Born Alex Holland in Leeds, Skinnyman is one of the few British emcees that needs almost no introduction. Moving as a kid to Finsbury Park, North London, Skinny found a melting pot of cultures suddenly on his doorstep and immersed himself in the musical culture of reggae and dancehall. Highly influenced by Leroy, Chas and fast tongue-talking Papa San, he was introduced to rap at a very early age. While watching the first rappers such as Electro Ascension, Wiggy Wiggy, Grandmaster, Melle Mel and Furious Five, he immediately realized he had been built for that.
When he was about 7, he had to do a school play and decided to write his own script for his part. He built himself a Rubik”s cube, put on a Rubik”s cube costume and did a rap about the Rubik”s cube and the mathematical structures of it. That was the first time he was onstage doing a rap.
Thank to his distinctive voice, Skinny easily progressed through open mic battles and consistently won titles around London. After becoming a founding member of The Bury Crew, in the early 90”s skinnyman moved on to establish by himself the seminal Mud Family alongside Mongo and Chester P with whom he released lots of EPs. These included the underground hits “Itchy Town” and “Lash Suttin”, a reworking of Redman”s “Smash Something”. One of the best Hip Hop crews in England whether on vinyl, on stage freestyling or battling other MCs, the Mud Fam expanded with new members joining and Chester P splitting to form Task Force with his brother Farma G.
Shortly after, Skinny signed a deal with Talkin” Loud and completed a handful of album tracks whilst at the label. However, before the album was finished Skinny was sent to jail for 9 months for distribution of marijuana. Naturally talented for rapping and writing lyrics, his reputation has grown even bigger for being in trouble with the police, since Skinny believes in the good of marijuana and is an active promoter of its use.
While he was inside, Talkin Loud was shut down by its parent company, freeing skinnyman from his contract. After the period of incarceration, released his masterful solo debut album, “Council Estate of Mind”, with a deal via Low Life Records in 2004. Well received by fans and critics as the highest new entry in the UK”s charts on the week of its release, heavily autobiographical and socially analytical, the album makes much use of samples from “Made in Britain”, a British film from the early 80s.
Since the album”s release, skinnyman received considerable attention from UK hip hop radio and press, had the opportunity to work with grime artists such as Wiley and Shystie and supported The Streets at Brixton Academy. He even won in a rapping contest in London”s Subterranea against Eminem.
In 2004, he was featured in “Tower Block Dreams”, a BBC documentary. In 2005, he played a small part in the interactive TV series “Dubplate Drama” and released two singles, “Forever Rangers” and “Holla/None Of Them”.
On July 6, 2006 skinnyman played live on the night of DMC DJ Championship 2006 UK Final and Battle for UK Supremacy at The Hammersmith Palais. Few days after, he released the expected “DMC”s fifth Champion Sounds” album, the series that in the past has featured Roc Raida, the Mixologists, DJ Skully and Plus One.
Reviews of Skinnyman”s album ”Council estate of mind”:
• ”Council Estate of Mind” should be celebrated as being so much more than just good hip-hop. It should be afforded the same status as the work of groups such as the Sex Pistols and Oasis as an album that speaks to, and for, a whole generation of working class British youth. – Blues and Soul
• ”Council Estate of Mind” has finally landed and it”s a triumph. A dizzying paranoid record littered with grimey-sharp rhymes and Kanye West-rivaling production, it”s up there with Dizzee”s new album and Mike Skinner”s ”A Grand Don”t Come For Free” as one of the street records of the year. – NME
• At last he proves that he can rap as well as anyone in the UK – Q. 4 out of 5
• vibrantly engrossing – The Daily Telegraph
• ”Council Estate of Mind” is probably the most hard-hitting, totally conceived debut of the years so far. And for that Skinnyman, we salute you. – Hip-Hop Connection. Album of the month.
• The best album that UK hip-hop”s had to offer for years. – Touch. 5 out of 5, album of the month.
• Lush production, big tunes”. by golly gentlemen, we may have unearthed a genuine British talent! – FHM
• It”s a masterful debut – Metro
Review of Skinnyman”s recent performance at Cargo in London by The Independent newspaper:
Skinnyman hits hip-hop heights
It is one of the great disgraces of the state of pop music in the UK that we always look across the Atlantic for our rap stars. While any mediocre indie band that can muster a bit of a buzz will find themselves hailed as the next big thing, the British hip-hop scene is either ignored, derided or worse, blamed for the country”s perceived social ills.
A case in point is Skinnyman, whose 2004 debut album, Council Estate of Mind, should have made him a star. Not only does it remain a great piece of social commentary, it”s also full of anthemic songs that would shine on the radio, given half a chance. Instead, he has had to make do with consolidating his reputation as one of the leading MCs on the UK scene, garnering support through a number of club nights and support slots.
Tonight”s gig is all about celebrating hip-hop talent from all across the UK, something the north London-raised rapper is clearly passionate about. The night has the feel of a community getting together, and even before his set is due to begin, Skinnyman is at the side of the stage enjoying the other acts, which include DJ Gone and veterans of the scene, Task Force.
When Skinnyman does takes to the stage, he acts as a curator, bringing more acts on from around the country. When he finally decides to grab the mic himself, Cargo”s curfew is rapidly approaching so the result is a trimmed-down set. A freestyle taking in capitalism and the G20 shows recent events in London have riled him, and the media also comes under attack, especially their coverage of violence and hip-hop – he accuses James Bond of being guilty of glamorising guns more than anyone else.
With a follow-up to Council Estate of Mind yet to emerge, it”s good news for his fans that a new EP is due out in the summer. One of its new songs – “Music Speaks Louder Than Words”– particularly stands out, built around a high-pitched sample. For the rest of his set, Skinnyman mainly avoids his debut, instead bringing on a number of the night”s previous performers to join him. His anti-violence message mixes with the informal party atmosphere of the night when a fight breaks out in the crowd. Instantly the music is stopped and the MCs gather round to admonish those involved for being so childish. The night finishes with his 2007 single, “Smoking Ban”.
As the lights go up, shouts of “We”re UK, we”re UK” bring to a close a night of celebration. Although on past evidence it seems unlikely that Skinnyman”s next move will propel him into the mainstream, he remains one of our brightest stars.