Growing up in Manchester's Moss Side, Diane Charlemagne got her start in the mid-'80s as a member of the R&B group 52nd Street, who charted in the U.S. in 1986 with "Tell Me (How It Feels)." In the early '90s she sang for Urban Cookie Collective, whose singles "The Key: The Secret" and "Feels Like Heaven" were dance-pop smashes in the UK. But Charlemagne was probably best known for providing the vocals on "Inner City Life," a watershed jungle/drum 'n' bass track, as well as other Goldie songs like "Angel," "Kemistry" and "You & Me."
"At the time it was really unusual to have a singer on a real hardcore rave jungle track," says Reynolds, who chronicled the drum 'n' bass scene in the 1990s for Melody Maker, Spin and others. "People used samples, fragments of vocals to kind of make a whole song, and this was one of the very first times that producers actually got a proper singer with a microphone and wrote a song."
Charlemagne also showed off her jazzy cadences on "You and Me – The Beauty – The Beast," the original 1993 version of "You & Me," credited to Metalheads (Goldie with Dego and Marc Mac of 4 Hero). "At that time a lot of people dismissed jungle as 'not music,'" says Reynolds. "People couldn't get their heads around it." Having Charlemagne sing this languid ballad, accompanied by an actual piano player doing trills, says Reynolds, "was a real sort of pointed statement of their desire to be taken as proper musicians."
Charlemagne also sang on house tracks like 4 Hero's "Better Place" in 1993 and Japanese producer Satoshi Tomiie's "Inspired" in 1999, but she most frequently appeared as the go-to singer for several waves of drum 'n' bass producers, up to latter-day junglists like Calibre (2005's "Bullets"), High Contrast (2007's "If We Ever"), and S.P.Y. (2012's "Hammer In My Heart"). "I don't think she really knew how good she was," says Neville Staple, the former vocalist for The Specials and Funboy Three, who worked with Charlemagne in recent years. Staple remembers Charlemagne as "always so modest. She took it all serious in the studio, yet was so easy going and friendly about her talent outside of it."
The original mix of "It's In Your Eyes" is a straightforward R&B tune that wouldn't be out of place in the repertory of old-school soul divas like Bettye LaVette or Sharon Jones. Other versions of "It's In Your Eyes" include a drum and bass remix by Youth, hearkening back to the genre that made her reputation, Charlemagne's voice soaring high above clattering breakbeats, Perhaps most fittingly, the record is credited to "Diane Charlemagne Featuring Andy Rourke." At least on her final record, she finally achieved the star billing that always eluded her — another poignant reminder that, it's the singer, not the song, that truly matters.
"Inner City Life" by Goldie featuring Charlemagne is from his acclaimed 1995 debut album, Timeless and is widely considered as one of the most iconic drum and bass works of its era. It’s a portion of the album's first track, "Timeless: Inner City Life/Pressure/Jah", which is a 21-minute opus. The song fuses the breakbeats and basslines common in jungle with orchestral textures and soul vocals by Diane Charlemagne. It has been described as a ghetto-blues ballad, 'a yearning reverie of sanctuary from "inner-city pressure"' and features a sample from Ike Turner's song "Funky Mule", from his 1969 album A Black Man's Soul. Goldie/MetalHeads became the first jungle act to make the Radio One playlist, albeit the N-list, with the track.