Who would have known that a geezer born in London, raised Birmingham, with “a jungle or garage beat” and a penchant for relatable social commentary would have inspired a generation while being untouchably influential? 2002 seems like a lifetime ago when Mike Skinner’s The Streets project blared out of rude boy car speakers up and down the UK; suffice to say ‘Original Pirate Material’ and follow up sophomore release ‘A Grand Doesn’t Come For Free’ changed the sonic landscape with tales of nights out, clueless encounters with the opposite sex, observations of laddishness and a turn of phrase that made the simple sound sublime. After 5 albums and a touch of weariness, 2011 saw Skinner call time on The Streets to pursue other sonic avenues, such as The Dot with The Music’s Rob Harvey, while teaming up with Murkage Dave for the Peak Times podcast series, whom he also collaborates with on the hip-hop/grime club night Tonga. Skinner has also been the face of a handful of Vice-Noisey documentaries, notably the magnificent Hip-Hop in the Holy Land series, which saw the rapper/producer explore the rap scene in the Middle East.
Leap forward to 2017 and The Streets rose from it’s premature grave like a bedroom-rap Jesus for a run of greatest hits tours. Beers were thrown, shit was lost; it was abundantly clear Mike Skinner had been missed. So, to solidify his return, not just as a greatest hits facsimile of The Streets, Skinner has readied the first full release since 2011’s ‘Computers and Blues’, with a collaborations mixtape called ‘None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive’. Skinner took it upon himself to reach out to a myriad of emerging and recently established rap, garage and R’n’B artists, like MS Banks, Greentea Peng, Kasien and Jimothy Lacoste to contribute to what the main man called it a “rap duets album”.
Without The Streets, we wouldn’t have Arctic Monkeys, we wouldn’t have Slaves and we wouldn’t have IDLES. And this is why the Joe Talbot fronted gang from Bristol appear on the mixtape’s eponymous track. Mike Skinner took to casting his net further to pull in Kevin Parker aka Tame Impala to contribute to the lead single and opening track ‘Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better’. Skinner recently proclaimed Tame Impala to be “like a hip-hop Beatles” when speaking to NME. Old pal Rob Harvey chips in on ‘Conspiracy Theory Freestyle’ too. Interesting that an endeavour rooted in rap, garage and jungle would inspire a plethora of boys with guitars and that’s why Skinner’s principle project deserves all the recognition it gets but equally, it deserves a whole lot more.
From UK funky, bass music, rap/hip hop, a small foray into post-punk noise (that’ll be the IDLES track then!) and let’s not forget the drum ‘n’ bass banger ‘Take Me As I Am’ with Chris Lorenzo, ‘None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive’ truly sounds and feels like a mixtape, a body of work that’s fresh, spontaneous and brimming with life. As a forty something man, Mike’s societal observations are broader, less about messy nights out and mustering up the courage to txt back someone he fancies. Although, the cheeky nature of Skinner is still there but this time his recollection of life takes on a wider view with themes of vulnerability, frustration, defiance and isolation populating the mixtape. ‘Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better’ kicks things off, with Kevin Parker and Skinner trading verses over crispy beats and fluttering piano notes. Lyrically it’s like a steam of consciousness as Mike states “someone just met your ex/thinking they met someone special” with a song anchored on the notion of being left alone and ignoring people trying to get in touch. A boinging bass line and a carnival beat fuels ‘I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Love Him”, which sounds like a 00s garage banger rebooted for 2020. Skinner, Donaeo’o and Greentea Peng plead for someone to embrace some self-care “you’ve got to cut off all these things that aren’t serving you”. While the damning “I know he’ll say he’ll change/but maybe you should know that people never change/they’re just exposed”.
Skinner and MS Banks continue the thread of needing to banish toxic relationships; self-respect is key to the reassuring message of support “if you don’t know how much you’re worth/you’ll settle for less”. And with a tongue-in-cheek, very English missive MS Banks does some dressing down of this no-mark by using a comparable supermarket analogy “I’m from M and S babes/you’ll have a better chance at Lidl’s”. Attention moves to self-destruction on ‘The Poison I Take Hoping You Will Suffer’, a minimal glide through glassy electronics and softened, rebounding beats. As if staring down a period of booze and drug aided oblivion, the main Streets man openly announces, “there’s several ways that this is gong to go bad/the devil says he misses me and wants me back”. Oscar #worldpeace intersplices some laidback bars that carry on the theme of bracing for impact as rock bottom quickly approaches. Seemingly the antidote to punishing yourself for other people’s actions comes bouncing along on the jaunty bop of piano and interchangeable beats and clacks of ‘Falling Down’. Hak Baker adds a London wide boy flavour to the track, as Mike defiantly states “when you fail, they rejoice/falling down is an accident/staying down is a choice”.
When not taking an anthropological view of those around him, Skinner’s eyes adjust their gaze to broader topics that take on a political slant. With a puffed out chest and flourish of piano and firm beats, ‘Conspiracy Theory Freestyle’ has Rob Harvey and Skinner take a disparaging view of those in power “all of history is a set of fricking lies/agreed on by men and their decision making wives”. Given all that’s happened in 2020 (this track pre-dates the eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death at the hands of US law enforcement and let’s not even get started on the inept handling of the coronavirus pandemic by governments far and wide), Harvey’s subtle “we’ve got to stand-up and change” couldn’t be more poignant. The record’s title track sees Skinner provide his trademark sung-spoken delivery over IDLES gnawing noise. Mike and IDLES’ Joe Talbot recount feelings of irritation and frustration as the former states “I don’t like my country/it’s more of an addiction” while the latter provides an antithesis to life’s irritations with a clenched first proclamation “that’s why I don’t go gentle”.
He said it back in 2002 but right now “yer listening to the streets/lock down your aerial”; whether it’s 2002 or 2020 – Mike Skinner is the voice of the streets.
Word and Thoughts by Adam Williams