Photograph: Chelone Wolf
Jungle drum & bass, and the wider UK underground music community, has the heaviest of hearts right now.
On Sunday February 27 2022 we learnt that that we’d lost one of the greatest MCs to ever touch the mic and help sculpt our culture into the powerful global movement it is today: Skibadee.
The terms legend and Greatest Of All Time are thrown around far too readily and easily, but for Skibadee these titles stand correct and legit. A tour de force in MC culture since he first broke through on pirate stations such City Sound Radio in 1993, then famously Kool FM alongside DJ Wildchild, he carved his own lane, set his own style. Alongside MCs such as Stevie Hyper D, he part of the foundation of D&B MC artistry and the genre’s unique doubletime style.
He since went on to become one of the key voices and guiding lights of the scene. Often the first voice young fans would ever hear on tapepacks, he was one of the biggest ambassadors for jungle drum & bass, giving listeners the warmest welcome from the word go. As a result, his influence stretches much further than just the realms of jungle; his impact can be felt in every UK movement that has followed including grime, UK garage and drill.
A multi-instrumentalist who could play the flute, drums and keys as well as having one of the most iconic voices in UK dance music culture, south Londoner Skibadee – real name Alphonso Bondzie – embodied what it meant to be a true junglist. He lived and breathed this music with an appetite and vibe that was impossible to turn down, a sense of lyricism that could flip from ridiculously sharp to surreal to party-minded (often within 16 bars) and a message that resonated timelessly: Be yourself and no one else. Originality is key to everything that shines in this scene.
From his earliest performances at seminal raves like Thunder & Joy to his latest release, SaSaSaS – Finally, via myriad major mainstream breakthrough moments like Twist ‘Em Out with Dillinja and Don’t Wanna Know with Shy FX & T-Power, Skibadee’s energy, originality, humour and warmth shone through in everything he’s done.
Recently during lockdown he brought this energy to our lives in a much more intimate and personal way with his streams where he’d support music from the entire scene and vibe out on screen – usually before most of us had eaten any breakfast – wearing his heart on his sleeve and boosting the artists behind the beats.
These iconic streams were another reflection of Skibadee at his realest and all the tributes that are being posted across social media right now are honest; he was genuinely one of the nicest and most humble men you could meet in the scene. No ego whatsoever, full gratitude and grace and respect for others. In true jungle style, he was often hard to track down sometimes, he worked to his own clock and his did his own thing; but if he’d agreed to commit to something, you could guarantee he would fulfil his promise. In his own words, Skibadee would always deal with the matter and deal with it proper.
On a personal level I experienced this passion, commitment and dialogue from Skibadee many times, especially as I got to know him while co-writing DJ Phantasy‘s book – Three Generations Deep. Skiba’s relationship with Phantasy truly took off when he performed at an event which didn’t do well on ticket sales. Instead of taking what little money Phantasy could offer him, he declined it because he could see he hadn’t had the best of nights.
This thoughtful gesture sums up Skibadee perfectly. And in the case of Phantasy, it led to a working relastionship and friendship that endured over 25 years, culminating in the game-changing fusion of SaSaSaS along with Stormin’ (RIP), Shabba, Harry Shotta and Macky Gee – an arena-filling act who’ve once again ushered in a new generation of fans to drum & bass. A tradition that’s been part of Skibadee’s legacy since he first took to the airwaves and something that’s going to take the scene a long time to get used to no longer being there.
It’s impossible to over-estimate how much of a hole Skibadee’s passing leaves on this culture, but his legacy and influence are now such an instrinsic part of the fabric of MC artistry, drum & bass, jungle and all other forms of contemporary black music in the UK and globally. Sending love to every single individual who he touched, inspired and influence with his music, his style and his energy, especially his family and close friends.
Skibadee Rest In Peace.