MOBO stages its 25th edition of the MOBO Awards tonight (November 30). To celebrate, founder Kanya King writes for Music Week about the event’s impact, while we reflect on 25 careers – handpicked by MOBO – that have shared in its history…
Starting from humble beginnings in 1996 to become one of music’s most highly coveted cultural events, the MOBO Awards has celebrated, elevated and championed the best in Black music and culture for a quarter of a century, playing host to global icons and flying the flag for homegrown heroes.
From Sade choosing to exclusively perform on our stage and So Solid Crew’s classic show in 2001, to being the only European event to host the Marley and Jackson families when we posthumously honoured Bob Marley and Michael Jackson respectively, MOBO has been synonymous with unforgettable moments. We have picked 25 of those stories to celebrate here.
While many will associate the MOBO Awards with glitz and glamour, the journey to this point has not been a smooth or easy ride. I can only describe it as a rollercoaster and there have been countless times when I thought we would never get there. However, with sheer passion and determination, we managed, and MOBO never gave up on its purpose to celebrate and elevate Black music, culture, accomplishment and excellence.
I grew up surrounded by creative people who were immensely talented, but often fell by the wayside simply because they could not access opportunities in a sector that was very much about who you know. That instilled something in me, and I’ve always found it hugely important that people should be able to hear and see themselves reflected on our screens, in our music and be celebrated for their work. Music plays a significant role in our lives and it impacts how we see and feel about ourselves. Sometimes in life, your mission is so big that it gives you the drive and hunger to pull out all the stops and overcome the many hurdles along the way.
I’m proud to say that MOBO has championed some of the most cherished figures in the industry. From supporting the next generation of creative talent, to providing jobs and upskilling opportunities, MOBO has remained dedicated to ensuring that the incredible talent here on our shores doesn’t go unnoticed.
As we gear up for our 25th anniversary show on November 30, through it all, we know that the many sacrifices have been worth it as they have made us who we are today.
This year is about reflecting on where we have got to, while rejoicing in what the future holds. In that respect, I’d like to give a special thank you to Marshall Amplification for providing such incredible opportunities to our MOBO UnSung talent, as well as YouTube and the BBC for helping to ensure that the MOBO Awards can be enjoyed by millions.
Finally, thank you to everyone who has worked with MOBO so far, there is not enough space here to express how much your unwavering support means to us.
Now, here is a run through 25 of the stories that have made MOBO's history what it is...
SEAN PAUL 2002
Sean Paul first tasted MOBO success in 2002, winning the Best Reggae Act category. He repeated the feat numerous times in the years that followed, and was also shortlisted in 2021, when Shenseea emerged victorious.
On stage in 2002, the same year his second album Dutty Rock hit No.2 in the UK, the Jamaican paid tribute to MOBO and the UK industry.
“I have to say respect and give thanks, reggae music and dancehall are big throughout the world and we’re not given the exposure,” he said. “So respect to MOBO for giving me the exposure and letting me be the next one to come out of the reggae scene.”
For Zeze Millz, being part of the MOBO Awards was a lifetime ambition and the presenter and podcaster has been involved just about everywhere possible: in the audience, working behind the scenes, as a nominee and, last year, as a guest host.
“I remember growing up watching it and begging my mum to stay up late to do so,” she tells Music Week. “MOBO gave us space to celebrate ourselves when no one else was, it made us proud to be Black and British entertainers.”
Now a broadcaster on BBC Three Counties Radio, Edward Adoo got his big break in the music industry after meeting Kanya King in the MOBO office in the early 2000s, when he was considering leaving showbusiness behind altogether.
He tells Music Week that the MOBO Awards “made the industry wake up and take notice” of Black music.
“MOBO has helped to change perceptions and make the industry more inclusive and open-minded,” he says. “Long may it continue.”
FKA TWIGS 2015
Ever since FKA Twigs first emerged with EP1 in 2012, the Cheltenham-born artist has sought to bend minds with her visuals. It was no surprise, then, that she had not one, but two videos shortlisted at the 2015 MOBO Awards. Winning the category for the self-directed Pendulum, the ex-dancer brought up her previous MOBO experiences in a moving speech.
“The first music video I was in was with Lethal Bizzle, I made up a dance routine with my friends but it got cut,” she said. “And the last time I was on a MOBO stage I was dancing for Wretch 32, so it’s so amazing to be here. All that time I’ve been in the studio, hoping that this would happen.”
The South London star becomes the first ever winner of the MOBO grime award...
Stormzy is the proud winner of six MOBO Awards, a haul that began when he became the first artist to win the Best Grime category when it was introduced in 2014.
“The MOBOs introducing a grime category, and the fact that it’s putting artists like myself and the other nominees live on TV in front of an audience that is a bit difficult to reach by just social media or YouTube or radio, can only be a good thing,” reflected the rapper at the time. On stage at Wembley Arena, the MC paid tribute to Boy Better Know, Lethal Bizzle, Wretch 32 and his South London neighbours Krept & Konan, who had inspired him to target glory on the MOBO stage from the start of his career.
“I’m looking at them and thinking, ‘What? Why can’t I spit and get a MOBO?’” he told The Fader in 2017.
Stormzy went on to triumph in the Best Grime category again in 2015, also winning Best Male, while in 2017 he scooped three of the iconic MOBO trophies, winning in the Best Grime, Best Male and Best Album categories.
On stage in 2017, he professed his love for the genre that made him, saying, “As long as I can open my mouth to spit a lyric at 140bpm, I’m gonna carry on doing what I do.”
Now one of the biggest stars in the UK and still only two albums into his career, it’s safe to say Stormzy’s MOBO Awards story is far from over.
EMELI SANDÉ 2012
Early support from the MOBO Awards helps ignite a million-selling phenomenon…
After making her MOBO Awards bow in 2009 on stage with Chipmunk at Glasgow’s SECC Arena, Emeli Sandé went on to star at the event as a solo artist. Having scored a nomination for Best Newcomer in 2011, the Scotland-raised singer took over the 2012 show, winning a three trophy haul that included awards for Best UK Female Act, Best R&B/Soul Act and Best Album for her debut, Our Version Of Events. It could have been more, too – Sandé also had Next To Me shortlisted for Best Song and My Kind Of Love among the nominations for Best Video.
In her acceptance speech for Best Female, she took care to single out MOBO for a special mention.
“I’d like to thank MOBO for supporting me before I was on anybody else’s radar,” she said. “Thank you so much, this means the world to me.”
Collecting the Best Album trophy, Sandé sang the ‘I wait with good intentions’ line from Heaven, before telling the crowd that she made the record to, “Try and speak for people that don’t get their songs and their words on the radio too much”.
Dig deeper into the MOBO events from the period, and Sandé’s impact as a breaking act is clear. She worked with MOBO favourites Naughty Boy, Labrinth and Tinie Tempah and collaborated with Professor Green on his debut album Alive Til I’m Dead, which won the rapper Best UK Hip-Hop/Grime Act in 2010.
Clearly, MOBO knew they were onto something, and other platforms quickly followed in honouring Sandé. In 2013, she won two BRITs and two Ivor Novello Awards, while Our Version Of Events has now racked up 2,501,347 sales according to the OCC.
As a student, Sheila Okonji-Ashinze worked as a showrunner and intern on the first ever MOBO Awards in 1996 and tells us Kanya King has been her “big sister and mentor” ever since.
After graduating, the executive started agency Zons and based herself in the MOBO office, going on to route tours in Africa for a raft of stars including Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye West and more. She later helped launch MOBO’s Best African Act category. “Kanya means the world to me,” she tells Music Week.
Dressed in a black suit with diamanté lapels, Beenie Man was a sparkling presence on the MOBO stage in 1998.
Then aged just 24, the Jamaican superstar used his speech to explain that, when he won in the same category at the MOBO Awards a year earlier, he collected it from the Jamaican ambassador’s office.
“But now I’m here!” he said, before breaking into song to huge cheers from the audience packed into central London’s Connaught Rooms at what was only the second ever edition of the event.
N-Dubz stormed the stage after their first MOBO win was announced in 2007: Dappy, in billowing white trousers, bounding up ahead of Tulisa and Fazer. And, having seen off competition in the Best UK Newcomer category from Tinchy Stryder, Mutya Buena, Sadie Ama and Unklejam, their excitement was justified.
The trio gave emotional thanks to Byron Contostavlos, Dappy’s father, who had managed the group until he passed away earlier in the year.
“He put his heart and soul into us,” said Tulisa, paying tribute to a man the group knew as Uncle B, which would be the name of their acclaimed debut album. The LP won a MOBO in 2009, when N-Dubz also won the Best UK Act category.
DJ TARGET 2005
DJ Target’s association with the MOBO Awards stretches back further than most.
The BBC Radio 1Xtra stalwart occupies the rarefied ground of being involved with the MOBO Awards as both an artist as part of Roll Deep, in his capacity as a DJ and most recently as a presenter, hosting the BBC’s Access All Areas TV special for the 2021 edition.
“I have so many memories, from attending and performing as part of Roll Deep, to being nominated as a DJ and even presenting Stormzy with his Best Grime Act award,” Target tells Music Week. “The MOBO Awards cemented themselves as a staple celebration of Black music long before the widespread mainstream success we see today. I’m sure that this year, as the event celebrates turning 25, will be a show to remember.”
When he won Best UK Newcomer at the 2008 MOBO Awards at Wembley Arena Chip (then known as Chipmunk) made history as the youngest ever winner. At 17, the North Londoner would continue to light up the UK scene for the rest of his teens and beyond. A year later, in 2009, he won Best Hip-Hop Act, striding on stage and telling the crowd, “I’m back.” And he’d be there again in 2016, triumphing in the Best Grime category (above).
The story of the Nigerian superstar’s MOBO boost...
MOBO introduced the Best African Music Act category back in 2005, when it was won by Youssou N’Dour. It has since become one of the event’s most competitive categories.
While Burna Boy was 2020’s winner, if any act from the continent is synonymous with the MOBO Awards, it’s Wizkid. Real name Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, he won his first MOBO in 2011, with the trophy subsequently presented to him by Kanya King during his 2012 UK tour on stage at Hammersmith Apollo (pictured).
Wizkid was also the first African act to win the Best International category in 2017. That year, his compatriot Davido won Best African Music Act, prompting social media messages of support from both the president and vice president of Nigeria. Impressively, Wizkid claimed both the Best African Music Act and Best International Act honours in 2021.
King emphasised the importance of the continent to the MOBO Awards in a Music Week cover interview to mark her Strat win last year.
“We’ve been supporting African music since day one,” she said. “Many African artists have gone on record about the massive impact MOBO has made to their lives, whether getting them airplay, sales, endorsements or commercial deals.”
BEVERLEY KNIGHT 1998
On a night featuring performances from Puff Daddy, Faith Evans, Dru Hill, Mel B, All Saints, Martine McCutcheon and more, Beverley Knight picked up her first MOBO in 1998, winning Best R&B Act. Brilliantly, the Wolverhampton-born singer began her speech by exclaiming, “I’ve got a MOBO! Excellent!”
The singer then thanked her team, singling out managers Alan Edwards and Dave Woolfe (“I could never have done this without you two”). Knight would soon return to the MOBO stage, pitching up a year later where she won Best R&B Act for the second year running.
This time, Knight’s speech sent a message to the UK industry.
“I’m seeing a lot of US visitors here tonight,” she said. “And I’d like the UK record labels to take notice and to realise that they could have the same calibre of artists if they would just believe in UK talent, OK?”
Chunkz enjoyed a golden year at the MOBO Awards in 2020. Not only did he present the show alongside Maya Jama in what was his first ever hosting gig, he won the award for Best Media Personality.
The 26-year-old (real name Amin Mohammed) rose to fame as a YouTuber, starring in the video for Big Shaq’s Man’s Not Hot in 2017 and presenting the #SaturdaySocial on Sky Sports. In 2021, he won another MOBO with fellow YouTuber Yung Filly.
RITA ORA 2012
Rita Ora’s MOBO journey began in 2008, when she performed on stage at Wembley Arena with Tinchy Stryder and Craig David.
“It was one of those moments where I was like, ‘Woah, I really want to do this, I really want this,’” Ora told MOBO in a 2015 interview. “From that day on, my drive just went up 10 notches.”
The singer duly won Best Newcomer in 2012, opening her acceptance speech by telling the crowd in Liverpool, “I can’t breathe right now!”
“I’ve never been nominated for anything before, so thank you so much MOBO,” Ora continued, going on to thank Jay-Z, Tyran ‘Ty Ty’ Smith and Jay Brown of her then-management company Roc Nation, as well as her mother and sister.
Also in that 2015 interview with MOBO, Ora spoke about growing up with grime.
“I’ve always been a fan,” she said. “For a long time, grime has given the UK that ethnicity, an authentic feel of being British.”
It was during an internship with Top Of The Pops that Vannesa Amadi-Ogbonna first met Kanya King in 1996. She stopped the MOBO founder on her way out and landed another internship, which turned into a job that would see her rise to run PR for MOBO. Now running her own company and working with Davido, Tiwa Savage and more, Amadi-Ogbonna has played a key role in the growth of African music.
“Kanya taught me that anything and everything is possible,” she told Music Week in 2021.
YOLANDA BROWN 2009
The BPI’s new chair pays tribute to MOBO’s support of niche genres…
Musician, composer and broadcaster YolanDa Brown was appointed chair of the BPI earlier this year, and the saxophonist says she wouldn’t be where she is today were it not for support from MOBO.
Brown, who won Best Jazz Act in 2008 and 2009, tells Music Week that the MOBO Awards is the “heartbeat” of Black British music.
“Many artists just like me who work in niche genres like jazz, soul, R&B, gospel and others have found the MOBO Awards to be the initial endorsement in an industry where it can sometimes be very loud and difficult to be heard,” she says. “For many it is their first time being nominated, walking on a red carpet and even having their debut TV performance at a major awards show.”
Brown also reflects on the immediate boost delivered by her MOBO success.
“My profile rose significantly, touring grew rapidly and what really blew my mind was the respect and weight that a MOBO Award win carries internationally,” she says. “MOBO supported my growth when I started to cross borders with my music and I’m still tickled when guests come to my house and spot my awards, there is usually a scream of recognition, followed by a request for a picture while holding them!”
KREPT & KONAN 2015
When Krept & Konan won the MOBO for Best Newcomer in 2013, the South London duo were still unsigned, but not for long. Days after the show, the ink was drying on their first record deal, a watershed moment. The pair are now considered an influential force in modern UK rap and rightly so: their full-length debut The Long Way Home hit No.2 in 2015, winning Best Album at that year’s MOBO Awards, where they also won Best Hip-Hop Act, pipping Akala, Nines, Little Simz and Lady Leshurr.
“Oh mate!” exclaimed Krept on stage. “This is the third year in a row that we’ve picked up a MOBO. Big up everyone that was nominated, the label and everyone that’s been supporting.”
Picking up the Best Album award, he said, “This is the MOBO I’ve been praying for,” before shouting out SBTV, Link-Up TV, GRM Daily and label execs including Afryea Henry-Fontaine, Rob Pascoe, Glyn Aikins and Ted Cockle.
Now a successful author, Akala won the Best Hip-Hop MOBO in 2006, his success following in the footsteps of older sister Ms Dynamite (opposite).
Accepting his trophy in a purple smoking jacket over a T-shirt for his label Illa State, he said, “UK, it’s our time”.
Back as a nominee in 2015 (above), he sung MOBO’s praises.
“It has been a stalwart for independent acts like me who don’t get mainstream radio but have strong fanbases,” he said. “MOBO has really transformed the industry in the UK.”
SO SOLID CREW 2013
Perhaps one of the most influential UK acts to grace the MOBO stage, So Solid Crew won Best Newcomer and Best UK Garage Act at the 2001 Awards. Back then, their breakout single, 21 Seconds, had reached epidemic levels and their seismic performance that night encapsulated the group’s brilliant chaos.
So, too, did their acceptance speeches.
“I don’t even know what to say,” offered Romeo after picking up the Best UK Garage Act award from Eastenders stars Nicholas Bailey and Gary Beadle. In the end, the MC dedicated the win to, “All the supporters that have supported from day one… Hold tight the MOBOs, we’re just passing through.” Seconds later, he was doused in champagne and So Solid Crew were gone.
They’d return to the MOBO Awards in 2013, where they posed with Kanya King (above). In a red carpet interview, MC Harvey reflected on their MOBO wins as a career highlight.
“We came from a council estate in South London and then, a year after we started, we were winning the greatest award this country has to offer,” he said. “Amen.”
MAYA JAMA 2020
It’s not just artists who set records at the MOBO Awards, presenters do it too. In 2017, aged 23, Maya Jama became the youngest ever host of the ceremony, taking care of proceedings at the First Direct Arena in Leeds alongside JLS member Marvin Humes. The event took a break and returned virtually in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic and Jama, who had gone to join BBC Radio 1 in the interim, was drafted in to host once more (above), this time alongside Chunkz (the pair rolled in on scooters).
“It’s Black music, Black culture, our culture,” stated Jama in a behind-the-scenes video, summing up the essence of the event. The 28-year-old’s own trajectory exemplifies the role MOBO plays in developing talent right across the business.
MS DYNAMITE 2002
Ms Dynamite exploded onto the scene in 2001, featuring on Sticky’s UK garage classic Booo! before going on to sign to Polydor. The North Londoner’s debut album A Little Deeper arrived in June 2002 and would change the game for UK music. That year, she won three MOBO Awards – UK Act Of The Year, Best Newcomer and Best Single – and delivered a classic performance.
Receiving Best Newcomer from So Solid Crew members Harvey and Romeo, she highlighted the group’s impact on her career.
“They gave me so much support and so much confidence when people didn’t even know who Ms Dynamite was,” she said.
Ms Dynamite would go on to influence a new generation of musicians herself, something that was underlined when MOBO honoured her with the Paving The Way Award in 2016.
“I would love all young people to know that anything is possible and they can achieve absolutely anything,” she said in a MOBO interview.
B POSITIVE CHOIR
A perfect illustration of MOBO’s power to do good, the B Positive Choir was formed in 2017 by NHS Blood And Transplant and Kanya King. Run by choir master Colin Anderson, the group comprises singers affected by sickle cell, while their work is designed to raise awareness for the disease and encourage blood donations from Black donors.
The group performed on stage with gospel star Lurine Cato at the MOBO Awards in Leeds in 2017, and went on to release charity single Rise Up.
At the first ever MOBO Awards in 1996, Soul II Soul founder Jazzie B (above with wife Efua Baker) won Outstanding Contribution To Black Music. Not only was it his first MOBO, it was the first UK award he’d received.
“I’ve got to say it’s a real pleasure to be at home and get my first award,” said Jazzie B on stage, in front of an audience including then-leader of the opposition Tony Blair. “And I have to be honest with you, it feels fucking great.”
CRAIG DAVID 2000
A MOBO triple shows the power of UK music at the turn of the millennium...
Craig David has been in the music industry almost as long as MOBO itself, recently marking his 22-year stint with his eighth album 22, released last month on BMG.
The Southampton singer’s history with MOBO stretches back to his childhood, when he’d watch on TV, dreaming of making it. In 2000, he arrived in style, winning three awards in a year when, thanks to his debut Born To Do It, he was absolutely everywhere.
“Winning at the MOBO Awards was huge for me,” he tells Music Week. “They were actually the first awards that I’d ever received. It really resonated that I was so well received and so embraced. At the time I was overwhelmed by all of it. Firstly, to even be nominated for anything, but then to actually get up from the table and give my mum a hug and a kiss and then walk up to the podium and to have to say something... I was like, ‘Wow, I was watching this only a year ago, I was in my bedroom.’”
Craig David would go on to have other MOBO moments, but none like this one, which was made all the more iconic by his red polo neck jumper emblazoned with the words ‘Buy British’.
“At the time, everything was American within R&B, everything was coming in from the States and it wasn’t translating the other way,” he says. “So me wearing it had an impact, because I was able to say, ‘You know what, we do have amazing British artists, great R&B artists.’ There was a wonderful wealth of talent that was being slightly overlooked, whereas the MOBOs were celebrating all of it.”
Things came full circle for the singer last year at the Music Week Awards, when he presented Kanya King with The Strat.
“MOBO has become an institution and the credit goes to Kanya,” he says. “It was great to be able to present her with the award.”