Roots Manuva: Slight Return

The album is another chance to clamber within the weed-cratered psyche of one of the most interesting figures in the music industry at the mo

Feature by Jasper Hamill | 17 Mar 2006

Insecurity and sensitivity are more-or-less unexpressed character traits in hip-hop. Snoop Doggy Dogg boasts of violating umpteen women whilst blazing marrow-sized spliffs and Kanye West has no qualms about professing himself the saviour of hip-hop.

Britain, notable for playing the sycophantic second-fiddle to the USA's snarling belligerence, was bound to produce hip-hop that was wittier, more self-deprecating and downright bizarre than the bluster of mainstream, ghetto-fabulous rap coming from the cities of North America. Roots Manuva, more a poet than a rapper, ridden with insecurity, weed paranoia and referencing Britain's lingering post-colonial guilt, flakes dub grooves and tripped out psychedelic twiddles through his tunes, making them inherently more interesting than the stolid crap passed off by so many MCs and producers.

Whilst recording his recent album 'Awfully Deep', a miasma of dub, electronica and performance poetry, Roots managed to record a whole hatful of tunes that were left out of the original recording and are now included on his great collection entitled 'Alternately Deep'. Opening with the claim that "nobody's got no love for P," referring to himself, the album is another chance to clamber within the weed-cratered psyche of one of the most interesting figures in the music industry at the mo. Half Frank Bruno apr's le deluge and half a wiggy, Alan Ginsberg, climbing-the-barricades beat poet, lines like "many men hate the man that lives in number ten" are twinned with lines about "fishing in the Peak District," creating the politically conscious, surreal and eccentric sound we know and love.

Influenced by the South London soundsystem culture he first witnessed performed by "a couple of dodgy blokes in Stockwell skate park," he quickly realised his voice could be used for more than toasting - the self-aggrandising style used by MCs to fuel their audiences' groovy frenzy. Singing in a languorous style arrived at after "smoking a couple of trees," as well as rapping in a style more like a preacher than a South London MC, the dichotomy of styles, influences and preoccupations in his music makes him as apt a guest at a gloomy, crumbling rave as at a poetry slam.

Instrumental in opening up British hip-hop to a wider influence and embracing influences from grime and eski to cinematic orchestration, he has settled uncomfortably into his position as the grand-daddy of UK based rap. His new album, a typically schizophrenic mix that could hang out in a rave in a crumbling tenement or lead the charge at a CND protest, is evidence of the unparalleled, utterly idiosyncratic muse that leads one of Britain's true eccentrics.

Alternately Deep is Released on March 18.