Review Summary: Heavily analytical, socially aware without being preachy; This is truly the dog's knackers.
I would hope that I'm not alone in thinking that when a rap artist suddenly decides to wax philosophical after touting themselves as a serial murderer, womanizer, bigot, and a general walking cesspool of depravity, that the results are always banal and derivative at best, or indeed, empty and cringeworthy at worst. Personally, I can't even suffer it by rationalising that the more unsavoury choices of subject matter as jokes and not to be believed. That's a cop-out, and I simply can't abide it.
So as you can imagine, hip-hop had left me deflated, wondering if I'd ever find something a bit more weighty, not full of empty rhymes vaguely categorising societal flaws without really saying anything. And then, thanks to the film AdULTHOOD, I discovered Skinnyman, and his debut (and to date, only) album.
Council Estate of Mind kicks off with '*** The Hook', a crowd chant leading way to an American woman declaring, "At this time, brothers and sisters, it's my pleasure to introduce...A brother who's been around for a long, long time". It's immediately apparent that you're in for something fantastic, and then the beat hits, and my god, the beat doesn't pull its punches when it does. It's sparsely filled without actually seeming empty, with plenty of stop/start bow-chikka-wow-wow-type drum flourishes to make the rap being laid over the top of it a compliment to it overall, rather than the focal point. Skinnyman's flow is low and buttery, declaring his mission in wet, fast tones, each word carefully measured, "I don't wanna blow up, throughout every era I've been here
So far the underground circuit has been fair
The home of hip hop, can you say you've been there?
Home's where the heart is so hip hop lives right here
I'm from UK, to you that might seem rare
I'm steppin' up now to make sure I seem clear
In every council estate we've got pure talent
No one don't care because we're seen as a challenge "
After this, we hear "Hayden", and this is where I need to give a little background on the albums overarching concept; Partly, it's based on the movie, "Made In Britain", (A very good film, detailing 2 days in the life of a 16 year-old skinhead) and it's also a fictionalised retelling of Skinnyman's own life and all the things he saw growing up in London. Getting back to it, "Hayden", has a ghostly, upbeat tempo and a bouncy, slovenly-paced sound, detailing, (among other things) how students and teachers antagonize each other, and how it's due to many myriad factors, not just one faction attempting to assert dominance. "Teachers who saw their education as a blessin,
Come to school now all in a sort of depression.
All of the kids in the class, they're all stressin,
The teacher's just waitin for that first kid to test him
So school doesn't seem like it's any kind of lesson
We're out on the streets tryna make our possession
The manor that we're from has turned like spaghetti western
With itchy fingers on the triggers ready for the pressin and it's
Pure depression, I'm standin at the crossroads
Thinkin 'bout all the other children of the lost souls".
Skinnyman's subversion of some many of hip-hops hallmarks and cliches (and open-armed acceptance of others) leave a real feeling of anxiousness as to just what he'll say next. For example, in That's What I'm Gonna Do, and Life In My Rhymes, he tells us he deals drugs to finance both his music career and look after his son. We are informed about his past life of mugging and violent crime, without boasting or even remote ego-stroking, instead expressing extreme regret and a will to change from how he used to be. He does however, have supreme disdain for the mainstream radio for always choosing to pass up on playing his and his friend's music, instead preffering to play more mainstream hip-hop.
A major aspect of this album that I enjoy, as stated above, is the beats. Sampling heavily from the 60's, 70's, and 80's, they range in sound from jumpy, ska-laden numbers ("Council Estate of Mind", "I'll be Surprised") guitar-picked brooding pieces ("Day-To-Day Basis", "Little Man pt. 1 and 2") and, the two best songs on the album, featuring some very classy soul samples and some astounding lyrics, in the form of "Who, Me?" and "That's What I'm Gonna Do". I think Skinnyman's outlook on life and his goal with the album is best outlined in the title track, and a very fitting way to end the review.
"Life's kinda militant, stuck in the grime.
Nothing's equivalent to this Council Estate of Mind."
*** The Hook
Little Man pt.1 and 2
That's What I'm Gonna Do.