If there’s one rave I will always regret missing, it’s the memorial for Stevie Hyper D.
Any junglist of a certain age knows that Hyper D was the greatest MC England ever saw. It was Hyper D who sang “I’m just a junglist so-o-o-oldier// Fighting to keep the jungle ali-i-i-i-ve” and Hyper D who asked “Junglists are you re-e-e-e-ady? Oh Lord a-mercy mercy…” He created the scenes biggest catchphrases, and turned them into chest thumping calls-to-arms, his voice giving shape to an identity that hordes of 90s ravers pinned proudly to their soul. When Hyper D spat, every member of the crowd knew themselves to be that most potent, powerful of things: A Junglist. Hyper D made it real. And then, aged 30, at the height of his powers, he died.
Hailing from Fulham, Hyper D came up through the late 80s house scene, making his first impact as it tipped over into hardcore. You can hear him guesting on the 1991 Apollo 440 track TeknoRagga – it’s an OK bit of bleepy hardcore – decent enough without ever really hitting top speed.
The thing is, TeknoRagga kinda sets the tone for the entirety of Hyper D’s career on wax. There’s not a single record out there that can prove why he was the greatest, because he simply didn’t make one. The closest he came was on the debut album, rushed out on a major label in 1999, the year after his death. Whilst the album featured the classic Hyper D flow, it felt a bit flat- something was missing from the studio; a few thousand ravers.
You have to understand that Hyper D was part of the rave. To get why he was fucking amazing, you have to hear him destroying the mic live, spinning rhymes off his head, singing, toasting, and spitting kinetic syllables that came loaded with the imperative to dance. If you need a discernable, measurable unit to understand Hyper D’s success, then you can point to the fact that he pretty much invented – or at the very least, wildly popularised – double time chatting. This was the art of delivering lyrics at double the speed of jungle breaks- basically rapping at a hyper speed of 175 bpm. In Hyper D’s mic, this meant he switched between discernable, party starting lyrics, and sharply enunciated consonant sounds; at times he’d just straight spit phonetic renditions of famous tunes – Batman, James Bond – and still sound like a don.
This ’95 set from Roast at the Ilford Island is an all time classic. Nicky Blackmarket is on the decks, pulling out track after track from a time when jungle’s greatest hits were still on dubplate; Super Sharp Shooter, DJ SS’s Lighter, Warp 9 by Rude Boy Monty, Hype’s Rinse Out - there’s not a duff track on there, there’s not even a dodgy mix (rarer than you think in the days of jumping needles and no sync lock). Hyper D rises to the challenge like the legend he is. He knows when to shut up, when to let the music breath, and then, when to step in and take things to the next level. Effectively he is adding to tunes that are still revered 20 years after first being written and making them better. How is that even possible?
For a snapshot of jungle being the greatest party music written, you’d be hard pressed to find better.
To hear a burst of Hyper D’s most famous lyric, listen to this snippet from an Andy C set, allegedly taken from One Nation New Years Eve ’97 (I’m a bit doubtful about that date tbh) – there are better examples out there, but someone has chopped this set down to the specific point Hyper D drops the ‘Junglist soldier’ lines.
I guess part of the magic of Hyper D was how knowing his lyrics meant you were part of something bigger. With few official releases – and most of them slightly lacklustre, you only knew the best of Hyper D if you went to the raves or heard the tape packs. Millions of kids across Britain did just that, and would sing along to these lyrics that were disseminated completely outside the mainstream, a hidden language, spread through copied tapes and lost nights out. I don’t even know if such a thing is possible any more. The democratisation of information has meant that little remains secret, and anyone can learn anything with a minimum of effort. I don’t know if I want to call this a good or bad thing, but it’s certainly different.
Seven months after the One Nation show posted above, Hyper D was dead, killed by a heart condition that was probably related to deep vein thrombosis. Predictably enough, when he died there were all sorts of rumours – the most prevalent being that he’d given himself a heart attack from smoking too much rock. It turned out that this was bullshit, but show me the black musician who dies and doesn’t have rumours of drug abuse chucked at em…
I’d rather remember Hyper D at his best – here’s another example of him killing it, this time with rare live footage taken from a Dreamscape gig with DJ Rap – he covers it all here, nursery rhyme lyrics, mad dun-gudda-dun-gudda-dun-gudda-dun shit, sing a longs and straight up ragga chat.
His influence can be felt in every UK MC I hear today. And back to the memorial gig I spoke about at the start, you can hear it below. My mates went and told me it was the most unified rave they’d even been to, a sometimes fractious scene coming together to pay their respects to a hero. You can hear his mum getting on the mic to thank everyone, and it’s genuinely moving- then she busts out a Hyper D lyric and the crowd goes nuts. Who wouldn’t?