British hip-hop isn't an oxymoron anymore. Thanks to a twenty-three-year-old London MC named Mike Skinner, a.k.a. the Streets, the life of industrial England now resonates in the same way as that of, say, Queens or South Central. Which wasn't really the plan. "I'm surprised how many people, besides people from my city, get into it," Skinner says of his debut, Original Pirate Material. "Even people in England say, 'Why do we want to hear about ourselves?' "
Material presents Skinner's streets as a mosaic of drunken louts, stoned PlayStation addicts and urban turmoil. He delivers the gritty details in a story-driven, first-person narrative that recalls the best work of another white inner-city kid, Eminem, while incorporating enough garage and dub beats to satisfy the rave culture. And in that cheeky British way, it's pretty much a huge laugh.
"Life isn't that interesting," he says unapologetically. "So I'd rather lie or make something up interesting in my head." The soft-spoken rapper spent most of his childhood in London and Birmingham standing behind fast-food counters. A lost year in Australia, a few broken hearts and a mushroom binge in Amsterdam inspired some of Material's more truthful tales of excess, but for the most part Skinner prefers his local pub and general isolation.
A recent backstage run-in with Blur/Gorillaz singer Damon Albarn only confirmed Skinner's desire to keep things mundane. "I didn't really know who he was," Skinner says. "He was just like, 'Welcome to being famous' or something. . . . I was just like, 'Oh, shut up, you pansy.' He seems all right, but he's just a different kind of person from me. I kinda get on the train and go see my girlfriend and get on with makin' the music."