Roots Manuva Awfully Deep

[Big Dada; 2005]

Styles: hip hop, dub, electronica
Others: The Streets, Tricky, Mike Ladd, Dizzee Rascal

Well, would you believe it, UK hip hop is making a mark on the global music scene again. The recent wave of acts breaking through, including The Streets, Dizzee Rascal, and a whole host of grime artists, owe a lot to the UK Garage scene which spawned the likes of So Solid Crew. British rappers have found their own voice and sound again rather than aping their Stateside cousins. They also owe a debt to Rodney Smith, a.k.a. the Roots man, who is not aligned with any of the aforementioned scenes, but who opened doors for many of them and has been making original hip hop for years now. On "Colossal Insight" the man himself states, "I don't give a damn about UK rap/ I'm a UK black, making UK tracks and/ I've got love for every one of those scenes / And them pigeonholes were never nuttin' to hold me."

Smith's great talent is evading categorization, melding disparate styles together and laying witty, incisive lyrics over the top to create a totally original whole. As with previous albums, most of the tracks have a programmed, electronic feel to them although this time round the dub influence features even more heavily than usual. The sounds are often heavily treated, the bass has been turned up a notch, giving this album a more intense, oppressive feel. This is matched by the lyrics, which are far darker than previous Roots gems about eating cheese on toast and drinking pints of bitter.

This was clearly not an easy album to make and Smith has talked in interviews about the crushing pressure he felt when recording it. This is felt no more strongly than on "Awfully Deep," the most intense, paranoid track on the album, where dark, heavy synths accentuate Smith's lyrics about when he "told my management not to waste good money/ sending me away to the farm of the funny." Roots Manuva is not a whinger, though; on "Chin High" his response to feeling down is, "chin high/ puffed chest/ we step right to it/ the choice is there ain't no choice but to pursue it." Musically, this is the standout track on the album; it has the ability to stop you dead in your tracks, as "Witness" did on Run Come Save Me. The dark synths are junglist in texture, the beat is hard, and there are electronic squelches and squawks flying around like sparks off a burning wheel.

Not all the tracks are this good, however, and towards the end of the album the level dips slightly. Although penultimate tune "The Falling" is epic in its doomsaying and would in fact have made a better closer than "Toothbrush." Still, this is great stuff, the music is often awesomely original, and you feel yourself willing Smith on to beat his demons. 'Nuff said.

1. Mind 2 Motion
2. Awfully Deep
3. Cause for Pause Pt 1
4. Colossal Insight
5. Too Cold
6. A Haunting
7. Rebel Heart
8. Chin High
9. Babylon Medicine
10. Cause for Pause Pt 2
11. Move Ya Loin
12. Thinking
13. The Falling
14. Toothbrush

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