The U.K.’s Answer to Eminem

The Beatles and The Stones took '50s American blues, country, and R&B, absorbed it, transposed it, and gave it back to a generation of white middle-class American kids from whom the originals had been purposefully kept. Pat Boone redid Little Richard's "Tutti Fruiti" to make it "acceptable" to white America, and, well, surely you know the rest of the story, so I won't repeat it here.

Now, Mike Skinner, a Birmingham (U.K.) bloke--a.k.a. The Streets--has absorbed American rap and reworked it to reflect the life of today's white urban British working-class youth. "And this is a day in the life of a geezer/ Pull out your sack and sit back," he advises in "Has it Come to This?," a tuneful, catchy rap that became an unlikely hit in the U.K. Especially unlikely because Skinner wrote, produced, performed, and recorded the album Original Pirate Material in his bedroom.

The differences between someone like Eminem and The Streets couldn't be more stark: Skinner's raps are more resigned and less angry, more optimistic and far less self-absorbed. Skinner observes and reports, and because of that, his raps are far more interesting and nourishing than Eminem's, though Eminem's may be more dramatic, entertaining, and complex. Thankfully missing here are misogyny, gay-bashing, glorification (and gore-ification) of violence, and other symptoms of American cultural decay.

The music beds are simple yet ingenious and effective, and Skinner's vocal style is endearing, not threatening. There is a sadness and yearning behind much of this set, as there is behind Eminem's music, despite his surface swaggering--that, in part, accounts for Eminem's appeal. But with no conflict between the music, the presentation, and the lyrics, Skinner's work is more inviting and more informative. He's far more conversational in tone. The net result is empathy and sympathy from the listener.

Whether Skinner's slang-filled narrative and U.K. perspective will resonate with self-absorbed American youth remains to be seen, but I'm certain many of you will find this gem worth more than a few spins. Sonically, the homemade recording is actually pretty good, as warm and endearing as the contents--but you won't be buying this for sound quality!