And for the final post of this series.... the most successful MC (as long term artist, seller of albums, scorer of hit singles) in all of garage rap.... and very nearly(but not quite) the first white artist in this series, which may well have something to do with that long-term success...
Yet Mike Skinner is probably the least respected by your G-rap/grime cognoscenti.... barely considered part of it.
It's hard to reconstruct how exciting and different and fresh "Has It Come To This?" by The Streets felt when it came out...
Really the track - and Original Pirate Material as a whole - is meta-garage, a commentary on a culture rather than a product of it. So in that sense the grime cognoscenti are right.
Also they're right in the sense that delivery-wise, Mike Skinner could not "stand up in a war" with any of the heavweight G-rap/proto-grime MCs....
But the musical variety of the settings and the lyrical dexterity, the wit and warmth of Original Pirate Material won over the sort of critics looking for that sort of thing... which is sometimes me as well. The New Wave / 2-Tone echoes won Skinner a broader audience whose reference points were Parklife and New Boots and Panties as opposed to Pay As U Go and Rinse FM. Punters, in fact, who rarely, if ever, tuned into a pirate radio signal.
These were my two favorites on the album-as-released:
Although this next would have stayed the fave if it hadn't been pulled off at the last minute for some reason (it was still on the promo I got) in favour of "Don't Mug Yourself," which I never cared for, and yet they made a single. "Runnings" later resurfaced as a B-side.
With the second album A Grand Don't Come For Free, the backing tracks came to seem really like backing tracks - thin, demo-ish, like they'd not been coloured in properly.
I could care less about the concept / story-line, but still some great tunes:
This one - straight in at Number One - just pushed Skinner completely over the top into mass acceptance, and over the edge in terms of all the head-bother that comes with being a public figure. The male Lily Allen, although she came later and indeed arguably stepped into a space that Skinner opened up.
I don't remember anything about the not-coping-very-well-with-fame third album The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living.
I'm not sure I even listened to the fourth and fifth LPs.
Here's what I said about "Let's Push Things Forward / All Got Our Runnins", which made 15 in the Blissblog Fave Singles of 2002.
THE STREETS – “Let’s Push Things Forward/All Got Our Runnins” (Locked On)
An album artist, obviously, but if you’re going to record an Aesthetic Manifesto/Call-to-Arms you might as well release it as a single. But I’m mentioning this mainly for the B-Side “All Got Our Runnin’s”, one of my favorite tracks on the pre-release version of Original Pirate Material, but at the last minute inexplicably pulled and replaced by “Don’t Mug Yourself”. As well as being very funny and touching in a Madness-in-dejected--but-still-jaunty-vein sort of way, this song is totally radical in UK garage’s flash-yer-cash context: all spend and no thrift, the protagonist is paying for last week's "living for the moment" and struggling to make it ‘til next pay day.
Here's my review of Original Pirate Material from April 2002.
And finally here's a piece I wrote about garage rap for The New York Times, focused on The Streets, Ms Dynamite and So Solid Crew, with quotes from Mike Skinner and various US industry types on why British rappers don't fare well in the USA.