Council Estate Of Mind – Skinnyman

A bit late, in that it came out last year, but I’ve only just got it, and really want to give it a bit of a push. I think it’s the best straight hip hop album produced in the UK last year (that is, I am excluding The Streets and Dizzee) and one of the best five produced anywhere.

It couldn’t be mistaken for American: it’s about living in London, on rough council estates. Its one fault may be overdoing the samples – there are large chunks of Tim Roth from the great TV play Made In Britain all over this album. They’re very apt, but there is an awful lot of it. It’s justified by the close relationship between that tremendous play and what he’s talking about here – that’s the life he is describing, and I believe and feel pretty much every word of what he’s saying. I don’t disbelieve the Wu or West Coast gangsta rappers when they talk about the US equivalent, but I don’t know that life, it doesn’t resonate with me the way this does.

But even aside from that plus point for UK listeners (well, at least those with some familiarity with the underbelly of life here), this is a terrific album. He’s an intelligent writer who has developed good flow, his own very distinct rhythms and delivery which fit his subjects and themes perfectly. I wouldn’t claim he has one of the great flows by any means, but he makes it work superbly. That’s one key part of making great hip hop, and the other, where the UK has also been weak a lot of the time, is the production. I guess the money isn’t here for the big slick production of a lot of US hip hop, but that is far from what is needed for this. It needs to sound tough and real, and it does, but there are also some stronger tunes on here than we are accustomed to in the UK. I don’t know whether many Americans would take to this, not that that is any kind of criterion anyway, and I don’t imagine he’ll be storming the UK charts either with what is pretty unhappy and tense material, but I think this is the best real hip hop album this country has so far produced, and deserves rather more attention.