Council Estate Of Mind
label: Low Life

production: Baby J, DJ Noize, Adam M., Stone, DJ Flip.

year of release: 2004
Fuck The Hook
Little Man (Part 1)
Little Man (Part 2)
Loves Gone From The Streets
Day To Day Basis
Life In My Rhymes
It's Over
I'll Be Surprised
Who? Me.
No Big Ting
Put In The Work
That's What I'm Gonna Do
Council Estate Of Mind

Council Estate Of Mind

"Who the hell is Skinnyman?" is what two out of the three people I told about this album replied, so perhaps a short introduction would be in place. Skinnyman, who's real name is Alex Holland, was born in Leeds and moved to London as a kid. After beeing a member of the Bury Crew, Skinnyman went on to form one of the best UK groups ever - The Mud Family - with Chester P and Mongo. Over the years they earned a reputation of being some of, if not the best battle emcees the UK had ever seen.
So while you might not know his name, this London emcee is no newbie, in fact he has been rapping for almost twenty years, and is probably as close to being a legend as any UK rapper will ever get. And therefore this album is one that the fans have been fiending for, for more than a decade. So lets have a look at it.
First the production: one half is produced by DJ Noize, three tracks by Baby J, two by Adam M and finally Stone and DJ Flip do one beat each. And all of them do a quite good job, I might add.
The first thing we hear is the "Intro," a conversation taken from an eighties TV-flick called "Made In Britain". It works well as it gives the listener a good idea about what's to come. In fact, the dialog from the film appears as a skit between every track. And that works very well as it keeps the album together very effectively, and provides a feeling almost of watching a movie. Not in a "Prince Among Thieves" kind of way. But it keeps the listeners attention when going from one track to the next. As most skits, they are not that interesting the tenth time around, but all in all they succeed in holding the album together.
The first real track is "Fuck The Hook" where Skinnyman introduces himself to the listener, over an uptempo, and very good Baby J beat. Drums, bass and a little voice sample are put together, and the result is simple but great. The title of this song later proves to be no coincidence, as only about half the tracks on this album have a hook.
Another good track is "Day To Day Basis". The laid back beat, fueled by a melodic guitar and some strings, doesn't impress too much. But it does what it's supposed to, and it does that well. On it, Skinny goes: "I don't want to move away from the flats/ but that's the only way for me to get away from these cats/ I sit and wonder why the fuck it has to be like that/ I wonder what it would have been like if we blew up in rap/ but that's a dream, and me I put reality first". And judging from this album, he does put reality over everything else. Another example of that is the title track "Council Estate Of Mind". Here Skinny proves that while he doesn't spit jaw dropping complexities, he can paint vivid pictures with the best of them. And he does just that over a DJ Flip production made from a very simple bass line, a dope piano and spiced up with some discrete strings, that compliments the lyrics perfectly and makes up another great track.
On "I'll Be Surprised", the first single off of this album, he goes on an all out killing spree. But even here - when he is all about snuffing his enemies - he squeezes in a comment like "I didn't want to resort to all the blood shed/ but now it's kill or be killed so I'ma fill 'em full of lead." Just to stress that violence is a necessary evil and not something he takes lightly.
And whether he talks in first or third person, you never doubt that a voice of experience is talking. He does what a good investigative journalist is supposed to do: writing objectively about personal experience. This may sound simple but in the real world it is rarely accomplished, as it more often than not ends up being either so personal that you can't see the big picture or so general that you loose sight of the people it's all about. Skinnyman manages to do what a lot of journalists fail to do. So while he is not always talking about himself explicitly, you never doubt that this is himself talking.
But while skinnyman balances on this knifesedge with great skill, him doing so is also the only major flaw in this album. Because the fact that he is walking that very thin line means that it does at times seem one-dimensional. In fact, every single track on this album is about more or less the same issues. But while that would make an average album as interesting as reading a phonebook, here it's done so well and saves this album from the fate suffered by countless thugged-out posers. Cause even though this album is mainly about guns, drugs and violence, unlike a lot of other albums with similar content, it is one that perfectly fits the old cliche of rap being the CNN of the streets. There is no glorifying of violence and no righteous preaching neither. The guy just tells it like it is, and that is what makes this album good: the fact that there is a person of flesh and blood putting his real life experiences into these rhymes, the fact that Skinnyman is not some made up alter ego indulging into cartoon-like endeavors, the fact that Skinnyman and Alex Holland is one and the same.
What does all this add up to then? Well, there are very good beats on this album, but you wont get a whiplash listening to it. And while the emceeing is even better, you will not end up with a broken rewind-button neither. What you will get though, is a ringside view into the daily struggle of the artist who calls himself Skinnyman. And that is, quite frankly, a fight you don't want to miss.
review: Jonezz
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