Published Jul 09, 2020Few artists have managed to bottle the feeling of being a young, modern English urbanite quite like Mike Skinner. An everyman MC straddling the line between the then nascent grime scene and UK garage, his debut as the Streets, Original Pirate Material, was a beat-driven cousin to Arctic Monkeys and the Libertines. It had a specificity that brought the "life of a geezer" into focus even for listeners on this side of the Atlantic who had no idea what, exactly, such a thing was.
Over the course of five LPs, Skinner's worldview broadened, but he lost some of the street-level feel of his early work and he retired the Streets moniker in 2011. With grime finding greater mainstream and international acceptance than ever before, and "rock" groups like the 1975 drawing inspiration from the mid-00's UK garage, now would seem like as good as time as any to revive the project. But would Skinner, now 40 years old, have anything worthwhile to say about the world? The answer, surprisingly, is very much yes.
Branded as a mixtape, the first new Streets material since 2011's Computers and Blues finds Skinner less interested in re-establishing the project as a commercial force (though he never broke through in North America, he landed a number of hits in the UK) than capturing the vibe of the Tonga DJ nights Skinner's been throwing with Murkage Dave for the past five years.
None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive's beats, mostly self-produced (the tracks are credited to Skinner and whomever happens to be guesting on a given track), are as sharp as ever and manage to sound like classic Streets tracks without coming across as a throwback. Guests abound, with Skinner hitting up UK MCs like Ms Banks, Dapz on the Map and Oscar #Worldpeace, UK rockers IDLES and pop-rock polymath Kevin Parker from Tame Impala for assists.
Miraculously, he showcases his guests without overwhelming his own raps, which find the MC once again litigating the mundanities of modern British life; phones, relationships and our relationships with our phones are common themes. His observational witticisms aren't quite as sharp as they once were, and these tracks lack some of the emotional depth of his best work. But there's a lived truth in each of them that was missing in latter-day Streets material.
Unsurprisingly, Skinner remains an apolitical rapper – he never engaged much on this front before, and it seems he's not about to now, which is a shame. As a white MC who became one of the first and biggest stars of grime, a genre that gives voice to many of the UK's young people of colour, his unique point of view could be valuable.
Rather he sticks with what he knows works, at least for a Streets record, mixtape or not. For better or worse (mostly better), None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive captures the feeling of the Streets past, while laying out a path for its present and future. (Island)