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Criminally undervalued in this country, Roots Manuva is for me one of the biggest and best hip hop stars this country has ever produced, this is his second and seminal album which brought him to the attention of a wider audience through the sublime dubstep of 'Witness (One Hope).
The song only made it to 45 in the Singles charts, but it had a big effect and has been used on the soundtrack of a number of young British films. Roots is Rodney Smith a young man with Jamaican roots and a firm feel for the intricacies of Reggae, Hip Hop and dub, he brings all of these to bear on this album which is brilliant in parts and sets the template for artists such as Dizzee Rascal and Sway.
This was voted one of the best 100 albums of the nineties by NME and Roots has used his skills with some of the best dance acts in the UK from the Audio Bully's to Leftfield to guest appearances as part of the Gorrilaz crew.
Roots produced most of this album himself and what shines through are some wonderful lyrics which relate to life in Britain rather than us having to listen and live vicariously through American rappers, he talks about life as we know it and anyone who has seen the fantastic school sports day video for 'Witness' will know that Mr Smith has a fantastic sense of humour.
Stand out tracks on the album are 'Witness (1 Hope) which is utterly brilliant and one of the best tracks ever, it has a massive beat, fantastic lyrics and makes you want to get out there and jump around.
Other strong tracks include the amazing No Strings, also Kicking the Cack is a great example of life in an inner city.
Every song has something to offer, Basement Boogie has a mad dancehall beat and strange sounds, Highest grade takes a hook from Craig David and makes it listenable. The album is bright, inventive but never easy.
What other rapper would talk about third world famine and a nice piece of cheese on toast in the same breath. Roots is conscious of the need to be a role model and avoids cussing and dissing wherever possible, but the album offers glimpses of his own demons on songs such as the malardy filled stone the crows, this is a man with a rare talent who also understands his own shortcomings.
Sinny Sin Sin's is interesting as Roots discusses his childhood with a strict pastor father and kicks back against this somewhat, the album is full of confessionals, great lyrics and banging beats.
It was never going to break America but I am shocked that this awesome talent is not given more respect and kudos in his home country where we should be lauding him to the heavens for being different, eloquent, humorous and musically eclectic.
This is an album that does its creator lots of favours, it mixes beats that would confound Lee 'Scratch' Perry from the Jamaican soundsystems with lyrics which could come from a Radiohead or Emo album. Roots Manuva is brave, honest and never afraid to say the truth rather than be the big man to look good.
The album is like a British dub dancehall mix with Mr Manuva Mc'ing it with guest appearances from members of Jurrasic 5 and other renowned MC's. I love the album, love the concept, it was universally praised at the time and still sounds relevant now.
The shame of this album is that while commercially aware hip hop based around self-aggrandizement and disruption flourished, this gem never really took Roots to the next level as it should have, but I guess he'll have his time and with skill like his, he's obviously in it for the long haul.
I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in home grown talent, this album is a precursor to some of the brave young talents like Dizzee and Sway, its humorous, at times devastatingly honest and musically brilliant.
Witness (1 Hope)
Join The Dots
Black Box Interlude
Kicking The Cack
Hol' It Up
Stone The Crows
Sinny Sin Sins
Swords In The Dirt
The album is available for £4.93 on Amazon, if you want a taster of the sounds and the big man's self effacing style watch his video for 'Witness (one hope)' on youtube, how many other rappers would mock themselves so mercilessly.
Mr Smith I salute you as one of the bravest and most innovative British performers of the last 30 years.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 No Strings
2 Bashment Boogie
3 Witness (One Hope)
4 Join The Dots
5 Black Box Interlude
6 Ital Visions
7 Kicking The Cack
8 Dub Styles
9 Trim Body
11 Hol' It Up
12 Stone The Crows
13 Sinny Sin Sins
14 Evil Rabbit
15 Swords In The Dirt
16 Highest Grade
17 Dreamy Days