It's Lonely Out in The Streets

A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice/Atlantic)
The Streets

By Sean Hoban

In the past few years, the Streets have made a name with their smart, clever rhymes, laid out with a British accent over really spare beats. Original Pirate Material, from 2002, showed phenomenal creativity and a really smooth, smart attitude. Their newest, A Grand Don't Come For Free, is stacking up solid sales with its super cool style. It's a pretty tight seller, partly because the eleven songs on the disc ambitiously venture to tell an intimate "day in the life" story. This concept is as old as the Beatles, but one rarely finds a whole album dedicated to the task.

Each four- to five-minute bit details losing money on the way to the bank, a tiff with the girlfriend, thoughts while flirting at the bar and frustration over cell phones. Small critiques on nightclubs and football matches are followed by heavy relationship troubles and discussions of drugged-out friends. Such a crystal clear self-examination is pretty unique in hip-hop's rough and tuff world.

At times both despondent and defiant, the lead singer trades rhyme and verse with both male and female backup singers as well as himself in a nifty conversation style. There's a scant bit of humor, which fades towards the end of the record in favor of a bit of dark tension built up with strings, trombones and wind instruments. The orchestral feel is the last thing one would expect from rap, but there it is. This is not your mama's hip-hop.

"Dry Your Eyes," the second to last tune, is a hugely insightful summary of the feeling of the end of things. The epic is then closed out by the eight-minute long, antisocial "Empty Cans," that begins pissed-off and finishes vaguely self-confident because "There's no one pushin' for you in the last garrison." It's a solid story and a rather deep record, a pure pleasure to get to know. Enjoy.