Michael Geoffery Skinner (born 27 November 1978), more commonly known by his stage name The Streets, is a rapper from Birmingham, England.
Early life and beginnings
Skinner began experimenting with a keyboard when he was five years old. As a teenager, he built a miniature recording studio in his bedroom. He began writing hip hop and garage music in his home in West Heath in Birmingham, with a crew of other rappers including best friend Chris Panton. He describes his background as "Barratt class: suburban estates, not poor but not much money about, really boring." Skinner started making songs at the age of fifteen.
He has suffered from epilepsy since the age of seven.
In the mid-1990s, following secondary education at Bournville School, Skinner became a student at Sutton Coldfield College, in Sutton Coldfield, and was working in fast food jobs while trying to start his own independent record label and sending off demos.
Despite having been raised in Birmingham, an area with a distinctive regional accent, he speaks with a London-influenced accent. Some critics have accused Skinner of using a "Mockney" accent. He can be heard speaking in his normal accent at the beginning of the song "Fake Streets Hats". Because of his accent, Skinner is identified with Birmingham; a keen supporter of Birmingham City, he even wore the club's replica shirt on stage.
Original Pirate Material: 2000-2003
The Streets started out as a group project but quickly became a one-man act as band members fell away. At the end of 2000, the Locked On label, who had success with The Artful Dodger featuring Craig David, agreed to release "Has It Come To This" under the name the Streets. Skinner moved from Birmingham to Brixton to pursue his recording career, he then moved to Camden Town for three years before returning to Brixton.
"Has It Come to This?" proved to be a breakthrough hit for the Streets, going top-twenty in March 2001. For his debut album, Original Pirate Material, Skinner wanted to take UK garage in a new direction with material reflecting the lifestyle of clubbers in Britain. The track "Let's Push Things Forward" reflects the philosophy of the album. The album was released and proved to be successful both with critics and the general public alike. In the UK, the album was nominated for the Mercury Prize and was favourite with the bookies to win it (it was later won by Ms. Dynamite). The Streets was nominated for best album, best urban act, best breakthrough artist and best British male artist in the 2002 BRIT Awards. The NME named it as one of their top five albums of 2002. The cover image is Towering Inferno by the acclaimed photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg.
Subsequent singles included "Don't Mug Yourself", "Weak Become Heroes" and "Let's Push Things Forward" which all reached the top forty in the UK. Many of his songs have a UK garage feel but have in the main found popularity in the 'indie' scene. Original Pirate Material had debuted and peaked at number twelve in the UK album charts, and wouldn't reach any higher until his next album was released.
The success of Original Pirate Material in the UK led to a US release of the album through Vice/Atlantic in late 2002. Though the album was not a commercial success in the States, it was received positively by Rolling Stone, Spin, the New York Times, Blender, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times all nominating it as one of the albums of the year. The album was named Entertainment Weekly's "album of the year". The album reached number two on the Billboard electronic charts and the top 20 on the independent and Heatseeker charts in the US in 2003.
A Grand Don't Come for Free: 2004-2005
In May 2004, he released a new single, "Fit But You Know It" which became his highest debuting and highest selling single to that point, reaching number four in the UK.
"Fit But You Know It" is from his second album, A Grand Don't Come for Free which is a concept album about a short period in the protagonist's life. The events depicted include losing a thousand pounds, the start of a new relationship, going on holiday, breaking up, and eventually finding the grand again. The MC's remix of "Fit But You Know It" features formerly underground MCs such as Kano, Tinchy Stryder, Donae'o and Lady Sovereign.
The album debuted at number two in the UK album charts, but later reached the number one position. Soon after the album was released, his success grew even larger in July 2004, with the second single "Dry Your Eyes" debuting at the top of the chart in the UK. The success of this album and its singles led to a re-kindling of interest in the first album Original Pirate Material, which re-entered the UK album charts and beat its original chart peak of two years earlier. "Blinded By the Lights", the third single from A Grand Don't Come for Free, hit the Top 10 in September 2004, and a fourth and final single, "Could Well Be In", was released in late 2004.
The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living: 2006-2007
Skinner's third studio album under The Streets moniker, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, was released on 10 April 2006 in the United Kingdom and on 25 April 2006 in North America. In the UK it debuted at number one on the album chart. It was a change in direction from his first two albums, the lyrical theme moving away from the stories about working class Britain and instead focusing on the ups and downs of the fame that Skinner encountered after the huge success of his previous album.
The lead single, titled "When You Wasn't Famous", was released two weeks prior to the album. The song is about Skinner's troubles with trying to date a famous person, following his new found fame. It was also named 'Track of the Week' by NME in early March 2006, but when it came into the UK singles charts, it only reached the latter course of the top 10, peaking at number eight. There has been much speculation over which celebrity "When You Wasn't Famous" is about - Rachel Stevens and Cheryl Cole are two names that have been ruled out, despite Skinner dedicating the song to Cole on Top Of The Pops. This reluctance to reveal the subject may be more than simple politeness, as some of the descriptions of the unnamed starlet in the track are potentially damaging. At one point, Skinner discloses "my whole life I never thought I'd see a pop star smoke crack."
The second single, "Never Went to Church", is a tribute to Skinner's late father, and appears to use the chord progression of The Beatles' "Let It Be" as a backing beat.
The Streets appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman on 26 June 2006 to promote the new album.
Everything Is Borrowed: 2008-2009
In September 2008, Skinner released his fourth studio album, Everything Is Borrowed. One song from the album, entitled "Everything Is Borrowed", was on Skinner's MySpace page for a while before being replaced by a cover of "Your Song". In a posting on his MySpace blog, Skinner noted that the group's upcoming LP would contain "peaceful, positive vibes" in comparison with 2006's The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living.
In a blurb about the album on Skinner's MySpace, he says "This album started off life as parables but then I realised that it might get a bit cheesy so I got rid of the alien song and the devil song and replaced them with more straight up songs. I've pretty much kept my promise that I made to myself not to reference modern life on any of them though which is hard to do and keep things personal at the same time."
Computers and Blues: 2010
It was originally reported that Skinner said that the fifth record would be similar to Lou Reed's Berlin. He later stated in a blog that he was misquoted, and that the album would sound like the city of Berlin, not the album by Reed. He went on, saying that the album will be "ravey".
"The final Streets album (the fifth one) will be dark and futuristic. This could not be further from , but it's what is on my mind at the moment. I feel inspired by the synthesizer exhibition we just visited in Graz after the gig we just did."
On 6 August 2008, Skinner stated on his MySpace blog that the title of the final Streets record will be Computers and Blues, and that it will likely not be released for at least two years. He has repeatedly stated that it will be the last Streets album, remarking that he is "fucking sick" of the name and connotations that come along with it. In a Beat Stevie episode where he describes the making of Everything Is Borrowed, Skinner says that the final Streets album will be "one more banger" and will be "dancing music to drink tea to".
On 14 April 2009, Skinner announced via Twitter that he would post three new songs over three days. The tracks were "I Love My Phone", "Trust Me" and "David Hassles". Since then he has posted ten more songs, "Long Working Day", "See if they Salute", "A Blip on a Screen", "Outside Inside", "Skills on Toast", "Lovelight of My Life", "Infamy", "Where My Heart Has Been", "The Robots Are Taking Over" and "In The Middle". Most of these songs were released on bln.kr or zshare.net with an announcement of Skinner on Twitter. He also posted the video for a song called "He's Behind You, He's Got Swine Flu" to YouTube. On 11 June 2009, Skinner announced that "Computers and Blues" will be released in February 2010 and that he was releasing a song with up and coming UK rapper Giggs.
The Streets regularly plays live, and has also performed at several festivals.
Up until recently his playing line up was Mike Skinner, Leo the Lion singing backing vocals, Eddie "The Kid" playing keyboard, Johnny Drum Machine playing drums, and long-time friend Morgan Nicholls playing bass and guitar. Morgan has since left the band to focus on playing with progressive rock band Muse, playing a variety of instruments as part of their live show.
His current live-line up consists of Kevin Mark Trail on backing vocals, Wayne Vibes on guitar and bass, Chris Brown on keyboards, Magic Mike on samplers and Johnny Drum Machine as drummer and musical director. Skinner has credited Johnny Drum Machine as the only other member of The Streets to have appeared on all the albums.
Performance trademarks include crowd controlling "Go Low" (the whole audience drops to the floor) and "Go Moses" (audience parts down the middle, Skinner runs to the back and crowd surfs back to the stage) with variable success.
An online channel currently presented by Mike and business partner Ted Mayhem, Beat Stevie is an anything goes blog/music show also shown on Channel 4 in their 4Music late night strand. The episodes often include backstage footage and onstage hijinks.
In one of the episodes Mike and Ted get trained by pickup artist and dating coach 5.0 of Love Systems on how to approach and talk to women.
Promotional and campaign work
Skinner is an ardent fan of Reebok Classics shoes; he is often seen wearing a pair of white Workout Plus trainers, and has even mentioned them in the lyrics for his song "Let's Push Things Forward", in which he raps, "Let's put on our Classics and have a little dance, shall we?". In 2005, he signed up to appear in a twelve-month ad campaign for Reebok, joining other prominent celebrities in Reebok's "I Am What I Am" campaign.
Skinner collaborated with PETA2 in a campaign urging KFC to demand that chickens raised for them be treated more humanely.