With the news that MC Skibadee had passed away last week, shockwaves of disbelief ricocheted across the music industry and club culture. Music writer and original jungalist Chris Kelly pays tribute…
This was an especially bitter pill for the Drum and Bass (D&B) community to swallow. The voice and personality that had steered its culture and sound for three decades, taking it to dizzying new heights, had fallen silent. Suddenly a genre that’s notorious for bringing the noise was stopped in its tracks, paused in quiet contemplation.
Joining thousands of others, I spent the day digesting the sorrowful news. I found myself taking a trip down a very long dark tunnel filled with bright light memories of my raving youth; the first time I heard Skibadee’s show on Kool FM and the first time I saw him perform at One Nation, murdering his set. How dapper he looked on stage donning a matching two-piece stars and stripes outfit with a corresponding bandana. It was impossible not to be mesmerised by his stage presence. Not only was his sound identical to none, but his style was too.
I thought back to my first encounter with him at Bagley’s Film Studio in the late 1990s. I fondly remember how approachable and softly-spoken he was – and how open and willing he was when I asked to talk to him, in what would become one of my first music interviews. The wise words of advice he gifted as I restlessly grappled with my dictaphone recorder and a frenetic tongue. He advised, “Always let the interviewee finish talking before you hit them with another question” and “really hear what they’re saying to you cause you might not need to drop that next question…” – it was solid advice for a young rookie.
Born Alphonso Castro K. Bondzie in south London, he started his career on City Sound Radio in 1993. By the time 1995 hit, he was featured at jungle events such as Thunder & Joy and DJ Ashatack’s Jungle Spirit every Thursday at the 79 club in Central London. This became his first residency where he was rubbing shoulders with all the defining DJs and MCs of the era – Wildchild, Nicky Black Market, and MC Stevie Hyper D. As the end of the year approached, he secured a much-coveted slot on Kool FM. Whilst this was a fantastic feat for the young MC, he was hungry for more, taking any opportunity to be on the airways, being the fill-in for other MCs, on-call at a moment’s notice. This manoeuvre increased dominance on the station, gaining kudos with listeners resulting in better primetime slots. You couldn’t lock on to Kool FM back then and not hear Skiba spitting his bars at you.
Meanwhile, mic culture was expanding in a way it hadn’t previously and vocalists became as crucial as the DJs. Leading the pack of emcees was the iconic Stevie Hyper D and MC – MC, who frequently collaborated on stage together. Stevie Hyper D is credited for being the original innovator who introduced the methodology of the double-time improvised chat underpinned with his sweet vocal ability.
As MCs started crafting their art form, combining the British accent with a sonic sound that matched the inner-city energy that jungle was renowned for, musically, it was a match made in heaven.
Ravers lapped up this new style and would become frantic with excitement when Stevie would step into the arena with his mic. The only other MC who garnered this same response was MC Skibadee. Skiba would go on to perform this style with its innovator Stevie Hyper D in back-to-back sets, the duo were a force to be reckoned with, as heard here at One Nation – Clash Of The Titans in 1997.
Skibs energy combined with an unbelievably quick yet precise double-time delivery was what set him apart from his peer pack and elevated him to become the must-see MC. When Stevie Hyper D sadly died of a heart condition in 1997, Skibadee was his natural successor. In 2010, he was awarded the Stevie Hyper D Lifetime Achievement Award at the Drum and Bass awards. A couple of years later, in 2012, Skibba represented Dance Concept ‘Stevie Hyper D tribute night’, when he was introduced to Stevie’s family as ‘the only MC who could hold his own with Stevie.’ Skibs’s humble response was, “Nah, that’s not true, not a chance”.
In 1997 Skiba, alongside his regular collaborator, MC Det, launched a new project, 2xFreestyle, applying Drum and Bass flow and the double-time delivery over hip-hop beats. The single ‘New Style Avengers’ accompanying video was hugely successful after being promoted across MTV. Sadly the official video is lost in the archives of time.
As ’97 drew to a close, the reggae dub samples that gave Jungle its blueprint sound started to phase out. Hip-hop and jazz-influenced tracks began to gain dominance, and drum and bass’ dawning had broken. Skibadee was a top cat and pacesetter in this new era, becoming the MC that all MCs would imitate, crowning him king of the jungle. He sustained this title until his passing due to an innate ability to evolve combined with a continuous pursuit of creative boundary-pushing.
In 2003 he surprised fans with a different side to his lyrical abilities with the ‘2 Fast 2 Ferocious’ mixtape. Collaborating with Durrty Doogz, the sound was a collection of UK hip-hop with large dashes of other musical influences. Listen to the mixtape here.
Building on his long-term creative partnership with MC Shabba D, the SAS partnership was conceived, including the ‘MC Convention’ housed at the Stratford Rex. The event focused on the vocal side of D&B, quickly becoming the must-attend event for real heads. When Skibs invited me down to cover the event, I knew it would be a roadblock, but what I wasn’t prepared for was just how distinctively different the night would feel.
The stage was packed with the cream of MC talent from the scene. It was an absolute free for all and exhilarating to watch how vast the lyrical talent of the drum and bass scene was. Developing the SAS concept even further over the next decade, in 2014, the duo welcomed DJs Phantasy, Macky Gee, MCs Stormin (RIP) and Harry Shotta, in what was meant to be a one-off show to say adieu to Vauxhalls Area Club. Three years later, the collective was still going strong, eventually becoming the first supergroup in the history of Drum and Bass. They performed for thousands of music fans at music festivals worldwide, reaching an entirely new generation of fans.
As the tributes rolled in across social media, it quickly became apparent that Skibs didn’t just belong to the scene and sound he had championed. His influential talent was wider-reaching than that. Fellow music artists from outside of the scene, particularly titans from the grime scene such as Dizzee, P Money and Ghetts all shared personal tributes underpinned with gratitude for an artist that had singlehandedly set the bedrock for emceeing in the UK. Grime legend D Double E posted that Skibs was “one of the reasons he spits so hard”. Dizzee said he was ‘The benchmark for MCs in the UK”, with him being a big part of the reason that he felt comfortable spitting in his accent.
Suddenly a picture started emerging that had previously gone under the radar. Had Skibadee been the godfather of British MCs all along? He most certainly set the MC foundations for all scenes that evolved from jungle – namely garage, grime and, to an extent, drill. Not just an intrinsic part of the fabric but the stitch that connected one piece to another. So it’s a guarantee that whatever the sound evolution will bring next, we will undoubtedly hear Skibadee’s lyrical influence underpinning it.
The colossal loss of Skibadee is hard to equate; he is responsible for transforming music and culture for all of us, he was the voice of a generation and that’s going to take a lot of time for us to process collectively. For those that consider themselves old skool ravers, new skool ravers and those yet to become ravers, there will forever be a Skibba shaped hole in our hearts.
I am sending love and energy to every single person that Skibadee influenced and touched with his music and infectious larger than life personality. He will be missed immensely, especially by his family and close friends, who are very much in my thoughts.
Thank you for everything, Skibs. You dealt with the matter, and you dealt with it proper.
Words: Chris Kelly
Chris Kelly is a freelance music journalist and feature writer with a focus on emerging and established artists, subculture, the art world and mental health. Chris has multifaceted expertise as a media and creative specialist working with your favourite brands and helping them to embed themselves within the culture through strategic creative and entertaining content for brands, businesses and organisations.
Photos: Benny V (Dance Concept/Souped Up Records)