A Grand Don't Come for Free is the second studio album from British garage and hip hop act The Streets. It was released on 17 May 2004 and is listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. It is a rap opera which follows the story of its protagonist's relationship with a girl named Simone, alongside the mysterious loss of £1000 from his home (the eponymous "grand").
In the story, the protagonist loses £1000, or a "grand" in slang terms, and strives to recoup the money.
In his book The Story of the Streets Skinner explained his decision to create a story that ran through the album:
"The reason I decided to write A Grand Don't Come for Free as episodes from a single unfolding narrative was because I'd got so into my songwriting manuals and books by Hollywood screen-writing gurus – not just Robert McKee but Syd Field and John Truby as well – and I wanted to try and put what I'd learnt from them into practice. 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 convicition, either. It's something pretty much all rappers seem to be sure about."
In the first track on the album, "It Was Supposed to Be So Easy", Skinner attempts several tasks during a day but they do not go according to plan. When he comes home he cannot find the thousand pounds he has saved and his television is broken. In the process of trying to recover the money he:Starts seeing a girl called Simone who works in JD Sports with his friend Dan. ("Could Well Be In")
Tries to recover the thousand pounds by gambling on football. After a series of wins he frustratingly cannot get to the bookmaker's in time to make a big gamble. Fortuitously, the prediction is wrong — it is his lucky day. ("Not Addicted")
Is stood up at a nightclub by Simone, but passes the time drinking alcohol and taking ecstasy. He thinks he sees Simone kissing Dan but the drug induced high distracts him before he can think about it properly. ("Blinded By the Lights")
Moves into Simone's house and finds himself comfortable smoking marijuana there, rather than drinking with his friends at the pub. ("Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way")
Argues with Simone and she kicks him out of her house. ("Get Out of My House")
Poses to impress a girl ("Fit But You Know It") in a take away restaurant during a heavy night drinking on holiday.
Flies back from the holiday and remorsefully reviews the events of the previous night during a phone call to a friend, realising he still wants to be with Simone. ("Such a Twat")
Suspects his mate Scott of stealing his coat, money, and girlfriend but discovers that Simone is actually having an affair with Dan. ("What is He Thinking?")
Tries to cope with his girlfriend breaking up with him. ("Dry Your Eyes")
Deals with the events of his life in one of two ways; the final track, "Empty Cans", features two endings to the plot, a bitter ending and a happy ending (the former where he and a TV repairman get into a fight over the repairman's fee, and the latter in which he reconciles with his mates and finds the thousand pounds had fallen down the back of the TV, making it malfunction).
The B-side of the UK single release of "Fit But You Know It" is the song "Soaked by the Ale". The story of this song takes place between the events of "Fit But You Know It" and "Such a Twat". It documents one of Skinner's mates being annoyed at Mike for stealing a tub of ice cream whilst on holiday in Spain as a result of his excessive drinking. The chronological order is identified in "Such a Twat" where Skinner raps "And that incident with the ice cream I forgot, it all ended in our vodka".
Like the Streets' debut album Original Pirate Material the album was recorded in a flat in south London, but this time in Skinner's own flat in Stockwell which he had bought using the money he had received upon signing his publishing deal.
The front cover of the album features Skinner posing in a bus shelter at night. The bus shelter was located in Birmingham, where Skinner had grown up, but when Skinner revisited the site in 2012 he found that the shelter had been replaced with a more modern one.
The first single from the album, "Fit But You Know It" reached number four on the UK Singles Charts with the second single, "Dry Your Eyes" entering the UK Charts at number one. The album itself reached number one in the UK Album Charts, number eleven in Australia and number eighty-two in the United States."Fit But You Know It" Released: 3 May 2004 No. 4 UK
"Dry Your Eyes" Released: 26 July 2004 No. 1 UK
"Blinded by the Lights" Released: 4 October 2004 No. 10 UK
"Could Well Be In" Released: 6 December 2004 No. 30 UK
Critical response for the album, like for his previous album, was near universally positive. It currently scores 91/100 on Metacritic, slightly higher than his previous album, which scored 90/100.
Many critics have noted Skinner's difference in style compared to other artists. Trouser Press said that "Skinner seems both edgier and more contemplative." The Guardian described that the album "raises the stakes to such an extent that it sounds literally unprecedented: there isn't really any other album like this.", and PopMatters described that Skinner "is now in a class all his own; nobody else is making music like this." Austin Chronicle named the album "The first hip-hop classic of the new millennium."
"In a previous decade, A Grand Don't Come for Free would have been a rock opera, and it would have taken itself very seriously," observed Blender. "But Skinner isn't interested in pinball wizards or ancient alien races… [It] demands the same attention as a movie, and that's why some people will hate it while others will find it uniquely riveting."
Online music magazine Pitchfork Media placed A Grand Don't Come for Free at number 129 on their list of top 200 albums of the 2000s. Music magazine NME placed the album at number 16 on their list of "top 50 albums of the noughties".
All tracks written by Mike Skinner.