Skinnyman - Council Estate of Mind (Review)
August 9th, 2004. I was thirteen going on twenty. It was the summer holidays, I probably spent that day either riding my bike around the city, playing football or lighting fires down the brook. Not much about that summer sticks out in my memory other than a few weeks later I would be introduced to in my opinion, the greatest UK hip-hop album of my generation. By thirteen I was already confident in my music, having two older brothers who introduced me to it from an early age. I felt like by thirteen, I could already separate the wheat from the chaff.
By 2004, Dizzee Rascal already had two albums on the shelves. Wiley, Roll deep etc had been representing UK rhymers for a few years by the way of Grime music (through promotions such as Sidewinder and Eskidance). So, the streets were already buzzing with lyricists but to this point we had yet to really experience an actual hip-hop artist. The problem that our scene encountered from early was that of identity. If you check out anything from the UK pre-2000 the same thing keeps popping up, and that’s the use of an American accent; This is something I have noticed with the scene spreading across Europe. It’s not a criticism, as much as just finding your particular sound. I have always looked at our scene as ten or fifteen years behind that of America’s; Even looking as closely at my own city of Gloucester, for too long people were rapping with a London accent and using London slang. If you study hip-hop like I have my whole life, you notice that it even took ten years or so for rappers from the south to rap in their own voice. The bar was set in New York. These things take time, so eventually we were going to find ours.
At some point during the summer of 2004 I was handed a copy Skinnyman’s ‘Council Estate of Mind’. The person who gave me the copy was a few years older than me and in terms of music, I certainly looked up to. I had never heard of Skinnyman, but before I even listened to the first track I had a connection with the white skinny rapper from a council estate. I remember listening to the album from the beginning to the end and being blown away by the story telling abilities and pure rawness on show. By this point in my life, my favourite rapper was Nas - Simply for his ability to paint a picture in my mind with what seemed like pure ease. I had never quite found this before in any other UK artists, whether it be Grime or Rap. Here was an album where not only was someone else pulling it off, but he is also talking about a struggle that I, and many others can relate to.
So, what is that makes this album so timeless? For me this is an album that really does not get enough credit when spoken amongst the greats. Naturally being from England makes me slightly biased when rating this album in my top ten; I just think If the album was released in today’s golden age of J Hus, Nines and numerous other acts, then it would be held in higher regard. The production stands alone for its time, as most UK producers were still trying to find their own style and most beats were being produced in bedrooms. But on this occasion a perfect balance has been struck to make this for me, one of only around ten albums that I can listen to from track one to the very end. Council estate of mind was released thirteen years ago, and I can honestly say that not a year has gone by where I haven’t listened to it. Styles change, music evolves but some projects are timeless.