Record Rebound: The Streets reissue ‘A Grand Don’t Come for Free’ on its 20th anniversary

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Apologies if this makes you feel old: This month, A Grand Don’t Come for Free, the seminal second album released by The Streets, turns 20 years old. Following the unprecedented success of the 2002 debut, Original Pirate Material, project leader Mike Skinner sought new sonic territory and thematic refinement in a follow-up and left fans dazzled once again.

If Original Pirate Material laid the groundwork for a post-Britpop era embrace of hip-hop, garage and grime in the UK, A Grand Don’t Come for Free heard Skinner master the art of storytelling. The compelling concept album chronicles the trials and tribulations of your average bloke navigating the figurative potholes in the streets of south London. From the highs of romance to the crushing lows of losing a thousand quid, Skinner’s lyrical prowess and distinctive delivery paint a vivid picture of urban life.

Across eleven tracks, Skinner’s rap opera tracks the movements of an unnamed protagonist, examining his relationship with a girl called Simone under the blinding lights of chemical temptation. Ultimately, the story revolves around £1,000 that mysteriously disappears from the protagonist’s home and his desperate endeavours to recoup the loss.

In his 2012 book The Story of The Streets, Skinner remembered how A Grand Don’t Come for Free resulted from his fascination with “songwriting manuals and books by Hollywood screen-writing gurus”. For Skinner, it was a chance to start enacting his theories, “I wanted to try and put what I’d learnt from them into practice,” he added. “Every song needs a drama at the centre of it, and once you have the drama, the song writes itself – that’s what I firmly believed and still do believe. I’m not alone in this conviction, either. It’s something pretty much all rappers seem to be sure about.”

Musically, the album exercised an impressive breadth of Skinner’s production skills in an eclectic yet cohesive blend of electro, garage, and hip-hop. ‘Fit But You Know It’ and ‘Dry Your Eyes’ remain two of the album’s best-known tracks. They demonstrate the vast range of emotions Skinner can convey, from cheeky libertine to crushed loner. Elsewhere, ‘Blinded by the Lights’ takes an angst-ridden look at modern nightlife over an A-road synth line and vocals from Jacqueline Rawe. 

20 years on, this remarkable study of the modern metropolis remains an immovable presence in the music of the artists it inspires. The groundbreaking fusion of genres paved the way for a new wave of British musicians and producers, inviting them to challenge artistic conventions. Skinner’s most immediate footprint can be found in the UK garage and grime scenes, but his influence spans the globe and defies cliques.

On May 3rd, Skinner celebrates the 20th anniversary of A Grand Don’t Come for Free with a limited edition reissue. This unique collector’s item comes pressed on dark red vinyl in a two-LP set with a gatefold jacket emblazoned with the original artwork created by photographer Ewen Spencer. You can pre-order/purchase your copy here for £29.99.

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