The Streets is the recording name of rapper/songwriter/producerMike Skinner, a native of Birmingham, England. TheStreets' first album, Original PirateMaterial, appeared in 2002 to much acclaim from fans and critics worldwide.Featuring a straightforward, conversational rapping style, infectious homemadebeats and engrossing yet relatable subject matter, Original Pirate Material marked the arrival of a major new talentin hip hop and led many critics to proclaim Skinner the voice of British youth.The follow-up album, A Grand Don't Comefor Free, brought Skinner even greater praise, landing spots on manycritics' best-of lists for 2004.
With the release of the Streets' third full-length, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living,Skinner took a moment to talk with Ticketmaster about the new album, performinglive and a few of his other musical projects.
TM: In the U.S., manyof your fans don't listen to a lot of hip hop. They're more interested in rockand indie bands. Why do you think these rock fans have responded so positivelyto your music? MS: I think America,and rap in general, is so much about a lifestyle. The beats and the rhymes canbe kind of irrelevant. It's more just about a certain section of society. It'ssimilar in England, but Ithink in Englandthat section of society is me. I think it's true of all British rap that'sgonna come over here for now. It's going to be more for people that are lookingto experiment with music.
TM: How do youapproach playing live? What kind of experience do you hope to give youraudience?null MS: Well, again, it's quite different outside of England. In theU.K.,it's pretty crazy. We break bar records wherever we go. I suppose it's like Girls Gone Wild mixed with Beastie Boysor something. Early Beastie Boys. It depends on the audience to be honest. Ifthe audience wants to cause trouble, we'll happily help them. (laughs)
TM: Do you have afavorite place to play live? MS: My favorite venue in the world has got to be the GlasgowBarrowland in Scotland.It's quite a wide gig, but it's not a huge capacity. In terms of where thepeople are when you're on stage, there's a kind of width to the audience. Andthe Glasgowcrowd is just the most loony crowd on Earth. Combine that with the fact that itis so British what we're doing, it seems to connect. It's always the best gigon any tour that we do. On the last tour that we did—because it's quite big in Englandnow—we did arenas and stuff. But I think on the next tour that I do, I'm going todo arenas, and then when I get to Glasgow,I want to do like four Barrowland shows straight in a row. That's how much Ilove the venue.
TM: What's your mostmemorable onstage moment? MS: Probably when I was in Manchester once. I was singing one of our sadsongs, called "It's Too Late" from the first album. Someone threw a full can oflager at me and it hit me. I kind of turned into it on accident. I was lookingbehind me and I turned around and I just got pelted fully in the face by thiscan. Knowing how to take a blow onstage like that, I think that's thedefinition of true stagecraft. And to carry on with a song, it's difficult. It'sactually quite funny. It didn't really make me angry. I thought that I would be angry. You shouldhave told me someone was going to throw a can. I thought I would've reactedreally badly. But I think because we were actually trying to get them to throwstuff in the first place, you can't really blame them. (laughs)
TM: Tell me about theBeats record label you've started.null MS: We've been going on for about a year now. There's a bigculture in Englandat the moment for low budget music videos. Both on mobile phone downloads...andon TV channels. It's a very specific thing to urban culture. It's a grimething, a rap thing. So we're kind of in the middle of that to be honest. We doa lot of remixes with other MCs and they get played on the TV and kids downloadthem. So that's a big part of our business. But we've also got the MitchellBrothers whose album has been in the wraps for a while. That was the firstthing we did. We've also got a kid called Professor Green. He came in second inthe hip hop battling championships in the Bahamas. He's got his thing goingon. We've also got a guy called Example. He's a bit like me I suppose, but he'sa bit more London.So there's quite a lot going on. It's the main thing in my life, even though theStreets is really big. Because the Streets is at a point now where everyoneknows their roles. It kind of runs itself from a management point of view. It'squite a simple operation to keep going. So what I'm really excited by is allthe stuff going on with my label.
TM: When did youfirst know you wanted to be a recording artist? MS: Probably since I was about seven or something. My dadgot me a keyboard at some point. I was recording Run DMC stuff onto taperecorders. I really have been doing it as long as I can remember. But I supposethe moment that I knew that it was this or nothing was probably when I wasfinishing school when I was about 15.null
TM: When you were ateen, you built a little recording studio in your cupboard. What was the setuplike?null MS: That was what I used to record the first record. Itworks quite well actually, as long as you have a good microphone to recordwith. The next most important thing is getting the sound of the room right. Youdo that by trying to remove any reflections coming off the walls. You either usemattresses or record in a cupboard surrounded by clothes.null
TM: You have a greatability to tell stories through your music. Many people have even compared youto famous novelists like Fyodor Dostoevsky. Do you read fiction or have anyfavorite authors?null MS: No, not really. I don't really read a lot. I tend tokind of get it all from songs. I'm really into songwriting. I mean, everythingfrom rap music to Jimmy Webb and the stuff he did for Glen Campbell, or JohnnyCash or Kris Kristofferson songs. I suppose a lot of American songwritinggreats, and rap music and Jamaican music as well. I get the rhythm to my wordsfrom rap music.null
TM: Are there any newmusicians or bands you're really excited about? MS: I really like the Arctic Monkeys. Who else? I've beenlucky enough that in Englandthe people that I'm excited by, I've been able to sign them. I really do look upto the Mitchell Brothers, Professor Green and Example.
TM: Who do you liketo see live?null MS: I really like seeing Kenny Rogers live actually. He'slike at true pro, you know. You can see that he's been doing it for years.