Long story short, I ended up with a copy of ‘Brand New Second Hand’ in my possession, and got the same spine tingles from the first listen as when I started to ‘get’ Radiohead’s Kid A, which isn’t a comparison I make lightly.
The name ‘Roots Manuva’ (real name Rodney Smith) bubbled around the back of my musical consciousness throughout my teens. While I was way more into punk as a kid, I wasn’t completely unaware of the massively popular hip hop scene and a few of the more prominent acts, which at the time were mostly American. I became consciously aware of Roots when I first discovered his collaboration with the Cinematic Orchestra on ‘All things to All Men,’ where his lyrics, his flow, the distinctive sound of his voice lead me to seek out what else he’d been up to. Also, anyone who appears with the CO is going to have me googling their names sooner or later.
I don’t know if it’s just because of all my years playing drums, ignoring singers and just locking onto the bassist, but on the first listen the lyrical flow felt like the backing to an incredible rhythm and bass sound permeating the whole CD. Its a repetitive electronic sound that manages to groove and keep a relaxed but insistent momentum going.
Yet, the more I listened to each track, the more the lyrics started to stand out and Roots’ skills as a rapper became clear. That’s where my comparison to Radiohead comes from, this is one of those rare CD’s that gives you more and more every time you play it. Reviews from the time referred to Roots as the first credible rapper the UK scene had produced and its easy to see why, but his vocals go beyond that.
Check out Roots Manuva’s style of braggadocio on Clockwork:
“Ain’t nuttin’ but this uncut croughness I bring/Don’t care ’bout no fide I do my own ting/Giving chase in this rat race, fears we face/and me be on the case, proud plus brave”
Rapping in a “Brixton patois“, he adds a performance element to his lyrics that allow them to communicate as much about the man and his background with every line and rhyme as the words themselves when written down. The same steady flow that comes from the bass is also apparent in his vocal delivery, and he still finds room to include lyrics that still feel fresh, they’d still sound just as good springing from a rapper today, almost 13 years later.
This aint your usual rap album of the late 90s, its honest, true and just feels so damn good to listen to.
Released in ’99, I was too young to appreciate it on release, so I picked it up for £4.99 this weekend and its difficult to say exactly how much of a bargain that was. I’ll definitely have to add my thoughts after the live show coming up at concorde 2 on 31st Jan.
The CD (as though you didn’t realise that was my opinion from the completely understated review.)
Roots Manuva’s site