The most brilliant genre-defining garage album turned 15 years old this weekend. On March 25th 2002, Mike Skinner’s ‘The Streets’ project brought us their debut album ‘Original Pirate Material’ and it is difficult to remember an album that captured the lifestyles and emotions of the working class community quite like this one did. NME ranked it as the 46th best album of all time in their 2003 list and it has taken time for people to truly appreciate it’s brilliance, initially only reaching #12 on the UK Album Charts upon release. So what makes this album so memorable and culturally important after all this time?
With influences coming from American hip-hop, namely the likes of Nas and Wu-Tang Clan, you could be mistaken for calling Mike Skinner unrealistic in his views for this album, but one thing he nailed down better than anyone has been able to since was his awe-inspiring and unmoving feel of home, the place he knows best. Bringing back sounds of 90s garage and turning it into a current and fresh sounding phenomenon was always going to be a challenge but it is something that he accomplished with magnificent technicalities and precision. From big singles such as “Has It Come To This?” and “Let’s Push Things Forward” we get a feel of what Mike Skinner saw as the new age of garage music, the resurrection of a once colossal genre which faded into irrelevancy thanks to the Britpop era and the revolution of indie bands around that time. Skinner does an absolutely remarkable job of giving you a local Feel on every track, making each cut sound like a freestyle on your local street corner, the reality is that in terms of ability it is a class above from simply spitting some bars, it is pushing the boundaries of lyrical genius, an urban poet if you will.
The production of the album is heavenly, bringing back nostalgic urges of the times which helped him write the songs, hitting the town and embracing the council estate atmosphere of his lifestyle. Songs like “It’s Too Late” give you a feel of 90s club vibes with an understated and stripped back sound, sticking simply to a soft drum and bass instrumental which instead makes your head bop rather than jumping up and down in a rave. “The Irony Of It All” has a great mix of advanced electro pedals and a simple piano tune but the thing that really sets songs like this one apart is the witty lyrical flow and cadence of Mike Skinner, whose delivery is as magnanimous as it is artistic.
If there is to be one thing you take away from an album like this one, it is that the genius doesn’t always lie within the concrete jungles of New York or the gang complexes of Compton, the genius can take many forms and often appears in the most unexpected of personalities. Mike Skinner is the perfect example of this analogy and this album is the UK equivalent of “Straight Outta Compton” or “Illmatic”, just not involving gangs and guns, instead talking about the night life of Reading and how the locals act after a few drinks. Without doubt one of the most stunning albums of the 21st century, and easily the prime example of lyrical masterminds also spawning from little old England.