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  The Streets Original Pirate Material
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Rating: 4.5 out of 5

by Sterling McGarvey

You know you might be doing something right if you get something in the mail from VICE Magazine and the contents don't consist of human waste. In this case, VICE has picked up the American distribution of Mike Skinner's (aka The Streets) critically lauded debut effort. It's an album that gives another face to UK garage. Whereas a lot of the UKG scene seems to be driven by Black sounds, Skinner's style is a very distinctively British one, and one of a young White guy trying to find a place in the thick of a postmodern world infused with hip-hop. Instead of the flashier images that make UKG a distinctively "London Thing," Original Pirate Material focuses on the people who support the sounds, but don't have the funds to floss in the clubs. Champagne vibes and flashing cash give way to ganja smoke and PlayStation. It's not about crews and clubbing; it's about getting lit with your best friends and kicking it. I mean, what are the odds of hearing So Solid Crew take a break from dodging "haters" to give shout outs to Danny Rampling and Paul Oakenfold or to talk about Carl Jung?

"Has It Come to This?" is the first single from the album. Combining an easy-going beat with lyrics like, "... this ain't a club track; pull out your sack and sit back," the cut feels like the opposite of what one (especially in America) has come to expect from 2-step in terms of dancefloor potential. "Let's Push Things Forward" sounds as though it is sonically sandwiched somewhere between the pulsing rhythms of UKG and the slower pace of a ska tune. As for the lyrics, well, Skinner takes a jab at both the critics of the garage sound and those who he feels keep it formulaic. Witness the line, "I make bangers, not anthems; leave that to The Artful Dodger." The chorus repeats over and over "You say that everything sounds the same, then you go buy them... " "Sharp Darts" demonstrates Skinner's lyrical dexterity over a UK hip-hop track.

"The Irony of It All" has Skinner facing off as two differing personalities: drunken lour, Terry, whose belligerent flows run roughshod over a chunky 2-step rhythm, and mellow engineering student, Tim, who smokes weed all day out of various homemade bongs and boasts of both his knowledge of legalization stats and of beating "Gran Turismo" on the hardest setting. A piano loop and a slow, plodding hip-hop beat accompanying Tim's story is what differentiates him from Terry. At the core, it seems that the track deals with the long-standing cultural battle between the traditional (and more socially acceptable) British drunk and those who explore other means of getting buzzed, be it through bong hits or hits of e. Speaking of e, the next track, "Weak Become Heroes," is a melancholy memoir of Skinner's first pill at a party and the emotional outpour that ensues. It is also, perhaps, the most wistful and touching track on the album.

Original Pirate Material isn't the straight up UK garage album that the press has made it out to be. To confine Skinner to one genre does him injustice. His message is spread across hip-hop, 2-step, and drum n' bass beats. What makes the album so endearing is that, unlike a great deal of UK hip-hop (and to some degree, the pseudo-"bling bling" of the likes of So Solid Crew), which is commonly criticized on both sides of the Atlantic as sounding too artificial, Original Pirate Material sounds like an authentic effort. Skinner knows he's not Rakim. He knows he's not KRS-One. The beauty is that he isn't trying to be them. He's just himself.

At Amazon.com

Original Pirate Material from Amazon.com Original Pirate Material
by The Streets

Track Listing:

  1. Turn the Page
  2. Has It Come to This?
  3. Let's Push Things Forward
  4. Sharp darts
  5. Same Old Thing
  6. Geezers Need Excitement
  7. It's Too Late
  8. Too Much Brandy
  9. Don't Mug Yourself
  10. Who Got the Funk?
  11. The Irony of It All
  12. Weak Becomes Heroes
  13. Who Dares Wins
  14. Stay Positive

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