The Streets

Mike Skinner's recordings as the Streets marked the first attempt to add a degree of social commentary to Britain's party-hearty garage/2-step (and later grime) movement. Skinner, a Birmingham native who later ventured to the capital, was an outsider in the garage scene, though his initial recordings appeared on Locked On, the premiere source for speed garage and, later, 2-step from 1998 to the end of the millennium. He spent time growing up in North London as well as Birmingham, and listened first to hip-hop, then house and jungle. Skinner made his first tracks at the age of 15, and during the late '90s, tried to start a label and sent off his own tracks while he worked dead-end jobs in fast food. At the end of 2000, he earned his first release when Locked On -- already famous for a succession of burning club tracks from Tuff Jam, the Artful Dodger featuring Craig David, Dem 2, and Doolally -- signed him for the homemade "Has It Come to This?" By the following year, the single hit Britain's Top 20 and the inevitable full-length followed in early 2002. That album, Original Pirate Material, unlike most garage compilations and even the bare few production LPs, found a home with widely varying audiences, and correspondingly earned Skinner a bit of enmity from the wider garage community. By the end of the year, it had been released in the States as well, through Vice. After a quiet 2003, Skinner returned with A Grand Don't Come for Free, a concept record that pushed his production and performance eccentricities to a new level, but also resulted in a fresh wave of critical praise. A succession of live dates followed, after which Skinner began recording his third full-length, 2006's The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, which shone a bright light on the vagaries of fame as Skinner had experienced it. Everything Is Borrowed followed in 2008, but charted a far different course, including optimistic and quite philosophical material. Reviews were positive, and it hit the Top Ten in the U.K. Skinner soon began discussing the next Streets record, which he described as dark and futuristic. Released early in 2011, Computers and Blues matched his fiery delivery and songwriting with a banging production approach that harked well back to the Original Pirate Material days. ~ John Bush

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