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The Streets: I'm a Great Guy
by Grant Moser

Mike Skinner
Trudging through the snowy swamp that was Alphabet City after the snowstorm, I jumped lake-sized puddles of icy water and thought about the upcoming interview. I didn't know what to expect. Mike Skinner (a.k.a. The Streets) was a bona fide celebrity. The release of his CD Original Pirate Material was met with a hail of praise from critics and a swarm of popularity in England.

Rolling Stone called it the #1 debut album of the year; The New York Times named it the #5 album of the year; USA Today and NME ranked it #3 album of the year; Rolling Stone, Blender, Spin, and the L.A. Times called it one of the top albums of the year; and even The Onion weighed in, proclaiming it the #1 album of the year. And that's just this side of the pond. He was nominated in Britain for the coveted Mercury music prize (which he lost out on) and was nominated at the Brits (think Grammys) for Best Album, Best Urban Act, Best Breakthrough Artist, and Best British Male (which he also failed to nab).

While critics (and Britain) love him, the American audience is still undecided. In fact, when I did a Google search on Mike Skinner, many of the top results were for Mike Skinner, the NASCAR racer. When I mentioned this to him at the interview, he smiled and said, "So, I'm not that big on Google yet, huh?"

Part of the problem is his music: it's not what we consider hip-hop. It is a parallel universe, with unfamiliar beats and a different rhyming style (more sort-of spoken word), referred to as "British garage." It was born in the clubs over there around 1996, and combines elements of house music with bass lines. It is evolving into a British rap scene, but is not quite there yet. Skinner's lyrics are extremely detailed and quick flowing, but it takes getting used to. American's ears, so finely tuned over the years to our hip-hop, have yet to fully adjust to this overseas version.

The Other Mike Skinner

When I arrived, he was finishing another interview on the phone. At one point, he made a comment about his teeth (which, by an American perspective, are stereotypically extremely British), looked at me, and handed me a magazine clipping. The article was about him, but he was pointing to a full-page picture of his face with an open grinning mouth, displaying his - well - fucked-up teeth. Then he did the same pose for me in real life and laughed, said something about maybe doing a song on the next album about his teeth, and continued with the phone interview.

That is Mike Skinner. A skinny, easy-going, charming to the core, down-to-earth, honest kid. A kid handling the trappings of success and fame fairly well. "I still go home at night and watch the telly," he said. When I inquired if his luck with the ladies had improved with his celebrity, he said "I've got a girlfriend, so I wouldn't know." (He's smart too.)

When our interview started, the first thing he talked about was another rapper: Necro from Brooklyn ("Necro. As in necrophilia," he explained.) "He's an extreme Eminem," Skinner told me. "He's an amazing rhymer. I don't think he's got a record deal. I think he just makes it himself." Which is the case - as it was for Skinner. He recorded Original Pirate Material in his mother's house (on "Turn the Page" you can hear his mother telling him to "turn the music down, it's dinner time" if you listen real close). Of course, Skinner has a record deal now.

He signed with Vice, primarily to avoid being lost in the larger corporations' machines. "While we were in the process of trying to find whoever this small company with a lot of passion was going to be, Vice knocked on the door - metaphorically - and said we're really into it. It happened almost just right, didn't it really?"

I asked him about Eminem, which many publications have compared him to (even though their styles and music are wildly different), mainly because he's a white breakthrough rapper. "The most predictable thing I could do would be to come out and say I don't really like Eminem because I keep getting compared to him, but I quite like him, you know. I don't think his last album was anything, but he's a really good rapper."

I heard a rumor that he was going to collaborate with Outkast. He was a bit squirrelly about it when answering. "Yeah, you might have heard that. If I was to do something with Outkast, it'd probably be quite fun." Is there anyone else that you'd like to work with I inquired? Skinner cast me a sly smile and said, "Uh, Eminem?"

He toured here briefly last year: he's really big in Seattle ("It's because of the coffee. I think it's the coffee/tea thing."); the San Francisco show was "a bit lukewarm"; the Chicago gig was rowdy; and his two shows in New York were good, "but I was a bit too drunk. I was a bit out of order. If I'm honest, I was a cunt onstage."

Skinner is playing New York again this month at Warsaw on the 19th and I asked if he was going to be drunk for that show too. "I'm always a bit drunk. But I suppose it's just the mood you're in, whether you've eaten that day, and just the vibe I think."

Skinner likes America, though he thinks there are two sides to it. One side: "George Bush epitomizes everything about America that I hate." The other side: many of his musical idols are from here, it's the home of big money, and it respects success, whereas in England ambition is looked down upon.

As the interview wound down, I asked him his favorite curse word. "Fuck. Not favorite, but it's the one I shouldn't use as much as I do." His favorite drink? "Brandy. Well, two pints of Kronenbourg, or three if I've had a good meal, and then on to the brandies so it doesn't go wrong."

When our interview finished he was on his way to a Nets/Pacers game and then out to the bars. (He predicted the Nets would win. "We're all about Jason Kidd." For the record, the Nets won and Kidd had 31 points and 12 assists.)

Anything else people should know about you? "Well, just that I'm a really nice guy, really. I'm a great guy," he laughed.

Look for his next album on August 4. "Well, definitely maybe," Skinner winked.

Catch The Streets this month:
Wednesday, March 19: The Streets plus special guest
Warsaw 261 Driggs Avenue
(Tickets can be purchased at Earwax on Bedford Ave)




































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[email protected] | March 2003 | Issue 36
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