Saturday, June 25, 2011

June 25: The Streets, "Has It Come To This?"

Artist: The Streets
Song: "Has It Come To This"
Album: Original Pirate Material
Year: 2001

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Though in most cases they are the same, when a certain terminology takes on a different persona in another part of the world, the contents of that style can be rather misleading for the  uninformed.  While terms like "jazz" and "rock" certainly have become international, one can actually find a number of different uses of the term "garage" in various parts of the world.  In the US, it almost always refers to a more stripped down, abrasive rock sound; and yet in the UK, it is closely tied to the electronic style of music creation.  As this scene developed throughout the 1990's, various other styles of music began to be infused with the electronic roots, and the result was some of the most unique music of the past twenty years.  Though there were scores of laughably sub-standard albums released in this time period, there were also many bright spots, and one simply cannot overstate the brilliance of the 2002 debut from The Streets, Original Pirate Material.  Borrowing from both the US garage and 2-step styles, the record is not only one of the most creative endeavors in recent history, but one can cite the album as the first to bring a sense of intelligence and social awareness to the scene from which it was birthed.  Standing in strong defiance to nearly every standard that had been set in hip-hop and electronic styles, one can quickly understand just why The Streets are held in such high regard by hearing their 2001 single, "Has It Come To This?"

As the song begins, it is almost immediately impossible to place it into any single genre, as there are elements of dance, electronic, hip-hop, and even a jazz element as well.  The fact that this fusion comes together so perfectly is a testament to the one man that "is" The Streets, Mike Skinner.  Even for those who are unfamiliar with the UK garage scene, or even those who are not "into dance music," the song is insanely catchy, as he keeps the fast-paced beat present throughout the entire song.  Yet it is the way that Skinner gives a darker, almost somber tone to the song, and the manner with which it seems to clash with the rhythm that makes "Has It Come To This?" so sonically unique.  The keyboard that gives the song a sense of melody also brings with it an almost nervous, unstable mood, and this sense of unease is what sets "Has It Come To This?" so far apart from the other music that falls under the "UK garage" category.  There is also a deep, grooving bassline that runs underneath the song, and it gives the track a sense of being complete that is almost always missing from most electronic and dance songs.  The fact that "Has It Come To This?" can be "bumped" in a car in the city as easily as it can light up a dance club is a testament to the unique perfection that Skinner has achieved, and on many levels, it remains the high-water mark for UK garage artists.

However, while the musical arrangement cannot be overlooked, it is Skinner's vocals and lyrics that truly make "Has It Come To This?" such a brilliant recording, as they proved just how much one can achieve within rap-based lyrics.  Most feel that the entire hip-hop style is something that can only be properly executed by US artists, but on this track, Skinner proves that it is the diversity in his own upbringing and influences that helps to push the genre forward.  Completely ignoring the trend of the time to deliver lyrics as quickly as possible, Skinner speaks in a calm, clear tone, and in many ways, one can interpret his style as more of a "thinking man's" rap.  Through his vocal inflections, he is able to drive a great deal of emphasis whenever he chooses, and one must listen to "Has It Come To This?" a number of times to fully grasp all of the commentary and allusions within the song.  Along with his unorthodox delivery style, Skinner's lyrics take on a completely unique form, and the level of social critique therein is absolutely phenomenal.  In many ways, "Has It Come To This?" can be seen as an anthem of the "new youth," as Skinner references everything from PlayStations to joyriding new cars, and yet there are also far more intellectual thoughts to be found.  From the way that he cleverly claims just how wide-spread his influence is, to the way in which he says that regardless of our vices or musical tastes, we are all one, Skinner managed to completely embody youth, and there has rarely been as original or truly captivating a rhyme ever recorded.

Throughout "Has It Come To This?," Skinner also manages to dispel any negative comments that critics might throw his way, and there is an amazing level of self-awareness when he delivers lines like, "...we walk the tightrope of street cred..."  Skinner also leaves the "old school" ideals behind, and one can see the the track as the anthem of modern hip-hop when he rhymes, "...I'm just spitting, think I'm ghetto? Stop dreaming, my data's streaming..."  Regardless of which aspect of the song one finds the most alluring, the fact of the matter is, "Has It Come To This?" is simply a song that cannot be ignored.  From the absolutely blissful musical arrangement to the sharp, concise lyrics, the song is as close to perfection as one will find anywhere.  It is the way that the music is both high-energy, as well as very "chilled out" that sets it aside from any possibility of genre classification, and one can argue that in this reality, it becomes one of the most universally appealing recordings in recent memory.  Furthermore, Skinner's delivery style demands respect, and yet due to the controlled nature and tone of his rhymes, it is likely that many who do not care of hip-hop will give this song far more attention.  Completely rewriting the books on the possibilities and standards for a number of genres, few artists have ever been able to come near a musical achievement similar to what one can experience within The Streets' landmark 2001 single, "Has It Come To This?"

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