Top 100 Artists of the Decade: #86 The Streets
The Top 100 Artists of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post one artist and continue every day until December 31st, when we will unveil our #1 artist of the decade!
Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.
#86 The Streets
Mike Skinner, better known as The Streets, is no rapper. His delivery is clumsy and awkward, and he doesn’t particularly rhyme well, if at all. He’s an even worse singer. But he charms his way out of these seemingly glaring faults, thanks in no small part to his inventive arrangements, beats, and narrative skill.
When The Streets came out with Original Pirate Material, it was the first time many of us had heard of someone who was enjoying success and critical acclaim with an album that he had literally made in his bedroom. But maybe it was the conditions under which The Streets' debut album was crafted that made it such a breath of fresh air, uninfluenced by genre trends and ironic detachment. You got the sense that his speak-sing delivery - a (mostly) hackneyed method that is employed by almost every other rapper - was the result of honestly trying to deliver a melody that was being encumbered by a limited singing ability, while the beats and arrangements sounded like someone actively trying to keep the music fun and creative, not content with looping the same overblown breakbeats and simplified synth lines.
More a meditation on modern English life than a party album, Original Pirate Material paved the way for the classic A Grand Don’t Come For Free. Part of the baffling, concept album mini-comeback of the mid 2000’s, The Streets' sophomore album followed Skinner's protagonist on a familiar boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, narrative. Boring. But it was the album’s cinematic scope, focus on detail, and brutally honest lyrics that elevated A Grand Don’t Come For Free into "you need to hear this" status. It was an unlikely success that, on paper, was riddled with contradictions: An ambitious and demanding album focused on the minutiae of every day life. A sprawling, romantic epic set in the grey estates. A concept album that isn’t completely lame. But the album was great not despite of these things, but because of them. And it still sounded like it could have been made in somebody's bedroom. Subsequent albums The Hardest Way To Make A Living and Everything Is Borrowed did not enjoy the same level of critical and commercial success, but were solid albums in their own right.
A large part of The Streets' success can be attributed to the fact that we like to believe that Mike Skinner is just a regular guy who lives in a regular house and drives a regular car, although we secretly know that anyone who is responsible for Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come For Free is a singular, extraordinary talent. Who happens to write songs about ordinary things for ordinary people in his - hopefully no longer - ordinary bedroom.