THERE MAY BE SOME GREY HAIR, BUT ROOTS MANUVA IS THE SAME MC HE HAS ALWAYS BEEN.
ROOTS MANUVA interviewed 11:30 AEST – Thursday 11th November, 2009
For Street Press Australia & Rip2Shredz Press
Words by RIP NICHOLSON
The UK’s urban accent travels often to the Australian sun-soaked shores in various dialects to rock our national summer-festivals. The Streets retell their Brommy, Barratt lifestyles wined through punching garage-dance beats during a cup of tea. Dizzee Rascal repackages it into East London’s more hostile double-stepped beat flurry known as Grime, (in complete contrast to Mike Skinner and The Streets.)
Both fly out regularly for surf and sun between well-received shows, yet back home they draw Britain’s hoodie sub-culture into two columns – suburban white and grimey East London black. Almost playing devil’s advocate to the divide, Rodney Smith aka MC Roots Manuva aka MC Roderick grinds the crooked grooves in between, twanged from a deep-rooted search for the Soundsystem riddums and bass of the yard parties washed up on UK shores a generation before in banana boats. Roots drops science on sustaining relevance in the market as he sets to stamp his beats bound for Australia.
“In the new digital media, with a drum machine, some synthesisers and an emulator you can create every sound of every drum machine in the world. It’s just very instant music. It’s deteriorated the groundwork laid by the predecessors, the skills and presentation of how a beat is constructed seems totally gone,” he opines. “Even in American hip hop, it’s now a singles market, for ringtones and iTunes.
“I believe I can still plan myself to the element of keeping relevant through mixtapes, EPs and featured spots. And I’ve got so much requests a lot to do different types of music… People send me strange beats, and they always have done and I’m always up for trying it.”
What Smith delivers is well versed poetry over crooked, maniacal beats accompanied by heaving baselines and crunked-out button bleeps. His music strides through the mainstream while still keeping to an artistic pace. The forefather of British lyrical science, Manuva has been making fish ‘n chips out of his lyrics, encompassing a distinctive tone on English living to his rhyme and reason and straying away from any polarising social barriers. This keeps him accessible to all fans across the board and respected for dancing closely with the lunatic bangers and mash-up of beats this music can make a meal out of.
“At any one time, I’ll deliver on reggae beats and hip hop alongside with what they call dub and alongside a bit of house. I’ve got producers from all genres trying to give me stuff. Even if theirs is from a different era to mine, they’re bringing my voice to other sets of templates. So I can keep relevant by diversifying my music.”
Manuva’s roots lay fertilised with his parent’s heritage, under concrete in South London. Smith witnessed a system being set up, a barrage of deafening bass and an intimidating crew of cats flexing the system’s volume drew real shock and interest for the dub child, who would later become the foremost celebrator of the sub-culture. His father was a Pentecostal preacher from Banana Hole, (a Jamaican village) so hallelujah hymns and the strength of soundsystems gave Smith baby steps and an early gateway, influential today toward every beat he dubs up and flows over.
“Well my first experiences of getting off on music came from church. It isn’t so much a conscious thing but I’m just drawing from interests that are true to me. But at the same time, the gospel or the holy element, I’m trying to serve that on a more secular level.”
His opening into the fray came in 1994 as one part of IQ Procedure, ( short-lived act through Bluntly Squeaking Vinyl vanity label) before jumping in on established UK act Blak Twang and guest appearing on several underground cuts. Roots juggled his rep through several indie labels before settling at Big Dada where he resides today. By 1999 Big Dada released Manuva’s début, Brand New Second Hand, an innovative breakdown of dancehall ragga and dubwise bounces set to a stepping pace
Over the coming several years Roots Manuva re-hashed his music into new fields of musicality averaging positive critiques, and last year fresh new brain-fluid of Slime & Reasonspilled out. Taking back production control, Smith brought in Toddla T to flame the LP with electro-dancehall floor fillers. The LP’s sparse and broke-down beats leaves an ageing Manuva MC with room to breathe.
“Some people tend to follow on what’s expected of me, and I have to switch them up on that. A lot of times it’s easier to get stuck in a trend of pushing the same buttons on recordings. I’ve learned to get back into jamming, and try to bring everybody along for the whole journey of making an album, you know. The whole record can unfold and it’s far more interesting for people to listen to,” remarking on maybe a seventh project tucked up his sleeve. “People ain’t listening to old LPs anymore, instead they’re taking whatever tracks they want and puttin’ them on their iPods. And definitely ain’t nobody put a CD on and listen to it from start to finish.”
Smith has sustained his cult stature over the years by reinventing his sound, re-cutting lyrics over fresh beats provided by the now generation and continually going against expectations to keep from turning stale. “Only thing changed is the years and the grey hair, innit… However, I still feel as immature as before.”
Come 2009, fifteen years removed from the heights of his début and aside from age, Roots feels as fresh as ever. Returning down under to bring in the new year, UK’s most consistent will toast with the best of ‘em and turn out a yard party, like nothing The Streets or Dizzee could muster.
“When I come over I’m bringing Ricky Rankin who is from the old school soundsystem era. We’re talking ‘bout 25 years ago. And I’m bringing over Jimmy Screech from anther generation of MCs. Between the three of us we have the whole history of what we do. Three generations of MCs with age, showing the rhythm of spoken word.” Smith marvels, “When it comes to Roots Manuva, I’m an OG who makes commercial funk twisted through a journey into a new-age. this will be the return of the Rootical One – French kissing the chaos.”