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The Streets
A Grand Don’t Come For Free
by: Sun-J

Original Pirate Material opened the door for many UK hip hop acts, such as Dizzee Rascal. Mike Skinner, better known under the moniker, The Streets, was an innovator. Not your average emcee, the British 'geezer' perfected his chummy vocal swagger while distributing fundamental garage instrumentation along the gradient of the album. His rap style is Jason Strathan doing an impersonation of Saul Williams with less irony and more comedy. Skinner fine tuned his transcription of UK garage, a genre that combines dance, hip hop, house and drum and bass. In fact, the 'Pirate' in the title of his freshman release refers to radio stations that play 'garage.'

Back with a sophomore release, A Grand Don't Come For Free, Mike Skinner has successfully released a follow up that does not differ by a large margin of quality in comparison to Original Pirate Material. Perhaps the greatest asset, is the fact that the second release from the groundbreaking emcee is a concept album, removing pressure to deliver 'bangers' as he referred to them on Original Pirate Material. The gist of the story line is embedded in the title. Basically, Mike loses one thousand pounds (not referring to weight), meets a woman, finds the thousand pounds, and loses the girl. The first track, "It Was Supposed to be So Easy" is more of an opening scene than a song as it casts a shadow from the dark cloud Mike is soon to encounter. After failing to return a DVD on time, Mike gets rejected by an ATM machine, and fails to call his mother. On "Could Be Well In," Mike has his first encounter with the love interest, Simone. Skinner wittingly intertwines a conversation between him and Simone as well as lyrics about a dating program on television. "Not Addicted" finds The Streets floating on 'cloud nine' after meeting the "girl of his dreams." "Blinded by the Light" is set in a club and leaves Mike on a continuous search for Simone while getting smashed in the process. This track is strongly analogous to Original Pirate Material's "Weak Become Heroes" with its topics of pills, pregnancy, social distance, and other details of ecstasy culture. "Get Out of my House" is the turning point of the narrative as Simone gives Skinner the 'boot'. On "Fit but you Know It," Mike meets another girl on a night out. This track is actually the first single off the album, though it is not much different in quality from the other tracks. "Such a Twat" hosts the self righteousness of Skinner as he kicks himself for almost cheating while "What is he Thinking" is a climatic piece which enhances conflict between Mike and his "best mate" Scott. The next track, "Dry Your Eyes" is the standout to me. It is an extremely emotional song where Skinner is cussing out ever character in the story. Originally Chris Martin was supposed to help out on the track, but Mike's sheer transgression of emotion is strong enough on its own. Think Ghostface Killah on "I Can't Sleep." The final track, "Empty Cans" leaves listeners with two different endings. Uniquely constructed, the first ending is played out, and ends on a sour beat before the two-step thump rewinds, and fuses into the second ending. Overall, the instrumentation is very formula, not diverging much from some acoustic guitar, and piano here and there. The tracks are pretty even, there is not really a standout which is perfect for a concept album. Skinner has the unique ability to effectively communicate the antithesis of his characters without being blatant. His actors come to life, and his humor keeps always keeps the story interesting. When listening to this record, listen to it as a whole rather than selectively choosing songs. Nonetheless, definitely check this album out.


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