Skittles - Poor With £100 Trainers
In the last couple of years, London has had to put up with numerous challenges to its position as the UK’s most forward-thinking cultural city. For a sustained period now, Manchester has been churning out cutting-edge music of the highest quality from a selection of taste-making producers, rendering it the pride of the North.
It’s no surprise then that the strongest UK hip hop album so far this year comes from Mancunian MC-producer, Skittles. Released on the amazing cross-genre label Estate Recordings, Poor With £100 Trainers is the rapper’s second album and features lead single Dot2Dot, the track that first alerted us to him. In his own words, “This is Crimewatch meets Shameless”.
As hip-hop albums go, it’s fairly typical as a collection of commentaries on life in deprived inner city areas, but a few things make this one stand out from the crowd.
Throughout, Skittles’ voice reveals a range of emotions, from pain (Shottin’) to outrage (Lyin’ Here), to resignation (Poor With £100 Trainers) and reflection (Bluse), which lends a whole lot of credibility to his socially conscious and politically-minded lyrics.
“I know how it might sound from a council house scoundrel. Who am I and what do I know? I ain’t no one, an opinionated debater debating the baitest debates”
It’s markedly sentimental and sombre in places, surprisingly even in the opening few tracks – as if Skittles is desperate to get a few things off his chest. The Arctic Monkeys-sampled Boys In Blue tells a gripping story of drug dealing, misspent youth and parental abandonment, told over the melancholic looped strings of a weeping guitar, and with a harrowing finale that harks back to Eminem’s Stan.
It’s not all doom and gloom though as there’s also a couple of crease-worthy skits, like Zeekos Our Tune that recounts the endeavours of one man trying desperately to ‘link one gyal’, told in the form of a classical fairytale.
The refined production values make it a joy to listen through, and though help was enlisted from the Estate Recordings family in the shape of Marka-man Dubphizix, D&B’s premier MC DRS, and dubstep don Chimpo on a few of the tracks, Skittles obviously has some serious skills of his own. There’s no one set style as he delves comfortably into the sounds of ska, funk, reggae, dubstep and of course hip hop beatsmithery.
The skits are of course secondary and the overriding feeling of the album is of disappointment with the status quo in Manchester and in the UK. But there’s a sense of resilience through Skittles’ quick-tongued lyricism that looks to redress the balance of power in the UK between politicians and “council house scoundrels”. Overall, it’s an effortlessly mature, emotive and composed album from arguably the best Northern hip-hop artist since Braintax. Big Skits is back with another banger!