Dear Kendrick,

I got no game. Supporting points:

  • Grew up in the suburbs
  • Thought Rosecrans was a person
  • Regularly browse toddler clothing in stores & online (in my defense, my daughter is a toddler)
  • Work from home

At the same time, I find myself disproportionately drawn to your music. My interest in rap waxes and wanes – Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre, Blackalicious, Clipse – and with the exception of Beasties the romances have been fleeting.

What is it about you? The beats get me, no denying that. In 2012, I happily bobbed my head and recited lyrics about “the women, weed and weather” of Los Angeles and swimming pools full of liquor. A lack of personal identification with the topics never phased me.

Then something changed. TPAB was released and its lyrics were so heavily thematic that I felt kind of guilty listening to it. The struggles you wrote about seemed so much more visceral and urgent than my own, and a voice deep down in my gut said “This is not for you.”

I stopped listening. You released Untitled Unmastered, I had a baby and the entire focal point of my life changed. My brain changed. And yet I find myself, two years later, intensely listening to DAMN. on a daily basis. Songs about “real nigger conditions” and hypothetical sexy fights do not apply to me, my family or friends.

Or do they? Themes of anger, frustration, inequality and injustice are (somewhat) universal. Women are by nature subjected to various forms of inequality — some subtle, others less so. Comments can be brushed off, glances ignored, but the double standards are hard or impossible to shake. [Insert vast amounts of supporting evidence from the current US political catastrophe here.]

Despite personal reflection on the topic, overt feminist stances and literature never interest me. Endless torment from female peers throughout my formative years left a bad taste in my mouth. (A little chub and lot of introversion go a long way toward making one an outcast.) Decades later, I still find myself unwilling to rally with many who share my gender yet worry that my daughter will endure similar struggles and wonder what I can do about it.

At minimum I will make sure my quietly simmering fire never burns out, and your music stokes it like kindling. 10–15 years from now, when my baby has trouble with the mean girls at school, I will assure her that they’re jealous of the ambition and flow inside her DNA.

I’m unabashedly appropriating your lyrics to fit my lifestyle am certain that, despite my previous uncertainty, your music is. for. me.

Much respect,

Dear UK-ers/Mike Skinner/U.S. Music Fans (who may, or may not, be prepared for the imminent British Rap Invasion),

Sometime in the early 2000’s I got really into The Streets. If you’re reading this from the UK or Europe you’re probably nodding your head right now, “Yeah, yeah, The Streets…that bloke Mike Skinner.” But, if you’re reading this in the U.S., you may be already bored. You may not have heard of The Streets. I don’t say this to be elitist (but you can accuse me of that if you feel so inclined). I say this because there was no one else that I personally knew here in the U.S. who was taking a ride on the UK garage train at that time (Streets message board folk-you don’t count-you existed only online).

Based off of internet researching I did between 2000 something and 2007 I gathered that Mike Skinner was a big deal in the UK. Top of the Pops performing, BRIT Awards winning, Reading festival performing, beloved by NME big. Side note: I miss Top of the Pops (loved that show). I knew nothing of garage music, UK or otherwise. Consequently, The Streets sounded extremely fresh to me, totally new and unfamiliar in the best of ways. While I’ve always liked to think I have/had broad musical tastes the truth is I like a lot of rock n’ roll. Guitars, drums, G-Em-C-D chord progressions, verses and choruses….that whole bit. Original Pirate Material (“OPM”) was like the key to an entirely new land of music that I never even knew existed.

That’s not the only reason I got into The Streets. There were other factors. For one thing, a young Mike Skinner is easy on the eyes. He had/has that classically British droopy eye thing going for him. Paul McCartney had/has it too. I’m pretty sure it is uniquely British. Is there a name for it? Dreamy bloke disease? Geezer syndrome? It’s possible that you people in the UK take it for granted. You may not even realize it is a thing. Let me be the first to tell you that it is most definitely a thing.

But, Mike Skinner’s droopy eyes aside, OPM is really a most amazing album. Bias disclosed: I’m a real sucker for musicians who hole up alone, creating albums that have input from others but seem to mostly develop out of their own isolation. Per Wikipedia, “The recording of Original Pirate Material lasted over a year, with Skinner recording the bulk of the album in the room he was renting in a house in Brixton in south London. The instrumental tracks were created on an IBM ThinkPad, while Skinner used an emptied out wardrobe as a vocal booth, using duvets and mattresses to reduce echo.” An emptied out wardrobe serving as a vocal booth!?!?!?! Yes, please, always! Mike Skinner if you ever offer a recording class that teaches the intricacies of using wardrobes, duvets, and mattresses, I will be the first to register.

If you pretend that “Sharp Darts” and “Who Got the Funk” were tracks that somehow accidentally slipped onto the album, the rest of OPM is flawless. All of it clever, none of it boring despite it’s a day in the life focus, and most importantly (at least to a non-UK-er) so very very British. Per this article, Mike Skinner wasn’t very optimistic about Americans accessing his music. Let this letter stand as a counter point to that idea. You don’t have to be British to be obsessed with The Streets.

Bias disclosure number 2: I have always been obsessed with “British things.” Case in point; fell in love with The Beatles beginning in 2nd grade, watched the cartoon Danger Mouse religiously as a child, got into The Young Ones as a teen, and then—the final straw— lived in London for a semester during college. It’s true. Most certainly that study abroad experience is what built the bridge between my American mind and my receptivity for The Streets. When I first discovered it around 2004 or so, OPM served as some type of nostalgia for me as not that long ago I had lived in Kensington, just a short walk from the Baron’s Court tube stop. It was in 2000, the doomsday year when everyone thought society would come crashing to the ground because of the Y2K problem a.k.a. the Millennium Bug.

Ah, but Millennium Bugs are overrated!

The winter/spring of 2000 was glorious in London!

For those few short months it was all visiting Peter Pan statues, exploring night clubs, picking up our weekly stipends and spending them on the dark chocolate covered Hob Nobs and/or buying Crunchie bars from the vending machines in the tube stations, Pimm’s cups, buying platform boots in Covent Garden, eating our first knickerbocker glory ice cream sundaes, seeing Hefner live at a University, learning about buskers, getting used to brusquely being told “keep right” by locals, enjoying the sights and smells at Brighton Beach, seeing Belinda Carlisle lip synch at a frequently visited gay club, dancing wildly at this club in platform boots bought in Covent Garden, traveling to Kings Cross to see an all-girl punk band called Vyvyan, briefly co-hosting a show on the local University’s radio station with my “flat mate,” laughing with this flat mate about how it always seemed that the “bloke” who assisted in setting up for the show seemed to regularly leave a silent but deadly fart in his wake before leaving the booth, and finally Alice Deejay. Lots and lots of Alice Deejay as far as the ear could hear. You couldn’t escape this song in London in the year 2000. It would hunt you down and force you to love it. And, I did.

But, hold it down; it seems my head’s getting blurred. My experience in London was certainly that of an outsider. I cannot lay claim to truly understanding the culture. I do not use the phrase “go on” in my day to day life (but oh how I would like to!). I am used to drinking lemonade that is not carbonated. Oy is not part of my vocabulary. And yet, still, The Streets made sense to me because OPM was like an audio portal capable of transporting me right back to that gloriously grey and moderately temperate place that I had enjoyed so fully despite the fears that pervaded regarding the beginning of the millennium.

I saw The Streets perform in 2006 at the Intonation Music Festival in Chicago. I was so into them at that time (yes, my obsession lasted years) that I flew to Chicago, went to the festival, and then flew out of Chicago the following day. Lady Sovereign was an opening act and I was so sure that UK rap was going to break through into mainstream American music. Did it? Does Lilly Allen count? Kate Nash? Nope. I think I’m just grasping at straws here.

OPM, A Grand Don’t Come For Free, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living – these albums changed my perspective on music. They broadened it. Mike Skinner had a radio show on the BBC where he would play, and talk about, music he liked. I listened in (thank you internet) and was exposed to Reggaeton. Again, my musical tastes grew. Here’s an oldie but goodie from that genre/time.

Music is amazing in this way isn’t it? Mike Skinner openly shared that he was exposed to “American rap” and that this music was what inspired him to create OPM. I got into OPM, despite up until then being a pretty diehard rock music fan, which then led me into other genres of music like Reggaeton (which is rap, yes? No? Would you like to write on that topic for this very blog?). The U.S. and UK have this lovely little relationship connected to music don’t they? UK people appreciate the music and artists that we either ignore or take for granted (blues, Jimi Hendrix, too many artists to list). Then they make their own version of it and sell it back to us (The Beatles, The Stones, pretty much all of the British Invasion, Led Zeppelin, Mike Skinner). We eat it up. We can’t get enough. Because after all, they’ve got droopy brown eyes and use terms like “chuffed.” What’s not to like really?

Thank you Mr. Skinner for your witty lyrics, clever rhymes, and (former) bare bones recording techniques. I miss your music. A British Rap Invasion awaits. I’m certain of this.


Addendum: While writing this letter I revisited A Grand Don’t Come For Free. That album will make you fall in love with Mike Skinner/The Streets, guaranteed. If you haven’t listened to it (ever) (recently), please make it a priority. You won’t regret it (he rhymes naught with out and makes it work).

To Adam Horovitz, Michael Diamond and Adam Yauch,

1992. I was twelve years old. My compact disc collection was infantile, my room still being full of cassette tapes. Music was always such a mood lifter for me that when I got grounded, it would be taken away from me and that was horror in my mind. End of the world, apocalyptic heart attack serious. In this day, akin to throwing away my hard drives and removing all wifi. Deserved, though, as I was a huge pain in the ass. That got the point across. The refreshment of getting back what means the most to you is indescribably elating. What meant the most to me in 1992, other than little girls and trouble, was my microcosm of a music collection. My first discs were Nevermind and Check Your Head. Monuments. 

Starters, I can still listen to this album today and thoroughly enjoy it. Not because of pure nostalgia, more so due to the awesome amalgamation that was/is Check Your Head. I had been a huge fan of Licensed To Ill and Paul’s Boutique, but never saw this coming. LTI was a trumped up braggadocio, bravado, intentionally in your face parade of hormones and hedonism. Paul’s was a total departure, and pretty much overlooked by most until further listening. Leaving Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin was a definite turning point, and opened up creative endeavors. The bouillabaisse at the end of that album should’ve prepared me.

As soon as the first track starts, I get goosebumps. You can feel the passion, angst, purpose, and love immediately. No major hip-hop acts were doing anything like this at the time. I was floored. So much so that I purchased this twice on VHS…

…and I still don’t have a copy due to pilfering after viewing, like the way loaning books means they’ll never return. The artwork alone sold me on this album. Browsing through music shops was much like grocery stores—design and packaging would lure me in. The design of this, prior to listening, made me want to grow up fast and create aesthetically pleasing things. Basically how you eat with your eyes first.


This was one of those meals that looked terrific and did not disappoint. Everything was about shedding light and peace and happiness, whilst sounding badass. Which, in my opinion, is as essential as altruism. I did not have a chance to be present for this tour but got to see the Ill Communication tour with A Tribe Called Quest. I get the polar opposite of douche chills just recollecting that.

(This is a taste, although a few years later:)

The energy and uplifting spirit of your output, particularly on this album, inspired millions. Most importantly, myself. The letting go, and just doing what you felt like doing in your hearts, comes through incredibly. Kicking expectations and outside judgments to the curb, and letting each member coalesce, conveying much in such little time, resonates to this day. Harmony. The thing everyone searches for. Somehow, my budding naïve mind could feel that, and still does.

You made me grow as a person, and I am forever grateful.


Pass the Mic


So What’cha Want