Streets: I'm a Great Guy
by Grant Moser
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
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
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
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,"
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)