Where hip hop is concerned, ‘keeping it real’ is a major part of the game.
Mike Skinner has always kept it real. And real means British – no ghettos or drive-bys, AKs, gangsters and bling – but British English in all its mundanity and understated absurdity.
“Spilt jewels like eastern riches, junkie fixes,
Around ‘ere we say birds, not bitches.”
That’s Mike Skinner.
That was The Streets; the UK garage/hip hop vehicle that Skinner drove musically, creatively, lyrically from backwater Birmingham to London and then across the world.
And he always kept it real. There was no project pretence, no attempts to hoodwink.
His background, he said, was ‘Barratt class: suburban estates, not poor but not much money about, really boring’.
So that’s what he wrote about. The drugs and violence were there, but the brutal glorifications of them – and of the money, sexism and, for some, homophobia – were left across the Atlantic to the west and east coast players.
Instead, Skinner picked up the urban poetry mantle worn by Ray Davies and Ian Dury before him and rapped with it.
You say that everything sounds the same,
Then you go buy them!
There’s no excuses my friend,
Let’s Push Things Forward.
Nothing did sound quite like The Streets – stripped back beats and minimal melodies from thin-wall semis, time spent awash in cheap brandy, drugs scored in dodgy pubs from dodgy geezers, Saturday night fucks and fights.
And nobody sounded like Skinner.
“When I started, there were kids from Brighton and east London pretending to be American,” he said in one interview.
Skinner didn’t sound American. He wasn’t west coast or east. He wasn’t cockney or Manc either. He was Skinner – a white, lower middle class Midlander keeping his reality real.
The Streets’ first album, Original Pirate Material, blew critics away with its depiction of British life and the garage lifestyle.
It did well – and even better when second album A Grand Don’t Come For Free spawned two hit singles in Fit But You Know It and the real commercial breakthrough Dry Your Eyes.
Success, as ever, brought spoils and spoilers. How to keep things real when all is surreal, when you’ve swapped streets for airports and limos, tours and festivals and fans?
He chronicled the rise in the third album, Everything Is Borrowed.
“All I was really doing was describing that process of self-destruction that is inevitable for anyone in that situation, if it carries on. If everything goes right you end up being Michael Jackson. No one survives that.”
He then saw out his contract with two more albums and promptly shut it all down.
The Streets died in 2011. Five albums in nine years. Short enough to be sweet, long enough to have soured Skinner’s views on the fame and fortune that most artists crave and then have to handle.
He might not have considered The Streets to be at the top of their game when he pulled the plug, but they were certainly at the height of their fame.
So he kept it real by coming off the teat, ensuring that his first album (definitely), his second (probably) and maybe even his third will stand the test of time and be seen as chronicles of his life at the bottom, the top and everywhere in between.
When asked if The Streets had made such a mark, Skinner replied: “I could point you in the direction of probably five people who will forever be effected by my music.”
That’s Mike Skinner – and consequently The Streets – to a T. So very self-deprecating, so very British, so very real.
We have a great selection of hand-signed Mike Skinner memorabilia in stock, part of a growing music catalogue. And all our UK orders come with FREE postage.