Since 2002 Mike Skinner, under the guise of The Streets, has delivered 5 studio albums, each one filled with unapologetically raw lyricism laid over countless unique beats. The iconic ‘Original Pirate Material’ captured the urban British voice in a unique and devastatingly effective manner at a time in which English MCs were struggling to find their voice in a scene which was dominated by their American counterparts. The Streets’ next offering ‘A Grand Don’t Come for Free’ delivered an 11-part narrative of lost money and discovered romance complete with bestselling tracks Blinded by the Lights, Fit But You Know It and the Gold selling number 1 single Dry Your Eyes. Skinner’s distinctive sound carried through in his subsequent projects, all of which offered fans new perspectives and a ceaseless musical development. Now, following the release of The Streets’ latest release, ‘None of Us Are Getting Out of This Alive’, I take a look back at what makes the London born, Birmingham raised MC such a pioneer.
While the success of The Streets’ early projects speaks for themselves, some fans of Original Pirate Material grumble about the ‘change’ in Skinner’s tunes throughout his career. The exposure of a damaged soul springing from alcoholism to fleeting romances on The Streets’ initial albums is minimised in later songs leading to some sections of followers to turn their backs. What replaced these afflictions was a knowledgeable perspective on mortality, religion and the environment punctuated with enough Skinner-esque beats and witticisms to keep pretension at arm’s length. This is growth. It is not, as some would suggest, a selling out or a losing of one’s self, it’s progression and progression done majestically at that. The class A taking, brandy abusing, 23-year-old that delivered Original Pirate Material matured into a wise old owl (while keeping enough energy to consistently deliver unadulterated carnage whenever he performs live). Mike Skinner’s book, ‘The Story of the Streets’, outlines this evolution, he explains that to continue making the same music as his earlier career would lack honesty, he is a different man living a very different life and to say otherwise would be a betrayal of his audience. In essence, it is this continual growth which has allowed Skinner to establish himself as a legend of the game over a lengthy period in which many others have come and gone.
Following the announcement of lockdown in Britain, many like myself would have found themselves bored, losing track of days and struggling to find a purpose other than finishing the latest Netflix offering. Skinner on the other hand, appears to have retained his penchant for his mobile phone evidenced in previous years and has been consistently delivering quality content on social media to keep his audience engaged. Virtual appearances on both ‘Chicken Shop Date’ and Boiler Room’s ‘Gasworks’ with Alhan and Poet complimented Skinner’s Instagram videos and kept many entertained and aware of The Streets’ upcoming musical offerings. Even the youthful features on the album introduce The Streets to a crowd who may not be so conscious of their legendary status and only serve to increase the MC’s longevity. Most impressively of all, none of this came across as a cry for attention but rather a cult hero ensuring his position at the very top of the tree through consistent creativity.
The teasing singles promoting The Streets’ album release again demonstrated Mike Skinner’s eye for longevity and progression. The first offering, a collaboration with Tame Impala (who were recently given the title of ‘rap’s favourite rock band’), gave followers a glimpse of what was to come. A socially distanced music video whet fans’ appetites with guest appearances from the various artists which feature on the album including Jimothy Lacoste, Greentea Peng, Hak Baker and more. This sort of line-up is a far-cry from the ‘geezer-garage’ that Streets’ listeners may have come to expect - it’s brave, inventive and samples a wide-spread of genres. The album’s title track, a dark and discordant punk leaning sound featuring IDLES highlights Skinner’s intentions. The plethora of guests which grace the album usher in the new guard of youthful musicians from all four corners of the musical map but Mike Skinner’s individual brilliance remains clear throughout. The emotionally charged narrative of I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Love Him which comments on self-worth, empowerment and domestic violence is vintage Skinner and yet there is evidence of his constant attempts to push his boundaries through his production style and use of auto tune. The delivery throughout sees Skinner often dabbling in the usual genre of his features while retaining the sharpness and poignancy long-time listeners have grown to love.
For those expecting to hear a regurgitated version of The Streets’ early offerings I am afraid to say you may be sorely disappointed. If, however, you crave the inventiveness and progression that so excited you many moons ago this could be the album that will make you fall in love with Skinner all over again (but maybe skip over that Chris Lorenzo tune, that one’s a bit shit).
Words By: Finlay Gibson
Images By: Jenn Five & Mr Tom Craig