UK Hip Hop: International
The Streets
The Streets
The Streets - Original Pirate Material
The Streets
The Streets
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, passionate fiddling."

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.


The Streets
The Streets

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!

Sharp Darts
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 line.

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 now…

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 noises…

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…

Stay Positive
Way To Blue
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.

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