Grand Don't Come For Free -
by Mike D'Ariano
Grand Don't Come For Free is the second album by London-based rapper,
The Streets. It was released in 2004, and was hands down my favorite album
of the year. The single Dry Your Eyes was a number 1 hit in England. Here
in the U.S. nobody knows what the hell I'm talking about when I mention
the song, the album, or the even the artist.
I first heard the album in September, the same week the latest Green Day
album was released. Sonically, the two records have nothing to do with
each other at all, but thematically, there's a similarity . . . sort of.
There was a ridiculous amount of hype about the fact that Green Day's
American Idiot album was a "punk rock opera". The term
at least the rock opera part is just a silly way of saying that
all the songs deal with the same story. It was coined by The Who when
they released the album Tommy sometime in the last millennia. I've listened
to American Idiot countless times over the past six months or so. I've
read the damn lyrics. I can't see a continuous story anywhere in it. There's
a name or two that pop up repeatedly, but for the most part, there is
On the other hand, without hearing a single thing about it, I picked up
on the fact that A Grand Don't Come for Free was telling one story throughout,
the first time I listened to it. From song to song, Mike that's
The Streets' real name loses 1000 pounds (as in money not weight),
falls in love, gets high, acts like an asshole, loses the girl, and loses
his best friends. By the time I got to the last song, I didn't think the
album could get any more inventive and then all of a sudden, it did.
Empty Cans, the finale to the story is a final stroke of genius. For the
first three minutes, it seems like the story is most definitely going
to end on a negative note. Things are going really bad for Mike and then
all of a sudden, the tape starts to rewind. When the song restarts, the
beat isn't quite as hard, and the story starts over from the point where
the previous song ended. In version two of the longer tale's ending, everything
goes right for Mike. He makes up with his friends, finds the 1000 quid
he lost in the first song, and he gets the girl. So in effect, after telling
us this story for forty-five minutes, in the last song, the Streets gives
us an ending, plus an alternate ending. It's like the directors cut of
a movie or something.
top of how cool the concept of this concept album is, there are the lyrics
themselves. I have never heard a rap album dealing with real life this
way before. By real life, I don't mean the gang-life grit that N.W.A.
sang about, which surely was real, but surely not for them. I mean real
everyday stuff that we all go through. Raps about not being able to get
reception on your cell phone, raps about being in a club and thinking
people are to close to you, raps about bringing a tape back to the video
store and realizing you left the tape in the VCR and raps about shy awkward
first conversations between people who are interested in each other but
barely know each other. The last one on that list, being the most intriguing
in that its just one aspect of something The Streets does on this album
that no one had ever done before him . . . hip-hop love songs.
Whereas the role of women in hip-hop has been for the most part one of
a sex object, or the person to be told to shut up, or the one to be beaten,
the Streets raps openly about wanting to do nothing but sit on the couch
with his girl and watch TV. Mike raps about begging his girlfriend not
to leave him, and he raps about crying when his pleas are ineffective.
It's a whole new ballgame here. Real mainstream life and real positive
emotions that have never been in rap before, and by using them in his
music, The Streets has created a masterpiece.
Another element of the album is its humor. There's just the right amount
of wiseass sass spread throughout the record to make Mike seem like a
fun person to be around and not just a drug addict, who can't keep his
friends or his girlfriend. In fact, the song I heard which made me want
to hear the rest of the album was one called Fit But You Know It. The
song is about girls that are full of themselves that Mike meets one night
while out drinking. From the first line, "Now I reckon you're about
an 8 or a 9, maybe even 9 and a half in four beers time", the song
Just as important as what is on this album is what is not. There are no
waste of time skits, or interludes or anything of that nature which you'll
find all over most hip-hop albums. The latest from Eminem has three of
these. There are no songs about how tough Mike is, and how he's gonna
kill everyone in the room. Yeah he gets in a few fights, but they advance
the story, and the second one, he doesn't really win. There is no mention
of the fact that he is a rapper. He sings no line about how he's the best
rapper in the world; a line that I would bet has been on 90-100% of all
rap albums since the genre's inception. There's no mention of pop culture.
There's no mention of how rich he is in fact since the album is
about how his life gets screwed up by losing 1000 bucks, it's actually
about how not rich he is. There are no recognizable but irritating samples
used in his beats. Plus and this is a big one he doesn't
kill, rob or rape one person throughout the entire record. On this album,
The Streets seems to have removed every aspect of Hip-Hop that I normally
find irritating, while adding new things that the genre has long been
in need of.
I already said I thought the Streets album was the best album of 2004,
but to go one step further, I thing it might be the most important Rap
album of all time. Like Sgt. Pepper did to rock, this album changes all
the rules within its genre. Even my fifty-something year old "rap's
not music" father asked for a copy of the album when he heard a few
tracks off of it.
can't recommend this album enough. Absolutely brilliant. A+.