out Of Here (Progressive Press).
Sampling is one of the biggest aspects of hip hop and rap, and these types of records provide breaks for artists to use in their songs. Examples of rare groove samples, such as Eazy-E’s „Eazy Duz It“ (which samples The Detroit Emeralds, Bootsy Collins, Funkadelic, Isley Brothers, Sly & the Family Stone, The Temptations and even Richard Pryor), can be found in modern hip hop (notably G-funk’s heavy sampling of Funkadelic) and drum and bass (notably the Amen break). After the collapse of funk-influenced disco, many musicians who had made a name for themselves under disco’s mainstream success had the spotlight taken away from them. Many of these artists have had their songs remixed and remastered by house music artists. Much of the obscure music „rediscovered“ as samples in newer house or hip-hop tracks is labeled „rare groove“ retroactively.
Northern Soul is a part of the rare groove scene since the term was first given by 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/1970s/1980s/1990s that are original copies.