In 2001 Roots Manuva could have been standing at a crossroads in his career. A
successful 'underground' album behind him reportedly having shifted nearly
50,000 units, he was facing the traditional choice between
mainstream acceptability or maintaining artistic credibility.
Roots Manuva - Dreamy Days
12" [Big Dada] released 08.09.01
Roots Manuva chose potentially the hardest route for himself, riding both sides
of the equation. But in real terms this is the only way he could have gone
largely remaining true to himself, or as he puts it,
this is "the return of the Rootical one - French kissing the chaos”.
Is this the right move? Well it depends on where you're standing. It depends on where you’re
coming from. Music fans will definatly feel this record. You probably already know the basics of the Roots Manuva story.
Born Rodney Hylton Smith, he grew up in and around Stockwell in South London.
His parents were from a small village in Jamaica called Banana Hole, his father
a preacher. His family weren't exactly loaded (hence his mother's use of the
term "brand new second hand" to characterise the occasional pre-used
present), but they were strict, as befits members of the Pentecostal Church.
Early on Smith found himself drawn to the reggae of the UK's sound system culture
and Hip Hop (firstly through the lyrical expressiveness of Rakim), his parents hardly
approved. In fact, he had to listen in secret.
But the secret perseverance was worth the effort. In 1999, four years after the release of his first
single and collaborations with Blak Twang and Skitz, Roots Manuva dropped the instant-classic "Brand New Second
Hand". There was critical acclaim, relative commercial success. And great
shock to being invited on Jo Wiley's show on Channel 4.
With this release Manuva was described as “the most significant and original new voice in
Hip Hop” (The Independent). It seemed as though, the market for Hip Hop from the UK
could be thrown wide open by a record
that encompassed so many styles and appealed to many different sections of the
record buying public. The impact of the record on a genre of music which
seemed to have gone into hibernation in the UK of the early nineties should not
be underestimated. Of course the scene had not gone into hibernation, but it had
suffered from many of its key players defecting for more profitable music types
and a total disregard from the influential media. This record reopened the
press' eyes and stirred an interest in UK Hip Hop that is possibly only
result of this relative success and hard work Roots' lyrical skills were in
demand and he rapidly became something of a cameo king, destroying
microphones for the likes of Leftfield, Skitz, Mr Scruff, Mica Paris, 23 Skidoo
and Pharoahe Monch, amongst several others as well.
Since then, Roots Manuva says he has been "living in a dream". What makes him
special, perhaps, is his willingness to gamble with this dream. He could, after
all, have taken the obvious big-money route and hired in a heap of famous guests
to make safe, production-line Hip Hop.
Instead he chose to spread the love a little. That's why he describes the album
as "a patchwork reflection of the bittersweet-tainted joys and pains of
progress. It's so easy to get cynical in these big, bad corporate times - so
this be a declaration of good hearted ghetto hoorah joyous intent."
In the process Roots has created an experimental work that fuses Hip Hop,
Reggae, DnB, RnB and commercial appeal to create a landmark work in world Hip
Hop. At first it is hard to get into, but rapidly it grows and expands, thoroughly
UK and deeply personal, it is still accessible and on occasion takes Hip Hop
back to its roots and re-defines what is to be expected.
Musically, the record represents a continuation on from "Brand New Second
Hand”, but progresses much further than you would expect. Roots could have
headed more underground or jiggy, but having produced three quarters of the new material himself
refusal to conform shows at every turn. Whether taking from Scratch Perry or
blending electronic noises, the disparate elements all meld into what he dubs, “that tropical
"It's more focused than Brand New Second Hand,” Smith explains,
“Because I had specific ideas of what I wanted to pull out melodically from
that record. I really wanted to just move a stage up to the sickest melodic
structures that I could think of.
“The whole recording process involved more attention to detail and a lot more
time to freak out and be totally creative. I was left to mess about. I felt like
Quincey Jones! Just there giving Jamie [the engineer] orders - 'I need this
sound, I need that sound, set up these effects'. A total kid in the sweet
Lyrically "Run Come Save Me" shows Roots expressing emotion in sometimes cryptic but nevertheless heartfelt ways.
Roots says, "I like words. Just
writing as a whole, not specifically songs. I try not to think about it too
much. If I really sat down and looked into how much I'm giving away about myself
I probably wouldn't write anything..."
If you expect Smith to tell you what the record is about you’ve got another
thing coming: "The definitions of the songs grow all the time and I don't
really see them straight away. I don't always see them even a year after things are made. I listen to things
that I made five years ago and go, 'Oh, I understand where I was coming
As the man himself puts it, the album is "audio
smoke signals, my message in a bottle”.
single off the LP was the ruff side, now for the second single it’s time for the smooth.
Dreamy Days is released on October 8th. One of the more commercial tracks on the
LP it is in a TY style being a mixture of music hall swagger, confessional lyrics, deep bass and
extreme catchiness, Dreamy Days is hopefully set to take Mr Manuva to new levels
of popularity and wider recognition.
The track was produced by Skillamanjaro, renowned for previous work with the Bury Crew
and less so for his work with Iceberg Slimm, but who is set to become one of the hottest names in UK
production. The track also features the same team of string players who made "Motion 5000" -
one of the outstanding tracks from Roots' last album, and who have also joined
Roots on stage to rip up recent live performances.
As with all releases going for chart placing these days the record contains two
remixes to make it appeal to as wide a cross section of the purchasing public as
possible. The remixers chosen are up there with some of the most popular at the
moment and although the remixes don't do it for me, they are obviously
creditable. First up is two-step supremo MJ Cole, who comes through with a blistering, bass-driven club workout which
shows why many place him at the head of the UK Garage table. It is a total
reworking, only borrowing a couple of the original elements as small samples. It
works, but might as well be a different track. I'd like to hear Roots properly
rapping over a garage beat, either that or ditch the Roots samples alltogether
and give up any pretence of trying to do a 'remix'.
Next come Welsh psychedelic-nationalists the Super Furry Animals. Who take a more leftfield
and quite abstract route for their remix. They cook up a technoddic dubstyle where the trademark Roots vocals are twisted out of shape
with delays and various effects until they almost break. Quite original,
but a few too may Hi Hats maybe....
The last remix comes from Roots himself, much more what you would expect, a big
loping beat, loads of bells and stabs and re recorded vocals to produce a remix
that like the original stomps on the others offering.
There is also bonus a track, which makes purchasing the CD more of a
conundrum for Hip Hop heads. I would definitely recommend purchasing the LP, but
if it wasn't for the bonus track I'd say give the 12" miss. Now however
hardcore Hip Hop fans have to buy it, others may still waver due to the non-Hip
Hop remixes. The bonus track was available on free download from NME.com and is
curiously entitled Fly Turd Fly. On this track, in a similar vein to Mark B
& Blades Sealed with A Diss, also released on the 8th, Roots Manuva takes a moment to let the detractors, naysayers, pettifoggers and frauds know he's on to them.
As with the remix for the Witness 12" Roots Manuva re-enlists the help pf
fellow Big Dada artist Part 2 who provides a queasy, skipping beat.
The release is accompanied by a video courtesy of renowned commercials director Malcolm Venville (think the 'Size Matters' Renault Clio campaign) and the first
Hip Hop album from the UK to trouble the Top Forty in well over a decade, this is the moment for the
'one man powerhouse' to make dreams concrete.
Roots Manuva was nominated in the 2001 Mobo's for the Best Hip-Hop act award.
Dreamy Days Video