Benji Webbe - 'The 10 Albums That Changed My Life'

Benji Webbe - 'The 10 Albums That Changed My Life'

- By Ramon Gonzales

The Skindred frontman details how ska, punk and reggae resonated with him on a spiritual level and ultimately paved the way for Skindred to reach fans from all walks of life.

Fresh off a massive MOBO Awards win for Best Alternative act and eyeing their first-ever Wembley Arena show next month in London, with Manchester and Birmingham already being sold out, it would seem as though Skindred are finding a new gear. Propelled by the infectious energy of their lauded eighth full length album, Smile, the band seem poised for a even loftier tier of greatness, more than two decades into their tenure. 

Skindred's transcendent sound translates well beyond the record, as the band's live presentation has solified their rank as rock music's forerunners. In addition to taking home gold as the Best UK Live Act for the 2023 Heavy Music Awards and the band was met with sold out audiences for their 2023 headlining UK tour. Skindred was also selected to join KISS for their final UK tour ever, signaling a passing of the torch among rock's most celebratory live experiences. 

Earlier this month, Skindred delivered the latest visual from Smile with the video for the anthemic, "If I Could" - a clip that best framed the excitement of the band's live shows, the long days of work in the studio, the camaraderie amongst the band and genuine connection Skindred has with their ever-growing global audience.

The video also offered a glimpse of what's the come for the band - with a live itinerary that includes their previously mentioned, biggest-ever UK shows as well as an appearance at Knotfest Australia 2024 among giants like Pantera, Disturbed, Lamb of God, Halestorm and many more.

To offer some creative insight beyond the massive shows and the award shows, Skindred frontman Benji Webbe has submitted a collection of albums that served well in steering his unique meld of rock appreciation with the soul and sincerity of reggae. Listing the ten albums that made a lasting impact on his life, Webbe illuminates just how Skindred find their unique stylistic intersection and how the likes of Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Johnny Rotten and Chuck D all had a profound affect on the greatness the band would eventually achieve. 

Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks
Webbe - The Pistols hit me like a ten ton hammer, it was the first album that I discovered on my own. Being from a West Indian family it was mostly Reggae and Soul music that was in our house, but the Pistols album 'Never Mind The Bollocks' totally made me hear in a brand new way.
Johnny Rotten’s snarl and non-singing singing voice really made me sit up and pay attention, it was then that I started to sew zips on my trousers and wear a nurses uniform with a Big A drawn on it… dying my hair was never going to happen, not in my Dad's house anyway...
The Specials - The Specials
Webbe - It was on a BBC 2 documentary that i was introduced to The Specials, this bunch of kids looked amazing wearing my father's suits and playing some of my Dad’s record collection in a more aggressive football terrace style. This is Ska, I was told, and as soon as i saved up enough money I went and bought myself a copy of this very special album. Black kids, white kids, all writing songs about my street and where I lived. This debut album will always be in my top ten, I was totally inspired to wanna mix different genres by this band and to spread the message of unity and love... What an album! 
Saturday Night Fever and Grease
Webbe - These two albums for me come as a pair, Saturday Night Fever and Grease, I don’t know how these records even got in my house and on my record player but they did! I think for me the song writing is so catchy and vocal heard style hits hard, they were not records that I would be proud to say I had at the time, but now I totally believe these soundtracks are up there with the best recordings ever. Song after song, they just elevate and keep your ears entertained. Big fan of both albums. 
Bob Marley & The Wailers - Kaya
Webbe - Kaya, Bob Marley’s 5th studio album sort of dropped in to my life, I don’t know where it came from or who brought it in the house, but of all the albums of Bob, this creeps in to my top ten. Reggae was always playing in my house growing up but this song was played at our local disco, I remember there were a group of girls who would dance to these songs at the disco and the way they moved, it was so smooth... Listening to the album at home was different, the way these girls moved really took this album to another level, from the way the album starts to the end it's definitely a special album to my heart and ears.
Every drum roll you could play on it’s own and it stands up and you know what song it is within the first second. The use of Bob’s words painted colours in my mind even to this day, singing about smoking weed and the live for Jah just made me want to join this gang in a massive way. Bob stood out from all the other reggae artists, to me he wasn’t the best, he was the most difficult, Bob Marley & The Wailers to me was like Bob Dylan, I sort of covered that market, unlike any other album in my extensive family reggae collection, there’s not many albums I don’t skip a song from and this album is definitely one of them, every song is sculpted with perfection. Kaya definitely deserves my top ten. 
Gregory Isaacs - More Gregory
Webbe - When I was about 14 I started going to shows and Jamaican artists were coming to South Wales and there was this guy, I knew there was a few records of his around the house and he had the smoothest voice ever, his voice was just so smooth, and as a singer, i usually go for the voices. But this particular time I went to the concert, there was hardly anyone there - a really big hall and there was a couple of Reggae sound systems playing there and this guy came on stage and his name was Gregory Isaacs and there was a few people in there, it wasn’t packed, say it was a 1000 cap room, there must have been about 300 people in there, you know, that’s not many.
This guy walked on stage and he had a white suit on, and a hat on, a 3 piece white suit and a black shirt, and he had a bunch of red roses and as he started singing these songs he was handing them out to the ladies and he was cool as fuck, and i thought, Wow! I just remember standing there and thinking i don’t know what it is but the band are amazing and the music is amazing. Well, fast forward a few weeks later, the album that he was out promoting called More Gregory ended up in my house and I put it on, and from beginning to end this album is so cool, the production is incredible they got a drummer on their called Style Scott, and Style Scott is laying back on every song and from what I was told about this particular album More Gregory, the album was recorded over a weekend and there’s like 10 songs on the album.
It’s just one of those albums I keep going back to, and when people ask me about reggae music i always say Gregory Isaacs, More Gregory, is the ultimate reggae album - it’s not fast, it’s not aggressive, it’s very chilled and it’s cool. I have it on Spotify, vinyl, CD and cassette, that’s how much i love this album. Gregory Isaacs, More Gregory, one of the most classic Reggae albums anyone will ever play you or you will ever hear!
Marvin Gaye - What’s Going On
Webbe - The intro to What’s Going On sounds like there’s a party in the room but it always reminded me as a little boy of listening to my mother and father downstairs with their friends when they had a couple of drinks in the house. It captured that whole vibe from the beginning of the record, he’s just asking a question, can we get our shit together, constantly throughout the record. I’d say this was the first album that I listened to as a youngster and thought fuck! There’s something wrong with these humans and the planet.
You know, I believe that Marvin Gaye’s father was a preacher and definitely must have effected him because this record to me sounds like church, not in a gospel-y Jesus way, but church in like a cry from the soul, a cry from the spirit, a deep cry. And it gets me, and I will listen to this album from beginning to end and I'll turn it over. It’s beautiful to have a record player back in my life so i’ll turn it over like i used to as a kid. I would say What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye is amazing! The colours of the artwork on the front and he looks so beautiful as well. I wish i had the balls to put my face on the cover of an album, maybe one day, I’d say. 
The Congos - Heart Of The Congos
Webbe - I must have been about 14, and by now my parents had passed away, and i lived with my brother. My brother brought me up, my brother was into Rastafarianism big time which obviously effected me. Now one of the producers that my brother loved was Lee ‘Scratch' Perry, and he was zany as fuck, you know out-there crazy, but before he went crazy crazy he had a recording studio called Black Ark and he produced a bunch of songs with different artists and he produced this album called Heart Of The Congos.
Lee Perry produced this band called Heart Of The Congos and it was this album that we used to play in my house on repeat, this for me is church, it’s religion to me. My brother would play these albums and the lyrics were just haunting and the voice of the singer Cedric would resonate with my soul every time I heard him sing. Every time I hear these songs it takes me back to being a young boy, 14 years of age, living with my brother. And I would say this is one of my favourite reggae albums too.
Reggae has been a predominant force in my life from a child but it was that reggae that was made around the 70’s, 80’s, early 90’s when bands were actually playing it not the computerized stuff. This album Heart Of The Congos is so strong and I definitely put this in my top ten. It encapsulates what Rastafari is for me, what I think of my brother and the way we embraced that faith and that walk, and it effected me to this day. I’m a believer, i’m a believer in the force of power. These songs definitely resonate with church to me, I don’t mean conventional Christian church, I mean Rastafari church, you know, with the conga drums and the bongo drums, and the nyabinghi stuff. That means so much to me.
Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet
Webbe - A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was in Newport town, RUN-DMC had had a hit with ‘Walk This Way' and they were playing in my home town, the Newport Centre. I went up to the Newport Centre, got there early, I watched the first act, his name was Derek B, he was great! Next the lights went down and another band was about to come on, but these guys came on in black army clothes, doing black moves and dancing, but it wasn’t dancing, it was more military and i was like, that’s a fuckin' cool start!
Next thing you know, this crazy guy with a clock came on and this brother came on who was a conscious brother, doing conscious lyrics, and i’m just stood in there in awe just going ‘My God!, these guys are incredible!' That night i became a massive Public Enemy fan. I went home and i was introduced to a record called 'Fear Of A Black Planet'. When i put that record on it sounds like someone's having a riot!
From beginning to end that album just hit me like a juggernaught, every song on the album, every little sample, it was beautiful chaos and i wanted to be a part of it. Chuck D’s lyrics were impossible - incredible, uncompromising, everything about them was just controversy, i fucking loved it! It made me want to be blacker than i was and i’m already black as fuck. Public Enemy 'Fear Of A Black Planet’, I listen to it to this day, it’s one of the best, a head turner. My favourite track is '911 Is A Joke’. Flavor Flav, he can’t rap for shit, but he’s got a great voice!

Skindred - Smile
Webbe - Now this list i’m doing is in no particular order but this is about music that changed my life. I wasn’t going to do this but you know what, this changed my life - it really did. I was on a record label years ago called Earache Records and it didn’t end well, the band split up and i blamed the label for a long time, I demonised them in the press, as time went on and i went to other labels with Skindred. I realised how good i had had it with Earache Records. I never really bothered with label people again and i just got on with my life as you do. Out of the darkness and the quietness we got an offer from Earache Records for a deal. 15 years or so had passed since i was on the label and they seem to be a label that are consistent. My manager came to me and said I have a great offer from Earache and I believe they can get behind Skindred and give the push that we need, I was like yeah, you know what, fuck it then, let’s go for it. 
I have such a good memory of recording ’Smile', i had the best time of my life in that recording studio, EVER!  It was in a beautiful studio in England, in a place called Evesham, a studio called Vada Studio. We went in there with a producer and wrote probably the most successful album Skindred have had to date in the UK. The album, I love it. The opening track of the album ‘Our Religion' just says what we have been doing for the past 24 years, we have been creating our own world, hacking through the jungle, being pioneers of what we do - this Reggae, Punk Rock, Heavy Metal thing that we have created. It’s not just a band, it’s a sound system, it’s a reggae sound system with punk and metal elements.
The record that changed my life was Smile by Skindred.
Catch Skindred live as part of the 2024 edition of Knotfest Australia. See the dates for their Aussie takeover below. Get tickets - HERE
March 20: Liberty Music Hall, Sydney - with Halestorm
March 21: Knotfest Melbourne
March 23: Knotfest Sydney
March 25: Knotfest Brisbane
March 26: Princess Theatre, Brisbane - with Halestorm
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