HERE'S A FUN LITTLE experiment to try sometime: Ask any urban, American 15-year-old about the critically beloved hiphop act of the day, and watch what happens. Chances are, you'll be met with a blank stare, followed by a reference to Jay-Z. If you were to head across the pond to the UK, however, you'd be more likely to find teenagers whose tastes line up with those of the press. This has been a boon to Mike Skinner, the force behind the Streets, who has seen his latest record, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, debut at the top of the charts while also receiving stellar reviews.

When asked about this phenomenon, Skinner responds, "I think it has to do with the divide between white critics and black fans in the States. I don't know if that is such a big issue in the UK. I also don't think that critical acclaim and pop success are necessarily linked, but maybe they just seem to line up more over here."

Skinner takes on both the perils and perks of critical acclaim and pop success on the new album, a concept record about dealing with his newfound fame. "I'm not bitching and moaning about fame, because in the end there aren't that many downsides. But I was a bit stupid and naïve, and lost direction. It's easy to be full of yourself when you're in the tabloids. At this point, I've gotten to where I just deal with it and keep going."

Part of dealing with fame was writing a record that seems closer to his debut, Original Pirate Material, and moves away from his hit, the endlessly played Chris Martin collaboration, "Dry Your Eyes." The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living features a fuller sound and focuses more on tight rhymes than pop hooks. The first single, "When You Wasn't Famous," takes a swipe at a popular girl who broke his heart and has sparked much discussion about who this mystery woman is. When asked directly, Skinner, like a true celebrity, ducks the question and changes the subject.