The Story of The Streets, By Mike Skinner

Anything but middle of the road

Steve Jelbert
Saturday 31 March 2012 23:00

Traditionally, when rappers put pen to paper they have wisdom to impart. Whether it's successfully surviving bullet wounds or successfully creating a multinational multimedia empire, lessons learned can be passed along. Mike Skinner, the mastermind behind The Streets and just about the first Briton to succeed in the genre with native subject matter and accent, mercifully remains an exception.

Not that he entirely resists the didactic approach. In the process of telling The Story of The Streets, he demonstrates the difference between synecdoche and metonymy, explains just how to fix your side-chains to your house beats and, inexplicably, goads the reader to ponder alternative approaches to primary health care. Beyond that, this book gets genuinely peculiar. As a narrative account of a fairly successful career that stretched from his bedroom to a role as a reliable festival geezer-pleaser, it's adequate. As a playful description of what pop stardom allows you to get away with, it's a gem.

The structure is supposedly based on Robert McKee's Story, beloved by unproduced scriptwriters. Not that you'll notice. At times, Skinner's verbal circumlocutions are so tortuous that one suspects that this selectively open storyteller intends to put off curious readers. And you can imagine the scene on the tour bus: the band at the back sharing a pipe while their boss sits up front perusing self-help manuals and experiencing a commonality of vacuity. But when Skinner is mocking the Sting-like omniscience of Damon Albarn or explaining how Liam Gallagher "makes a living as a badly behaved maverick", his restless intelligence shows.

A fascinating blend of self-doubt and boundless confidence, Skinner can't be flash even when he tries. He loses hundreds of thousands of pounds on online spread-betting, the very definition of inconspicuous consumption. Always eager to learn, he chums up with middle of the road popstars such as Coldplay and Muse, and sits in on record company board meetings in New York to learn how the Americans make hit hip-hop records. (The answer: they get a specialist to pen the choruses; confirmation of Skinner's suspicion that perspiration beats inspiration).

Curiously, at no point while reading his book did actually listening to his music occur to me. But Skinner's focussed singularity cannot be denied. Expect a sequel in a decade, possibly covering a career in movies or space travel.

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