It can be so easy for people to write off The Streets, as they can sound quite simple and minimal to the untrained ear. The beats sound like they’re recorded off an AM radio and Mike Skinner’s delivery is deliberately offbeat just enough to fit the beat, and sounds easier to emulate than it actually is.
When Skinner’s project was unleashed in the early 00s, Eminem was on the peak of his career. He dominated rap music and opened it up to a mainstream audience in a way Elvis did for rhythm and blues in the 50s. Rap was synonymous with black culture and the ghettos of major American cities, with the living conditions of these places being the only topic that was being explored. Eminem brought different topics to talk about, showing that rap was open to a wide variety of experiences.
At the same time, the UK had the rise of garage music which was a fusion of rap and dance music. It was a scene that was generally localised to the London area. There were a few breakout hits (Oxide and Neutrino, So Solid Crew) but never blew up as much as their American counterparts. It was very associated with pirate radio culture, playing genres of music that were not normally played on mainstream radio. The success of “Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta)” by The Artful Dodger and Craig David saw the aforementioned mainstream success. But still felt like a localised London scene.
But then along comes someone with a Birmingham accent, talking about Birmingham landmarks. This author is from the Birmingham area – so this was mind blowing at the time. You’d never hear Snoop Dogg wax lyrical about the shape of the Bullring. An album talking about going to the pub, being on the dole and the odd philosophical crisis. In comparison to the underground scene in the UK, the music felt subdued, the vocal delivery was unique and it just irradiated a unique take on the genre that just was never heard before.
Skinner’s project has returned to play some live dates in April 2018; with a few new tracks to show for it. His original vision was to create a “five disc box-set” of albums before retiring The Streets. Each album is unique in tone and general themes, providing a loose arc to explore. They can vary slightly in quality, but over the course of the discography there are arguably a couple of albums that stand as some of the best albums of all time.
“That’s it, turn the page on the day, walk away…”