A few years ago, when I was in Prague, I met these two Norwegian girls, and one of them told me that her teenage brother created his own hip-hop on his computer, an idea that seemed endlessly hilarious to me.
Flash forward five years, and four Eminem albums later, and this debut by The Streets doesn’t seem quite as unlikely. In fact, it sounds like it just might be the future of music.
Mike Skinner (a.k.a. The Streets) is a 22-year-old from Birmingham, England who builds beats on his home computer and raps about playing video games and smoking pot and being late for appointments.
The obvious comparison is to Eminem, but other than skin color and drug references, there are few similarities. Few rappers of any race can match Eminem’s dazzling lyrical skills, but what makes The Streets so groundbreaking is that anyone could do it.
The beats draw heavily on garage, or 2-step, a sound that is huge in a Neptunes-size way in the U.K. Using only two beats in 4/4 time, garage sounds a lot like ’80s New Jack swing mixed with house and drum-and-bass, and makes a surprisingly good foundation for rapping.
Not that Skinner really raps; it’s more talking rhythmically with occasional flashes of flow, full of inside jokes and slang. (Actually, the British slang is hilarious – even after repeated listens, I still crack up that he uses “oy” to fill in syllabic blanks the way most rappers use “yo.”)
He makes up for his verbal deficiencies with a keen eye for detail and sharp humor, making his songs about his life refreshingly personal but remarkably familiar to blokes on both sides of the Atlantic.
He’s not a playa, but most guys aren’t. He’s more likely to agonize over whether he should let a girl know if he likes her, take some bad advice from his friends about it and then blow the whole thing by showing up late for a date.
If that chain of events sounds familiar, this could be the album for you.