The Streets are being heavily marketed as UK Garage,
and it is true, there are lots of Garage elemnts to The Streets' music, but it
is more of an urban collage, borrowing from Hip Hop, Reggae and Drum'n'Bass
etc. Using all these disparate elements to form quite an original soundscape,
what is produced should be appealing to all open minded followers of Hip Hop.
Although rappers have criticised Mike Skinner for his lazy spoken vocal style,
his is not trying to Rap and so should be afforded some leeway. Mike Skinner, 22, has never been to Ayia
Napa, doesn't wear Moschino drainpipes with bold graphic
lettering, or drive a bimmer.
When you meet Mike, and consider in his slight figure, grey hoodie, shiny
white Nikes and gentle Midlands accent, the phrase 'bling bling' isn't what
instantly springs to mind.
Possibly for the first time since Soul II Soul's heyday, street culture is
exerting an increasingly powerful
hold on the public imagination.
And while it might not be the poppiest track you've ever heard, or the
darkest, or the most likely to stir up pandemonium on the dancefloor on
Saturday nights, there among Mike's MC chat is an unparalleled evocation of
British street life: the unglamorous life of every kid in the UK as it's lived between
the trainer shop, the bus stop, the dealer's, McDonalds, a club, the passenger
seat of someone's car and a session on the N64 rounds someone else's gaff.
The Streets give us a testament on UK inner city culture delivered in a language the inner cities
knows best. What makes this a little surprising is that this was constructed by a
Hip Hop nut who spent most of his formative years in Birmingham, away from the
bubbling pirate Garage consciousness that has come to dominate the nightlife
of the capital and slowly consolidate a presence in the charts.
By the time he was nine, Mike Skinner knew he wanted to make records. Always a
fan of keyboards, he'd spent his life since he was the age of five 'just
fiddling' with keyboards.
"No training or grades or anything," he says. "Just an intense,
Back then, he was tuning into the De La Soul and Beastie Boys records his
brother owned, and by the time he was 15 was convinced that his future lay in
some combination of fiddling and Hip Hop.
So, like myself, he bought an Amiga, built a vocal booth out of a cupboard and an old
mattress, and turned his bedroom into the most rudimentary of studios.
"It was good!" he laughs. "A good, dead sound. Everyone would
came to put down their tracks".
Fortunately, his folks saw the positive side and didn't complain too much
about the incessant thump upstairs the constant in-out of Brummie MCs through
the front door.
Soon, Mike diversified his interests and by the age of 18, was living and
breathing house music and the early adventures of UK Garage, then still
referred to with the 'speed' prefix.
At 19, he went to Australia, taking a sampler with him, to work in bars for a
year. With all these varied influences and experiences one can appreciate why the sound of The Street's has about as
much in common with 2001's generic Garage output as Rolf Harris does with
Masters At Work.
"I've never been able to fit into a genre," Mike says.
"My music is about the Garage scene away from London. Mostly, Garage is a
club thing, a raving thing. For me, when I was in Brum, just after traveling,
it was an in-car and at-home thing. We had clubs, yeah, but not the glamour thing of London; we didn't do
the Spanish Holiday thing either. For me, so many people are too close to the
scene and nobody's taken Garage in a radically different direction."
So he formed The Streets which was originally conceived as a posse project, when many
of his early consorts were also interested in taking part. Howver The Streets became
Mike on his own, along with his gently voiced eye on the urban culture, since none
of his mates could be
bothered. With regard to the name Mike says, "It's such a good name because it's just what you
see wherever you go; It's just working-class England. It's not about trying to
be ghetto; it's just normal for me. I never lived in block of flats but I
wasn't born with silver spoon in my mouth either."
Mike might have tried to direct Garage away from its brash urban origins in the
direction in more subtle, considered mindset, but hasn't done so at the
expense of rocking the spot.
The debut appearance of Has It Come to This was on the Stanton Warriors'
superb Stanton Sessions' mix, paired up with Mr Reds body-rocking rave groove.
But still, as MCing increasingly becomes the number one activity of Britain's
inner-city youth, the dazzling insights and vignettes of Has It Come To This
will quickly establish Mike as descriptive lyricist.
"The natural inclination with a Garage beat is to go really fast and chat
over the top. But I wanted that laid-back New York sound. There were a few
moments I got it really wrong. Now I got it right."
Bristling with lyrics like 'original pirate material/lock down your aerial'; 'I'm giving your bird
them feelings/touch your toes and touch the ceiling; 'come rains or snow the
boodah flows/stand on the corner watch the show, cos life moves slow'; we
walks the tight rope of street cred, keep my dogs fed/all jungle and Garage
heads' the Streets have, unsurprisingly, been bootlegged to bits already.
But Mike's quite happy about that,
"I sample a lot" he says. "I grew up in the digital age and for
me sampling is just like playing a guitar. If someone samples me, it's
flattery. I take it as a compliment."
On 'Original Pirate Material' there are 13 tracks of Mike's thoughts and
observations all set to what he calls "pirate beats and basslines",
all expanding upon Mike's unique perspective.
Forget the one-track-mind jiggycentric mix albums that are currently clogging
up the record store racks.
"What I do is more like a commentary," says Mike.
"There's going to be an divergence in Garage - it's already splitting
into street and club, and I think So Solid crew and Ms Dynamite are going in
the same direction I am, turning it into our version of Hip Hop."
So, do like it says on the track: make yourself at home, sit back on your
throne, turn off your phone, cos this is our zone.
"That's what the Streets is all about," Mike concludes.
Original Pirate Material was released on March 25 and his next single Let’s Push Things Forward, taken from
the LP is released on April 14.
Below is the
full tracklisting, along with a little description of each track from the
man himself Mike Skinner, aka The Streets.
Turn The Page
This was wrote as an intro, inspired a little by watching gladiator at my
sister’s house. A bit of fantasy fiction or something. Took me ages to think
of a title but as soon as I came up with the opening line, it felt right. I
played all the strings and shit myself. Coz I’m a right geeza.
Has It Come To This
I was trying to cross the DJ Premier sound with straight up Garage beats. I
wanted the loose flow like Modd Deep or somethin’ rather than the hyped MC
stuff in Garage. I think people had to get used to it and I still think most
people don’t understand it.
Let’s Push Things Forward
I was still developing the sound back then and the chorus is just going on
about how stressful it can be when you are tryna create a new sound and how
people can be so negative. Like those little fuckin dickheads posting bollox
on my message board. But shortly after that I was pleasantly surprised at how
open minded a lot of people can be!
Just a beat and some silly spittin. Quite an old school beat which I’m not
normally into but I tried to set it apart with the scratching noise. SHUT UP
I’M THE DRIVER YOU’RE THE PASSENGER – that’s my manager’s favourite
Same Old Thing
Who can deny that those strings aren’t FAT eh? Juss a banger for the
rudeboys MEE NAR MEK BARGIN AR DEEAL. Just talking about being in the pub and
it being the same day in day out – and whatever pub you go into. Which has
just reminded me how nice it would be to be downin a cool pint of Krony right
Geezer’s Need Excitement
Pretty boring melodically. A bit angry like. It’s having a go at all the
angry people and the silly shit people do cause someone looked at them
wrong… what you looking at? Yeah, yeah, yeah geez, I’m coming back wiv a
bat… FUCK OFF YOU WORLD RUININ TWATS
It’s Too Late
Just a sad love song thing but tryna make it honest and down to earth. Took
ages to write for some reason. Ever been gutted that a bird dumped you?
Too Much Brandy
Messy. Staring off with our lads’ weekend in Amsterdam and finishing off in
a random bar in London. My head hurts just thinkin about it. By the way, I
only actually did one bag of mushrooms. I put two in the tune coz it rhymed
but my mate pulled me up on it in the pub so I am officially apologising to
him right now. Sorry Lee. I lied about the mushys mate.
All Got Our Runnins
Started off having my mate Crispy on but it got scrapped and then at the last
minute we put it back in and by that time he was looking at doing a deal with
another record label blah blah blah, politics politics politics, life was so
much easier when we used to go round on BMX’s making motorbike engine
Who Got The Funk?
Just some shouts in a daft punk, ‘homework’ style. Thomas Bangalter (the
guy in Daft Punk) I love you mate. Dump your girlfriend and let’s drink in
my local all day. I’ve got some stories to tell you…
Irony Of It All
Funny tune that my mates all love. I don’t like preaching but I wanted to
make a point with this one…in fact thinking about it…nearly all my tunes
preach…erm…well…I didn’t intend to preach so sorry if you feel
preached. I won’t do it again. Anyway, it’s me on both verses just fuckin
around. Took me ages to make it sound like they were talking to each other
though. Try this at home kids. Record yourself on a tape recorder and then
play it back and try to argue with it!
Weak Become Heroes
Pills pills pills mmmmmm they are very nice. I like pills I do. They make me
happy. Until I’ve got to hold down work in the morning. Oooohhhh. Mingin.
Sweaty pits, can’t think straight. Can’t quite remember what I was talking
about… no no no, I’m never doing pills again…until next time…
Who Dares Wins
Just some bare hip-hop shit but on the Garage half beat. You see, I am nothing
short of a genius. Where’s my award Mr Mercury? I am the voice of a
generation you see… oh yes…she will be mine…Susan Ward from Sunset Beach
will be mine…
Sad tale of smack. Bit depressin. Sorry to have put this on you people. No
jokin matter tho. Except for the fact that for some reason I sound like I’ve
got flu. I think I need to get a new mic.