Last October, rapper Mike Skinner announced the return of his landmark project The Streets with as little fanfare as the project’s ‘retirement’ in 2011.
“Spoke to my old band! Told them we need to sing the old songs,” he posted on Instagram, as if it was your mate from school getting his cover band back together for a charity gig in the pub.
Compared with the usual high-profile social media drip-feed and hints of other big recent comebacks (Guns N’ Roses for one), it seemed half apologetic. After all, upon the release of the fifth Streets album Everything Is Borrowed in 2011, he said he was shelving The Streets because “I’ve run out of new avenues… I haven’t really got anything more to do”.
In recent years, though, The Streets’ old songs have only gained further gravitas, in a pop climate rammed with British rap, grime and leftfield pop that’s not embarrassed to revel in everyday regional minutiae.
When Skinner released the Streets’ debut album Original Pirate Material in 2002, the idea of British rap was still a bit of an eye-roll. The Pitchfork review spent the whole review dissing Skinner’s London-tinged Brummie accent as “awfully hysterical”, and concluded that “British accents just don’t sound particularly right in the context of syncopated rap-speech”.
The slur now seems as morto as Lester Bangs’ clueless ranting about Kraftwerk’s ‘non-music’ in Rolling Stone magazine in the 70s, with British MCs helping smash the glass ceiling in the last 10-15 years, and grime artists rubbing shoulders with American A-listers. Skinner, along with the likes of Roots Manuva, Wiley, Dizzze Rascal and other first wave grime MCs helped normalise rapping about your own life piling up around you – in Skinner’s case that might’ve been hanging round queues in kebab shops, bringing DVDs back, or getting wasted at rollovers.
If we’re being totally honest, it’s Original Pirate Material and its 2004 follow-up a Grand Don’t Come For Free (The Guardian’s top album of the 00s) that ensure all the goodwill for this tour – dubbed The Darker the Shadow The Brighter the light. Two companion pieces, both albums are rough and ready DIY collections of rudimentary garage beats and disarmingly honest and introspective rhymes. Tracks like Weak Become Heroes, Let’s Push Things Forward and Has It Come To This? Have transcended the post-rave tag, and Dry Your Eyes turned into a weepy even the most boisterous lad could sing with his arms around his mates’ necks.
Cliches abound, in the middle of the decade Skinner left the tower blocks and bus shelters for the album The Hardest Way To Make an Easy Living, with Skinner on the cover posing beside a Rolls Royce, and the tracks a predictable trawl through the woes of fame. Everything Is Borrowed from 2008 was a misstep full of broad-stroke songs that ditched autobiography for big issue philosophising. By the time his swansong album Computers and Blues came around, it seemed to have fizzled out, even if he got back to the Original Pirate Material production vibe, and the sleeve nodded to his debut’s tower block.
In the meantime, he’s DJ’ed fairly constantly, formed D.O.T. with Rob Harvey of The Music and Tonga Balloon Gang with UK rap crew Murkage, but in the tour announcement he admitted: “But seriously, it’s been long enough.” The Streets’ comeback single You Are Not the Voice Inside Your Head suggests another melancholy introspective turn on the possible new album, but considering how everything is subject to change with Skinner, grab this chance while he’s back.