“This is the day in the life of a geezer.”
Released during Blair’s Britain and the decline of UK garage’s omnipresence in the charts, Mike Skinner’s ‘Original Pirate Material’ told the tale of stumbling in and out of pubs, getting into scrapes at the chippy, and “sex, drugs ‘n’ on the dole.”
To this day it’s one of the most vivid evocations of being young and British in the early-Noughties. Skinner invited us into his world as a bored everyman, narrating day-to-day blandness in his Brummie accent. We saw him peeling off beer bottle labels in East End boozers, pulling on his Nike Classics, and getting in rounds of Smirnoff Ice. These snapshots of London living (“mine’s a Kronenbourg, mate”) and hallmarks of the era (“you won’t find us on Alta Vista”) elevated it past an album to a work of cultural significance. Skinner’s genius wasn’t in glamorising urban life, but portraying the concrete emptiness, and banality, of the streets.
When it was released in ’02, the album earned critical praise across the board (except from America, which didn’t know what to make of Mike and dubbed him the UK’s answer to Eminem). Despite being influenced by the likes of RZA and Nas’s ‘Illmatic’ himself, Skinner slammed UK hip-hop at the time as “someone from Reading pretending to be Biggie or Q-Tip.” Instead, he opted for 2-step garage beats (produced by himself on Logic) and Specials-esque ska (on ‘Let’s Push Things Forward’) to rap over.
At times the production is almost laughably low-grade - Skinner recorded it in a Brixton flat using an emptied-out wardrobe as a sound booth and duvets to reduce echo. It’s all about those little idiosyncrasies, though - the splayed piano chord on ‘Has It Come To This?’ is something that's now embedded into the British psyche.
With a style that sat somewhere between slam poetry and UK hip-hop, Skinner’s observational, stream-of-consciousness style encompassed ‘your mum’ jokes, nightclubs, and getting pilled up at the weekend. Mostly it was laugh-out-loud remarks, but the 21-year-old’s wordplay cut the deepest on tear-jerking love story ‘It’s Too Late’: “We met through a shared view / She loved me and I did too.” ‘Geezers Need Excitement’ offered three cautionary tales against the trappings of violence, ‘Let’s Push Things Forward’ decried the cookie cutter nature of the UK dance scene, while ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’ was a relatable case of mates vs. girls, with a greasy spoon for a stage set. Making one of the strongest arguments for the decriminalisation of weed was ‘The Irony Of It All’ - Skinner played Terry, a drunken lout, and mellow engineering student Tim, who likes a toke while watching Kung Fu movies and pondering Carl Jung.
“I produced this using only my bare wit / Give me a jungle, a garage beat, and admit defeat.” ‘Original Pirate Material’ gave UK music the kick to the backside it really needed - and this album has stood the test of time while sounding supremely of its time. To parrot Skinner’s own line: let’s push things forward.
Words: Felicity Martin
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1. ‘Turn The Page’
2. ‘Has It Come To This?’
3. ‘Let’s Push Things Forward (ft. Kevin Mark Trail)’
4. ‘Sharp Darts’
5. ‘Same Old Thing (ft. Kevin Mark Trail)’
6. ‘Geezers Need Excitement’
7. ‘It’s Too Late’
8. ‘Too Much Brandy’
9. ‘Don't Mug Yourself’
10. ‘Who Got The Funk?’
11. ‘The Irony Of It All’
12. ‘Weak Become Heroes’
13. ‘Who Dares Wins’
14. ‘Stay Positive’
2002: IN THE NEWS
• The Euro is officially introduced in the Eurozone countries.
• Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Golden Jubilee.
• Jam Master Jay is shot dead at a studio in Queens. Run-D.M.C. disbands.
• Slobodan Miloševic’s trial begins at the United Nations war crimes tribunal.
• Ian Huntley is charged with the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman
2002: THE ALBUMS
Eminem - ‘The Eminem Show’
Beck - ‘Sea Change’
Missy Elliot - ‘Under Construction’
Wilco - ‘Yankee Foxtrot Hotel’
Interpol - ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’