Like innumerable other British acts, the Streets (or Mike Skinner, as his birth certificate identifies him) arrive in North America with lots of clippings proclaiming their debut album to be the future of music -- the greatest thing to come along since...well, whoever the last NME flavour-of-the-week was. However, there's one crucial difference between Original Pirate Material
and pretty much everything else the overstimulated British music press has been hyping lately: Skinner is a rapper.
Rather than taking a sound that's uniquely British and hoping it will catch on with the rest of the world, Skinner has applied a sound from somewhere else to his surroundings -- in the process creating an album that captures modern lower-middle-class Britain better than the work of any number of guitar-based bands. It's a world of drugs, poverty, raves and, erm, geezers, and it's a place that Skinner's deadpan delivery captures and relates perfectly.
This is perhaps best illustrated by the astounding "Geezers Need Excitement" -- a track that delivers the same sort of social commentary that thousands of (North American) rappers have delivered before. The difference, however, is the context; "birds" and "going football fan" replace the requisite "bizzatches" and "bustin' a cap". The fact that it works reinforces hip-hop's fundamental universality as a form of expression -- yet at the same time, it's local enough to act as effective social commentary.
While British hip-hop has been around for years, it hasn't made its way across the ocean often enough to make UK rappers sound anything but incongruous to most American listeners; to the mass-market audience, hip-hop is predominantly black and American, and Skinner is white and British. One listen, however, shows the extent to which it isn't an issue: though it sounds strange at first, Skinner's delivery is so absorbing that the accent issue will be an afterthought before opener "Turn the Page" has ended.
It's hard to say whether Original Pirate Material will have the same sort of success over here as it has across the Atlantic. If it does, credit Skinner's talent; if it doesn't, blame the cultural divide. We may still be years away from a truly global music marketplace, but Original Pirate Material's Stateside success would be a step in the right direction.