10 years ago, I was 14. Napster was dead in the water, and if you were daring enough to illegally download music, using Kazaa was the quickest way to infect your computer with all manner of trojans and viruses.
I had the smallest little black radio, which allowed me to switch between two radio stations. The most popular in my town was the Brighton-based Southern FM. Sister station of Capital, it's a station I hold dear to my heart, somewhere I ended up hosting a show on later that summer. But when the 'smooth' and 'sexy' programming began, it was time to switch over to Radio 1 - at that age such an intimidating and raw for me.
My musical knowledge was vague. I was still playing catch-up from the last decade of brilliant pop music that I hadn't even bothered to acknowledge the plethora of other amazing genres that perhaps, these-days, I would say I'm aware of. We listened to songs in the common room - and if they were a terrible blend of pop and punk, they'd probably get turned up. Either that, or bloody Nelly and Kelly Rowland's Dilemma duet would haunt our eardrums like a never-ending nightmare.
My dad worked in a factory on nights. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but he was working with some fantastic musical visionaries. I'd only had my mind blown once before through my own musical discovery. Switching over to a late night Pete Tong session on Radio 1, he dropped a brand new track for a band called 'The Gorillaz'. It was Clint Eastwood and it was fucking brilliant.
But one day, my dad popped his head into my wank-rag infested cesspit aka my bedroom, furthest room upstairs in our little semi-detached council house in West Sussex and offered me a new CD to listen to. "The lads at work played it last night, I think you'll like it." This was major. My dad, a failed musician but still a huge influence in my glam rock guilty pleasures, he was a man who spent his youth chasing the likes of Queen and Thin Lizzy around the country, only to be stopped by the arrival of I.
Yet, the only real interest I'd shown apart from enjoying the likes of Mr Oizo's Flat Beat, that dreadful DJ Otzi cover of a wonderful Bruce Channel song and of course Three Lions and anything else football related (I once sung a rendition of the Jarrow Marchers protest in a school assembly), all my Geordie father knew of my musical tastes was that I didn't mind listening to the likes of Linkin Park, 50 Cent and of course, R Kelly. I think I actually once told someone I wished I was black.
So to be presented with this CD was certainly something that aroused my curiosities. For once, he hadn't just asked me to burn off a pirate CD to keep his work mates happy (there were many requests, as I was the only kid in the town with a CD burner), but had flicked on my stereo and stuck the CD on.
"That's it, turn the page on the day, walk away. 'Cause there's sense what I say. I'm 45th generation Roman but I don't know 'em."
What the fuck was this?! A Brummie rapping marvellously grandiloquent in the least-convincing way I'd ever heard, yet BANG. 45th generation Roman? Man, I studied Latin and this shit spoke to me! Yikes, this was exciting. The beats were upbeat, the flow was lucid, and the interspersed R&B choruses right up my street. Shit, Dad. This is fucking amazing. It was almost like he'd heard "Stand by me my apprentice!" and just knew this was the one for me.
I mean, this was raw-boned. This shit wasn't out in the shops yet, but my dad's colleague in the factory had noticed my hard work in burning pirate CDs for them in the past and decided that it was time to reward me. With my own original pirate material. This was before Dizzee. Before the country rolled out of their slouch and we were blessed with a real hope that UK hip-hop could be more than just an aspiring frontier outpost of the imperial American homeland
10 years on, it's difficult not to ignore how fantastic Mike Skinner's observational song-writing skills really were on this record. We're spoilt for choice in that genre now, but at the time, if you weren't wet-behind-the-ears and listening to Dido or Travis, this was someone who could speak directly to a nationwide constituency in a voice entirely his own. A rapper who channelled the Kinks with his words and the musicality of The Specials.
Way before the apotheosis of UK hip-hop and grime, the closest Britain had been to a musical revolution from the streets was garage music. I used to try to wake up early enough to catch The Dreem Team on Radio 1 on Saturday mornings, and I'd blag my way through lessons at school with the cooler chavs who said they all had their own Technics and we MCed our way through lunch breaks spitting rhymes that would even make the writers of Sesame Street blush.
Right, so we'd had the So Solid Crew's 21 Seconds and the older lads on my school travels blasted Wu Tang's Gravel Pit on a regular level from the back of the bus, but I'd never heard a line that had resonated with how I actually felt. I'd listened to the likes of 50 Cent and Eminem entertain or glorify for me, but I didn't even know wordsmiths existed, never-mind that it was a real word? I still don't even know?
This was prickly yet upbeat yet fun yet it made me stop twice to hear what he'd just said and think about that. I'd never done drugs, I didn't even know what drugs were called, I certainly didn't know about any of the side effects of drugs, but the music was so pumping and the lyrics spoke to me as although Mike Skinner had gone out of his way to make sure his voice was to become the leader of my own personal government constituency.
"Hold it down boy, your head's getting blurred! I know you can't stop thinking of her! Like girl is she as smelly ala piss! She must have crab and fuck' shrimp in her teeth!"
It's crude. It's vile. It's exactly what a 14 year old boy wants to hear in his bedroom. Endorsed by his father, no less. An album packed full of popular culture references, that I, a closet geek, could truly endorse: "you won't find us on Altavista". Too right, it was shit even then.
Then there was 'The Irony Of It All'. Now probably the most annoying song ever made to most of us, but at the time, this was the Holy fucking Bible:
"Ooh, the pizza's here ... will someone let him in please? We didn't order chicken ... Not a problem, we'll pick it out."
I didn't even know about weed. I didn't even care. I liked the bacchanal of 'Too Much Brandy' but it was the lagered-up Terry the law-abider that really got my juices going. I hated these pompous twats. I'd seen those pricks before, and the pathological self-effacement of the mild-mannered bong-builder of Tim inspired me to become a liberal way before I even considered myself as one.
These days, I can't listen to all this stuff about getting the hot girl and drinking champagne on the dancefloor in the club. The beats are great, I've played them out but I don't find myself reciting the words as if Socrates had personally said them to me, but on Original Pirate Material, I guarantee you, I was that kid, in the class room, slipping verses in any kind of context I could find.
Original Pirate Material is ecstatic. It's nervy. It's uncertain. It had no idea what it was at the time, that it would last the test of time like it has, but at the same time, it was also a record that blew everyone's expectations out of the water, way before we regressed into accepting an annual offering from Simon Cowell's X Factor and if Skinner hadn't of become a bit of a weirdo recluse, we might have finally found the spokesperson for our generation that would have rallied us all to greater places both socially and musically.
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