"Original Pirate Material," a debut recording that made him an
underground hero, British rapper Mike Skinner, a k a the Streets,
won accolades and multi-platinum sales for 2004's "A Grand Don't
Come for Free," an effort about an average bloke just trying to get
through the day, return an overdue video tape and maybe scrounge a
few pence for a pint at the pub.
Now that he has a
spare thousand pounds in his pocket at any time, Skinner has devoted
his recent third album, "The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living," to
chronicling the pleasures and, to a greater extent, the difficulties
of fame and fortune -- though problems such as being too well-known
to do drugs at a dance club don't really seem all that difficult. ("How
the hell am I supposed to be able to do a line in front of complete
strangers / When I know they've all got cameras?" Skinner whines
at one point.)
The disc is
hardly the artist's best work, but his endearing sense of humor
still comes through at some points; his mix of hip-hop and
electronica remains a musical treat, and he shows new depth on
tracks such as "All Goes Out the Window," an honest critique of male
infidelity, and the tender ballad "Never Went to Church."
always an amiable interview. We spoke from his home in the United
Kingdom as he prepared to come to Chicago to perform at next
weekend's Intonation Music Festival.
What was the difference going in to make this record? There had to
be more expectations -- you've had quite a bit of success.
think in a way it was kind of reassuringly familiar. That's one of
the only things that were similar all the way through -- making
records. It's not about how rich or poor you are; you still have to
work out a good song. But it's easier to get distracted.
do you block out the distractions of fame?
just the age-old approach of sitting in a room with no one there and
no noise. I went to New York for two months and did a lot of writing
there. It was good because I couldn't stand going away to the
country. Going to New York was good because I don't know that many
people; I only have a handful of friends in New York. It was a bit
like when I first came to London to write the first album.
Were you worried about the New York scene influencing your music
when you've always been so closely associated with growing up in
A. No. I
think doing things in a unique way or trying to do them in a unique
way has nothing to do with where you are or even what your interests
are. So I think I actually needed the stimulation of a new city,
because there are only so many stories I can tell.
That brings up a point that a lot of reviewers have made: Many noted
that the songs on this album are about being famous, whereas your
first two albums were about the desire to make it.
I've been reading the same review over and over for my whole career.
But it's important for people to be able to work out what you're
doing and where you are. I think what's interesting in a way is that
people have lost a bit of the sympathy or empathy, but they've
gained a little bit of excitement, because the stakes are higher and
there is more drama.
you think that in rapping about being rich and famous, people are
living vicariously through you?
think so, in a way. There are a lot of different reasons why you're
entertained by something. I like to think that people feel that they
would do the same if they were in my shoes. I think that's what
makes people want you.
talked about having only so many stories to tell. Will there be a
point when you say, "Gee, there's nothing left to rap about"?
I think there might be a point where I can't be bothered to put so
much effort into it. But no, we've been telling stories for millions
of years. In a way they are all the same story, but we still love
the good ones.
you find that you're getting a measure of respect from American
rappers after three albums?
think it was the last album that won over the rappers. I don't
necessarily think it was that album, but I do think that was the
point in hindsight in terms of the amount of time I've been around.
hip-hop I'm most excited about is Kanye [West]. I haven't met him,
but he's an interesting cat -- he's really smart. I know that he
knows of me, because he has spoken of me before. It's great to know
that someone like that has heard your music. I think it takes quite
a lot of courage, particularly in America, to get out of that
competition to be the hardest. If you don't do that, then it feels
What's the first hip-hop record you remember hearing?
Probably [De La Soul's] "3 feet high and rising." And [the Beastie
Boys'] "Licensed to Ill," as well. That probably was the first album
that really meant something to me. Before that it was just music on
the radio, and I wasn't thinking about it too much.
you looked at the Beasties and said, "Maybe I can do that"?
don't think I ever thought I could do it. I used to make the music
at home, but I don't think I ever thought it was going to go
anywhere. I think that's probably the purest form of music-making,
when you think it's not going to go anywhere.
are one of 13 acts performing at the Intonation Music Festival in
Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph, next weekend; they take the stage at
9:20 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $20 for the day or $30 for a two-day
pass; for more information, including the full list of all 26
performers, visit www.intonationmusicfest.com.