In a thrilling UK Garage scene, blighted only by a reliance on drippy soul cliché and tiresome braggadocio, The Streets' eminently quotable Mike Skinner may just be the voice to take it to the next level with Original Pirate Material. This debut is a staggeringly eloquent and fearlessly honest snapshot of gritty street-level existence, as experienced by an ordinary bloke. At first listen, the Birmingham-born Skinner's cheeky cockney affectations grate slightly. But for every line that makes you squirm, there are 20 that drop your jaw. "Has It Come to This?" is "A day in the life of a geezer," a seductive encapsulation of London lifestyle, presented raw as a bootleg, but bulging with sharp wit and feverish detail. "Stay Positive" weaves a fearful tale of heroin addiction, while "The Irony of It All" makes a beguiling case for legalization, presenting a fictional exchange between a beered-up, self-righteous lager lout and a fey student weed enthusiast. Original Pirate Material is a milestone, the real voice of British youth set down on record. Don't miss it.
A Grand Don't Come for Free (May 18, 2004)
With beats that mix hip-hop, R&B, and UK garage, A Grand Don't Come For Free, like its impressive predecessor Original Pirate Material (2002), transforms the everyday and the mundane into the terms of an epic. British rapper Mike Skinner captures the simple details of a simple existence that inhabits the lower levels of the middle class. But whereas Original Pirate Material was more about everyday life on the streets, this follow-up is more about everyday life in the flat--mom's kitchen, my mate's living room, my girl's couch. The Streets has fallen in love, and his raps narrate the adventures and misadventures of this romance. In all, it is a concept album that places greater emphasis on storytelling rather than on the music, which is often spare with little or no enhancements. With some songs expressing the beauty of love and others expressing the pleasures of drugs, the Streets is still holding it down for the UK. --Charles Mudede
The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living (April 25, 2006)
On the Streets' third album, the conceit is that Mike Skinner's now a famous guy (and he indeed is in the UK--as he puts it, "I've sold 3 million and you've never heard of me"). So, instead of dissecting the stereotypes and prejudices of an average Joe, Skinner turns his keen eye for detail on himself, to his new life of easy drugs and easier girls, of trashing hotel rooms, and being bummed out when your record label does promotional stuff without telling you about it first. Sonically it's more polished and a tad faster, though the music's still stripped-down and tough, propelled by loud synth lines and minimal drums. Skinner's flow remains original and wonderfully sing-songy. And while it's cool to see him actually write about his current life instead of pretending he's still "street," the subject matter's a touch too similar to an anorexic debutante's diary entry to make for very compelling hip-hop. When he asks "How the hell am I supposed to be able to do a line in front of complete strangers/When I know they've all got camera[phone]s?," it's definitely tough to care too much, no matter how fun the music is.