Traditionally, the music that most accurately reflected the sound of Britain’s streets has been made by rock band, from The Beatles’ ‘Penny Lane’ to The Clash’ ‘London Calling’. It’s the only recently that the sound of the British inner city has begun to be reflected by people with beats: So Solid Crew, The Streets, Dizzee Rascal, even Goldie Lookin’ Chain. They are the Jams and Clashes of our generation – they reflect how it is to be poor, working-class and living in the city today.

Add Skinnyman to that list. A man tipped to be England’s Eminem long before Mike Skinner was lumbered with that tag. He’s only now getting around to releasing his debut LP thanks to a list of delays that there isn’t enough space to go through in full now, but include drug dealing, spells in prison and record company limbo.

Skinny is a product of his environment. First arrested at seven, onstage at nine, excluded from school at 11 and out of prison throughout his adult life, he isn’t fashionable, pretty or clean. Skinny’s street are Dizzee’s inner city or those of Pete Doherty’s dealer rather than Skinner’s suburbs or the Boho squat-slums of The Libertines.

A world documented on the album’s first track proper, ‘Fuck The Hook‘, where ‘your life’s on the line and your only crime is being poor‘. Estates where “This week an 82-year-old got her throat slashed in her flat/Cats are lookin’ cash for their crack”. Places in a cycle of underachievement and communities riddled by crack cocaine, with girls who “fuck man for the taste of the pipe” (‘Hayden’).

It’s not just the lyrics, delivered in a ragga-style flow, that are grimey. ‘Council Estate Of Mind’ is bound tightly together by a fucking scary narrative.

Lifted directly from 1982’s Tim Roth-starring TV film Made In Britain (about an articulate 16-year-old who can’t stop butting heads with authority, who Skinny clearly identifies with), the effect is to create a claustrophobic atmospehere from start to finish.

Add to the mix tower block-rocking beats, a string of speeded-up soul samples to rival Kanye West’s finest work (most brilliantly on ‘I’ll Be Surprised’ and ‘No Big Ting’) and you have a mix of honesty, pathos, violence, drugs – a picture of Britain’s street as vivid as Dizzee’s or Skinner’s but as gritty and city as The Libertines.

Fuck going underground, Skinnyman is heading overground. Imran Ahmed

© NME July 31, 2004

Leave a Reply