Not just standing on the corner

Mike Skinner is a perfectionist.

As the voice behind The Streets, England’s alt-garage hip-hop phenomenon, he and his dutiful attention to detail have done much to pave the way for other rap ingenues like Dizee Rascal, the most recent recipient of Britain’s coveted Mercury Prize for music.

Skinner’s critical eye is apparent on his most recent record, A Grand Don’t Come for Free, a sort of working-class spoken word revolving door of alcoholism and the events surrounding a day in Skinner’s life (returning videos to the rental store, fighting with his girlfriend, having a chemically enhanced good time at a nightclub and losing $1,000).

“Beer and brandy are really my things,” Skinner said last week before his June 18 performance at Park City’s Harry O’s. “Actually, my favorite drink is Grand Cru…it’s a certain type of courvoisier. It’s quite rare.”

Skinner’s favorite drink isn’t the only thing that’s rare-so is his offbeat brand of lyricism and beat composition.

Unmistakably unique and unlike anything else-including The Streets’ first record-A Grand is a simple, clean departure from the oh-so-British one-liners that made his first record a runaway success (“‘Round here, we call em’ birds, not bitches”).

It’s a step in a new, more personal direction for Skinner.

“I know myself really well,” Skinner said. “I’m really hard on myself.”

It’s a good thing, too.

Without attention to detail, A Grand could easily have become an amateurish conceptual flop-a tired and forced attempt at romanticizing the mendacity of everyday life.

As it is, however, A Grand is nothing like that. As opposed to glamorizing his life, Skinner presents it honestly, with a quick wit and straightforward delivery.

The natural feel of A Grand might have something to do with the routine Skinner follows while recording.

“I do it all in my bedroom,” Skinner said. “I write while I’m recording. I’m always recording…and rerecording, [trying to] get the performance better. Things are changing all the time.”

Couple this progressive-and inevitably stressful-mentality with the pressures of creating a follow-up to a critically acclaimed debut album and an image of the hectic head space Skinner has recently occupied starts to take shape.

“When I’m not in the studio, I’m quite stressed because I’m not getting better at what I’m wanting to be very good at,” Skinner said. “But I think stress makes the album better. It’s what makes sure that my standards are high. The way I know when something is pretty is when I can listen to it and it doesn’t annoy me.”

Annoyance wasn’t really a problem for Skinner at his show in Park City.

After The Pharcyde prepped the crowd and the X-Ecutioners did their best to show that an emcee isn’t mandatory in a hip-hop group, Skinner took the stage-talkative, interactive and a little tipsy-shedding a brief, if not uniquely illuminating, light on the differences between American crowds and those back home.

“[The crowds in America] are good…but it’s not like being in England,” Skinner said. “I think we come across as being, you know, kind of alcoholics on stage.”

And that’s really the most amazing thing about The Streets, when it comes right down to it, not the fact that Skinner is so unlike any other artist, nor that his narrative style is so engrossing, nor that his most recent single sits atop British pop charts right now, but rather that American kids, with their 50-Cent and Miller Lite, are somehow finding a connection with the skinny, unassuming, brandy-drinking hip-hopper behind the band.

Who knows, if The Streets’ success doesn’t give out on Skinner soon, the next trend in music may well become watching football (not the NFL) instead of “The O.C.,” and drinking brandy with your mates instead of draining 40s with your homies.

And that’d be just fine.

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