"You say that everything sounds the same/Then you go buy them!/There's no excuses my friend/Let's push things forward." -- The Streets, "Let's Push Things Forward" (taken from Original Pirate Material, 2002, Vice Records)
"The whole song is poking fun at the bulk of music on 99X, isn't it?" 99X Program Director Chris Williams says. He's referring to a song which on first listen has so little to do with "new rock" that its foothold on 99X is surprising. Even more surprising is that the song's composer -- a pasty Brit by the name of Mike Skinner who records as "The Streets" -- has been invited to perform a rare stateside one-off Fri., June 6, with his band at 99X's The Big Rock series of free concerts.
A bedroom producer who hails from Birmingham, England, Skinner composes in a format known as 2-step or U.K. garage -- a mutation halfway between house and drum 'n' bass that blends rap, R&B and ragga. What's revolutionary about Skinner's take on the genre is that his bobbing spoken-word flow maintains the conventions but filters the perspective from the club to the pub.
"I don't think most of rap is stuff people identify with," Skinner muses. "I think they like the beat and the excitement, but it's more like watching an action film. Rap music, for a large part, is people from a certain background selling to people of a much better-off background. People get caught up in whether it's fact or not ... when really they should just say it's entertainment. The perspective I come from is one more of honesty and pure emotions."
Williams thinks "there's some validity" in the message of the song. "We're not above being poked fun at," he says. "But overall, we championed, 'Let's Push Things Forward' because it's such a cool song texturally. For over a year, we've been experimenting with incorporating hip-hop culture into the modern rock world 99X has lived in. First with the Roots, then N.E.R.D. and now The Streets -- acts that incorporate hip-hop, but are backed by a band, not a tape loop."
In fact, the form behind "Let's Push Things Forward" is not unprecedented in the U.S. The rounded nod of the bassline recalls deep South bounce and dancehall, as well as the Gorillaz-style Brit-pop-meets-hip-hop that has found a niche on 99X.
Nevertheless, Williams claims, "We get flack. People call and say, 'You're New Rock 99X, not New Rap 99X. Stop playing Eminem and the Roots!' But if we're really an 'alternative' station, then that's what it means -- we find great things that have a great fanbase and provide exposure."
For his part, Skinner's accustomed to a little public flack since his critical success in America. "With the name, I think a lot of people thought I was trying to get over something," he reflects. "I was in Chicago and supported by this rap band and I heard them chatting, saying I called myself 'The Streets' but [that] I wasn't from the streets.
"In a way, I should have called it 'The Roads' for the rest of the world, but 'streets' is an English word. I don't mean the American streets, which usually means a different type of inner-city living. I mean the normal, everyday British streets, the kind of streets I walk down and hear different music, all my mates' different accents all in one block, the kind of things that continue to inspire my new productions and just my life every day. My influences come from the streets, and the music's meant to reflect them back."
If hearing The Streets on 99X or seeing Skinner and company perform at The Big Rock is even baby steps toward achieving a British sense of integration, perhaps things on this side of the pond truly can be pushed forward.
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