Dischord – The Streets

Music Reviews
Dischord – The Streets

By Rob Mitchum

Examined by American-rap standards, it’s all too easy to find targets in The Streets’ sound, between Mike Skinner’s anti-flow, his raggedy-edged loops and his magnifying-glass self-obsession. But occasionally these flaws can also be unique strengths, with Skinner’s amateurism lending his songs a punk-like immediacy while his bizarre slang (“pranging?”) and crooked accent renders them irresistibly exotic. Despite his fame, Hardest Way reveals that Skinner has grown little as an artist or a person; he’s still the class clown of U.K. rap, appropriating “House of the Rising Sun” and “Let it Be,” and complaining about the trying demands of celebrity.

Though let’s not be dismissive: Skinner knows what he’s doing, and the inventive beats and inspired hooks of Hardest Way are no lucky accident. “When You Wasn’t Famous” rides a squeaky loop that coasts like Timbaland remixing the Lion King score, while “Memento Mori” is built on a skittish slot-machine riff punctuated with horn stabs. Vocally, Skinner refuses to take the most obvious route, sometimes oblivious to the very rhythm he produced for himself. Like a daredevil, he’s not afraid to fall on his face (and he does, from time to time), but on “Fake Streets Hats” and the title track, his snotty, deceptive clumsiness sticks a perfect landing.

By Jamin Warren

British hip-hop will be a total red herring. It’s the unique fetish of insular bloggers and rock critics; the latter group generally doesn’t even “do” hip-hop unless its Kanye, Gorillaz or SNL skits with Parnell and Samberg.

Mike Skinner (aka The Streets) is a progenitor of the American lovefest with Brit-rap. Fans gushed over him, strangely, for doing things he’s neither pioneered nor is the best at. They adored his bellicose drunkenness; they swooned over his DIY ethic and garage influences (he makes his own beats!); they loved his “honesty.” Even a warm-weather hip-hop fan could identify these traits as staples of the genre. Moreover, the nod to Skinner as “the thinking-man’s rapper” only pushes the mildly racist impression that popular American emcees are comparatively less sharp.

It seems silly, but one spin of The Hardest Way is proof positive: frosty mugs, forgotten females, over-dubbed and off-key vocals, and his patented “I am talking now” rap-schtick. Skinner’s three-minute tutorial on how to con a barkeep into buying a stolen dog is hardly titillating. No doubt, Skinner occasionally overachieves (“Two Nations,” “Memento Mori”), but he’s only average. Let’s not freak out over an accent and a pint glass, or lower the bar when someone flies from Heathrow, OK?

To cast your ballot for or against The Streets’ The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, click here.

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