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roots manuva session
roots manuva session
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The gospel according to Mr Smith.


Stockwell rapper Rodney Smith is in an enviable position. His first album went silver, his second went gold and his third, Awfully Deep, is receiving praise from all sides on the eve of its release. And rightly so Ė itís an absolute corker that sees him move up a gear after the success of Run Come Save Me.

ďThe first two records had a kind of minimal vibe,Ē he muses. ďA dusty, crusty, makeshift vibe. But now Iím really getting into the studio science of it all, creating a wider sonic picture. Before it was more about subtlety. This time itís a kind of over-exuberance, itís ĎWelcome to the studio!í.Ē

Donít worry though, the elements that make Roots Manuva a unique proposition - warped baritone chants, lucid leftfield patter, off-kilter beats and digital dub bass - have not been diluted by the extra production. If anything theyíre more pronounced. Thereís extra variation, too. Rebel Heart picks up the tempo to an almost Grime-y level (although he disputes the Grime tag) and A Haunting sounds like Gil Scott-Heron on mushrooms.


Roots Manuva in conversation and session at BBC Maida Vale

But to him itís still just hip-hop. ďWhat Iím doing is my own interpretation of what Dr Dre would do, or Ludacris or Eminem. Iím making a hip-hop record. Iím not trying to make a record for people who donít like hip-hop.Ē But people who donít like hip-hop do like Roots Manuva. I suggest it has something to do with the lyrics, the fact that he makes himself vulnerable, admitting to all sorts of inner unrest, that itís not riddled with machismo and ďfrontiníĒ, that itís more British.

Heís not convinced. ďMy rap IS about machismo and it is showing off linguistically, and showing off the imagination. It may not be as stereotypical as the standard American rap might be. But their whole socialism and their cultural background is totally different. The elements are still there but it surfaces in a different way. People like Eminem Ė heís really discussing stuff about the detail of his personal life. Me, Iíll throw in a little splash, but itís all done with an underlying feeling of dark humour. Iím laughing at myself laughing at myself. Itís a crazy kind of blues.Ē

Itís no secret that Rodneyís had his ďissuesĒ. A religious upbringing gave him ďa guilt complex and a strange perception of right and wrongĒ, and his love for getting high and wild nights out have caused exploratory visits to clinics ďfor drying up, getting off drugsĒ. Not to mention the odd hallucination (ďIíve seen a cab driver turn from a lizard into a humanĒ). But itís not to be taken too literally: ďIím aping a misery. I can get moody but Iím not that moody,Ē he laughs.



So where next for the UKís premier rap star? ďI really want to get back into the studio and write another one. I feel Iím so much more prepared to make a better record now. I didnít feel like that after Run Come Save Me. Then I was like, ĎAh cool, I donít care if I donít make another record.í But after this one Iím gagging to go back and make another.Ē

And America? ďIíve shunned it for most of my career. I think the insightís going to hit me one day. Iím going to have to face up to my responsibility and try to put my finger on the record that can do it. It may not be a Roots Manuva record, it might be a collaboration with a number of people. Whether Iím the person thatís right for the job I donít know.Ē

Based on Awfully Deep heís our best shot. But who cares, he will always be a British treasure.


Alastair Lee 28 January 05
Roots Manuva Ė Awfully Deep, released 31 January 05 on Big Dada.
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