Roots Manuva
Awfully Deep

By Demented Toddler

 
The brand new Roots Manuva is back. His own earlier work has served to create the unique taste by which this album is to be enjoyed. Publicists and critics have already gushed over its idiosyncratic musical quality(ies) as a coherent whole made of diverse, divergent parts. Liberally deployed hyphens have grafted genre names together, charting the liberties Smith has taken. Taking sample, version and remix cultures at their word, hip hop, dub, dancehall, electro and the rest are all merrily bastardised and interbred. 'Them pigeon holes were never nothing to hold me', Roots quips, his double negative giving away more than he might like.

The limits of musical traditions might not hold Manuva's style, but they hold his attention. The music of A Haunting, compared to calypso, is 'written in dub'. Lyrically, it owes less to toasting than a freestyling, free associating jazz poetry, still visible above the surface of rap rhyming in the work of artists like Saul Williams. Elsewhere, Duke Bootee's classic lines 'rats in the front room, roaches in the back / junkie's in the alley with a baseball bat' echo in The Falling, a pessimistic, but equally 'cheesy' antithesis of Dreamy Days: 'guns, bitches, hoes, crack / death and disease, and a baseball bat'. The Message itself has its forerunners in black musical misery – on Too Cold, 'we bring the blues man / my baby left because I wouldn't buy new shoes man'.

Roots is his own forerunner too, by two albums. The first won a MOBO, the second was nominated for the Mercury. There was 'some media totality hype', which has its guns spiked this time around by arch titles like Colossal Insight, Awfully Deep. Where on Run Come Save Me, 'Manuva MC / with a second LP' had an easy vitality, this third effort 'could well be my last LP'. He does have high expectations to live up to. Partly in response to this, like many artists and almost any rapper, he self-references like crazy. The first track's title, Mind 2 Motion, brings to mind Next Type of Motion and Motion 5000. Its lyrics revisit earlier songs: 'I've seen the sinking sands' (from Brand New Second Hand) '...I ain't sinking'. 'Chin high' refers to Roots' 'ital views', the Ital Visions of the second album, while its chorus is a line from his leftfield collaboration, Dusted. Perhaps atoning for one of his less impressive earlier numbers, he begs 'please lord forgive me for my sinny sin sins'. At least he has an excuse: 'nobody came to save me'.

The title of his debut album, the tosh oxymoron 'brand new second hand', and arguably his MC pseudonym, both address Smith's problem – how to be at once derivative and original. This delightful quandary, of producing what in Pause 4 Cause he calls 'another instalment of the brand new... experience', seems to delight and plague him. 'Goodbye old me / say hello to the new', he announces on one track; 'nobody heard of me, cos i'm a new man', on another. 'I flip the flip the new flip the old flip', he chants on Too Cold, but in A Haunting, full of dubby echoes, an old thing is out of place in Roots' new thing. The 'old flip' has turned the tables: 'Voodoo in the hills and I'm running from ghosties / lighting up candles as the spooks approach me'. And elsewhere he asks: 'how can it be / that I can learn / to come to terms / with my misery / and still be me / and still be free / and un-twee?' The answer is in his question. Confronted by ghosties, as we cannot come to blows with them, we must come to terms, to words. They tie inexorably to the old just as they engender the new: 'word is bond / word is birth', Smith says on Mind 2 Motion.

Of course, word isn't birth at all – Manuva didn't get his missus pregnant by talking. His scarface quotation 'all I have is my balls and my word' is corrected on this album to 'all I have is my balls and my slong'. Gravity 'these ain't rhymes no more they straight sermons', is kept in check throughout by a healthy irreverence: 'poetic justice / with no poem'. His contribution to Ty's Do U Want More? revox was 'we don't rhyme for rhyme's sake', but on Colossal Insight he says 'I didn't rhyme to get me rich'. On the single Awfully Deep he describes rhyme as 'punishment time'. Wilfully or accidentally full of contradiction, it's difficult to wring any consistent view from his rhyme about his rhyme. Like the cruffatin himself, it is 'all things to all men'.
    
Besides his allusions and artistic vacillations, Manuva has the same basic concerns as everyone else, and these underpin his work. 'Money reigns supreme', he says on Chin High. Where 'run come save me' talked in one place about 'the third world debt', and in another of how to 'generate Gs and stash em in the Swiss', Awfully Deep brings the needy and greedy together in a repetitive battering on the second verse of too cold: 'I spoke with my money / this ain't a joke money / banana boat money / banana vote money / food on a plate money... Take your life in a second with the right kind of money / life in the west we obsessed by money / mind how you worship, you can't be blessed by money... invest with my money / touch breasts with my money... respect for my money means I feed my tummy...' The speaking at the beginning of this verse and the eating at the end of it are crucially linked. Although Roots 'didn't rhyme to get me rich', he 'never had a job' besides this. Words are his work. They come out of his mouth, food goes in, and vice versa – as on Witness, 'I squeeze the pain from my belly and set my soul free'. Of course, a lot of the words that come out are about tummies. He 'put some clothes on my back, put some food in my belly' in Wisdom Fall, described the difficulty of doing this 'in the belly of the beast where we fight for crumb' in 'kicking the cack', and still has a 'big hungry belly' in Mind 2 Motion. One awfully deep colossal insight through all the 'old thing new thing / you and a who thing' is that some fundamental things are always true, 'survival goes back like the bible'. The first thing Manuva says on the album is 'money', and 'water' is the last word.
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