There are few Hip Hop artists in the world, let alone the UK, who have mastered the arts of lyricism and rap flow, alongside the musical production behind it, to the level of distinction that Rodney Smith has achieved. Few too have managed to stay relevant and innovative for such a lengthy tenure, collaborating with a variety of popular artists across several decades. Taking elements of Hip Hop from across the Atlantic, Smith added the warm, weighty bass lines of Caribbean dub culture, fused with the more crude modulations of later UK bass music, to create an entirely new sound. Garnishing this amalgamation with highly original vocal delivery, alternating in tone, accent and lexis across each bar, Roots Manuva is the uncompromising yet widely accessible offspring of Kingston and London sound that in many ways paved the way for Grime at the turn of the century.
The fourth track from his debut, MOBO award winning album Brand New Second Hand, ‘Inna’ is emblematic of Manuva’s hybrid style described above, and is typical of the slower pace of the album. Distorted samples echo overhead as lyrics rumble steadily, slipping naturally between cockney and Jamaican dialects in a manner reminiscent of the late Smiley Culture.
In every aspect, 'Dreamy Days’ is symbolic of the high times felt during the release of ‘Run Come Save Me’, Smith’s most commercially successful work to date. Moody and peculiar production is ditched for an anthemic, East Coast style Rap beat, while Roots confidently declares his status and success before opting to roar the chorus himself, his gravelly tone eased by lighthearted female accompaniment.
Following on perfectly from such elation and excess, ‘Too Cold’, from the third album ‘Awfully Deep’, represents the comedown of ‘Run Come Save Me’, in which Smith discusses the fallout from the celebrity lifestyle. Rejecting the acclaim awarded to him, most likely following one hit single in particular, and returning to his down-to-earth modesty, he tackles dark thoughts about his character and his age, alongside melancholic piano and strings.
All Things To All Men
Among a plethora of fantastic collaborative work, it is impossible to choose one track above the rest. However, what The Cinematic Orchestra are able to provide over others in 'All Things To All Men' is a lengthy and beautifully atmospheric score, comprised of multiple instruments and solos that the poeticism of Roots Manuva had long deserved. His contribution is minimal, but effective. Having made peace with his own drawbacks following ‘Awfully Deep’, Manuva now projects his disenchantment with the society around him, discussing the tragedies and failures of himself and his peers, but above all the systems and attitudes of modern day life that have fostered them.
An exploration behind the backing track of what is undoubtedly Roots Manuva’s greatest success, ‘Witness’. The last track from Dub Come Save Me, an album showcasing Smith’s weightiest productions, ‘Witness Dub’ is littered with sirens, echoes and other effects in tribute to the soundsystem culture that influenced a timeless UK classic.