Skibadee changed the very nature of what it meant to be an MC in the UK – The Guardian

The MC, who has died aged 47, laid the foundations for grime, drill and all that followed – there is not a UK rapper today that doesn’t owe him a creative debt
MC Skibadee dies aged 47
With the untimely deaths of Jamal Edwards and now drum’n’bass MC Skibadee (AKA Alphonso Bondzie), it’s been a rotten week for British music. It’s tempting to say a bad week for Black British music – and certainly their contributions to the development of specifically Black British vernacular musical forms were unparalleled. But both had influence all the way through the underground and mainstream beyond any single genre or scene.
Having contributed significantly to the rise of stars from Ed Sheeran and Jessie J to Stormzy and AJ Tracey, Edwards’s achievements have been well-documented. Skibadee’s influence is less immediately visible – after all, he only featured on a scattering of tracks in his almost 30-year career. But as the intensity of the tributes has shown, it was immense nonetheless. “His contribution to drum’n’bass can never be equalled,” said chart-topping producer DJ Fresh; figures within the scene have referred to Skibadee as the “greatest of all time”.
But perhaps the most important summation came from outside drum’n’bass. The grime and dubstep innovator Plastician tweeted: “Skibadee was your favourite MC’s favourite MC’s favourite MC … Can’t underestimate the foundations that guy built for everything we’ve had since then.” And it’s true: Skibadee changed the nature of what it meant to be an MC or rapper in the UK, laying the foundations for grime, drill and everything else that followed. There is not a British grime or rap artist today that doesn’t owe him a creative debt.
He came from a generation raised equally on Jamaican sound system music and US hip-hop. But where 80s UK rappers and dancehall deejays struggled to escape the gravity of the vowels of those respective countries, the birth of jungle out of rave in 1992 created a rhythm that was 100% British, and MCs at raves created something completely new, too. The likes of Det, Moose, 5-0 and Navigator pioneered a style that brought the “fast-chat” dancehall rhythm (itself a British innovation in the 80s) together with hip-hop wordplay and an “oi-oi”, punky, cockney twang. Two stood out especially: Stevie Hyper D (who also died tragically young in 1998) and Skibadee, who started hosting raves in 1993.
Their verbal dexterity, crowd control and force of personality was honed in the white heat of raves and over hour upon hour on pirate radio. While those skills didn’t necessarily translate to the contained track format, they were mind-boggling and thrilling to witness when experienced live over an extended duration. Those skills were picked up in turn on stage and on pirate radio stations by a younger generation: Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Riko Dan, Flowdan, D Double E, Footsie – the founders of grime.
They all crossed paths with Skibadee and his peers in stations such as Kool and Rinse in the mid-late 90s – and even though they jumped ship to garage and then turned it into grime, the closeness was always there. Just witness Dizzee and D Double E’s facility at drum’n’bass’s 170 bpm tempo when they appeared with Skibadee – at his invite – on Kool FM in 2007; or D Double’s latest hit, Selecta with Danny Byrd, an unabashed tribute to the “jump up” production and MCing of the mid-90s.
But it wasn’t just about musical technique. The tributes to Edwards were every bit as much about his personal conduct and personality – how he inspired people in person – as his material achievements. It’s the same with Skibadee. With their rowdy image and lyrical content, it’s easy to forget that jungle and drum’n’bass were forged and gained their longevity from fast friendships built around this love of the musical experience. Skibadee exemplified that.
Colleagues and fans have been sharing how much he contributed with his presence and love for other artists. As Kaptin Barrett, head of music at Boomtown – the festival that’s become a hub for all things jungle – put it: “I swear Skibadee loved MCing more than anybody else, never lost that passion for it in all the years I’ve seen him. He would jump up on countless sets at Boomtown just for the love, no matter who the DJ was.”
And that is what makes Skibadee as vital to the history books as any musician with a hundred times as many recorded tracks to their name. Over hundreds of hours a year, at raves, clubs and radio studios, he provided a torrent of language and music that transmitted ideas, feelings and stances, directly and only to the people who experienced the sets in full. His voice still echoes through every UK rapper you hear today and his influence endures in the living, breathing global drum’n’bass culture.