Sunday, May 10, 2009

May 10: The Streets, "Original Pirate Material"

Artist: The Streets
Album: Original Pirate Material
Year: 2002
Label: Atlantic

The genres of hip hop and dance club music are usually quite far apart. One tends to live in the roughest cities in the U.S., while the other finds a comfortable home in Euro-discothèques. Rarely is one genre done well in the other territory, leading to little U.S. based club music, and even less rap coming out of Europe. Somehow weaving both genres together, Mike Skinner and Kevin Mark Trail, better known as U.K. rap group, The Streets, present a sound and vibe that has never before been heard in either genre. Taking dance-hall tempo and style in the music, and putting undeniably “hip hop” lyrics over it, The Streets create somewhat of a new genre, and it is a VERY good thing. After circulating various tracks on countless mixtapes, the label debut record from The Streets, 2002’s Original Pirate Material proves to be nothing short of brilliant, and well worth the wait.

A true underground effort through and through, when it comes to "street cred," these two Brits have more than anyone needs. Truth be told, Original Pirate Material is very much what its name says. The album was recorded in Skinner's garage, and there are moments throughout the record where one can tell this fact. Even when there are random sounds and drums, they end up giving the album even more authenticity. Though there are no elements of "gangsta" rap on this record, it is in many ways more "real" due to the fact that everything in the lyrics is something with which anyone can relate. The duo work brilliantly together, forming a perfect fusion and bringing a fresh, new sound to the world of dance, as well as hip hop.

From ambient piano loops to bright horn tracks to car-bumping beats, Original Pirate Material is a refreshing take on the hip hop genre. The beats and sounds backing the tracks on Original Pirate Material are easily the most original in the rap game, mostly due to the fact that they are based on dance club energy. This is very much due to Mike Skinner and his club/rave DJ background. Skinner mixes in roots from electronica and techno and fuses them together with hip hop roots, producing a sound that is nothing short of amazing. However, if you think that Original Pirate Material is a dance record, you couldn’t be further from this truth. The album has everything one can want in hip-hop: brilliant lyrics, original beats, and all the attitude you can handle.

The lyrics spit by Kevin Mark Trail are as clever as those of any rapper in the world. With true street grit, and yet a wonderfully snarky sense of humor, shots like “…my crew laughs at your rhubarb and custard verses…” are sprinkled throughout Original Pirate Material. Trail isn’t rapping about selling drugs or killing people, he prefers to explore the far more relateable plights of the hard working, underpaid, “upper lower class” of society. Tales of women, fights, drinking, and getting the short end of the stick in life pretty much covers every lyric on the album. On the track, “The Irony Of It All,” The Streets presents what can only be described as lyrical schizophrenia. Two voices battling (Skinner grabs a mic on this track), one being a drop-out stoner, the other up and trying to solve problems of the world play brilliantly against one another.

Two of the biggest problems many people have with rap music is that it all sounds the same, and most of it isn’t danceable. Simply put, over-done bass levels and impossible to understand lyrics are (thankfully) quickly losing their charm. With innovative artists like Outkast, Kanye West, and a host of “conscious’ rappers, the rap genre is slowly returning to a true talent. Becoming a successful rapper if you don’t hail from the United States remains an extremely difficult task. Taking the energy of London dance clubs, and spitting as “real” a set of lyrics as one will find anywhere, British rappers, The Streets, are truly a treat to experience. Their 2002 debut record, Original Pirate Material is a refreshing take on the hip hop genre and has a true cross-genre appeal.

Standout tracks: “Has It Come To this,” “The Irony Of It All,” and “Who Dares Wins.”

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