Original Pirate Material

Dec 18, 2002 at 12:00 am

The Streets’ 23-year-old Mike Skinner is the British Eminem — an MC with just too much going on in his life to rap about the usual fodder of clubs and champagne. And unlike other UK MCs, he isn’t trying to be down with hip hop so much as come up with his own version of it. Hailing from Birmingham (the UK equivalent of the Midwest) Skinner is a product of the pirate radio garage (gare-ij) scene, a UK phenomenon that combines rap MCs with jungle’s sped-up breakbeats smoothed over with an R&B sheen.

While crossover crooners like Craig David have been able to translate UK garage’s clip-clop to American audiences by burying it under a sheen of R&B croon, Skinner takes the UK sound back to its hip-hop inspirations. Skinner’s warm strings and abstract jazz melodies recall Gang Starr’s DJ Premier, while his blunt raps have a desperation to them that, once you get used to his thick British patois, is unshakable. His shell-shocked rhymes on the numb hip-hop closing track “Stay Positive” are as haunted as the song is haunting, while the precious-but-he-means-it earnestness of “Too Late” make it the kind of favorite song that high school kids write in the back of their yearbook and movie producers use for coming-of-age romantic comedies. And this in a song with a guy rapping about owing a drug dealer money and losing his girl because he’s too fucked-up to meet her at the airport. Like MC Yakov Smirnoff says, What a country — theirs and ours, huh?

E-mail Hobey Echlin at [email protected].