Rodney Smith returns with album number six. Any good? Let’s not ask silly questions, eh?
One minute and 45 seconds in and Roots Manuva has already dropped the C-bomb. Twice. It’s not that Rodney Smith strikes you as a man needing to shock, but he can’t half grab your attention. Since he served up 1999’s breathtaking debut ‘Brand New Second Hand’, Roots Manuva has rewritten the book not only on UK hip hop, but on being a British independent artist in general.
There’s something more than a bit special about Rodney. That he’s stuck with his label, Big Dada, when surely to goodness bigger and richer imprints must have come a-knocking speaks volumes. Then there’s his trade. That unmistakable deep, warm rumble of a voice, the flow, his compelling, richly detailed storytelling and often glorious turn of phrase. But this is not a man content to wax lyrical over some beats. This is, always has been, the full-blown craft of songwriting.
‘Bleeds’ is so much more than what Rodney describes as the “inane rambling of my classic Manuva-scape ranting bars”. You just can’t argue with this level of quality. From the moment the weeping strings open up on first track ‘Hard Bastards’ to the last notes of the glorious pop-fuelled piano-led closer ‘Fighting For?’, this is one heck of a record.
On board for desk duties is young British producer, Fred, and musical heavyweights Four Tet, Adrian Sherwood and With You, the latest pseudonym of Switch, dance producer extraordinaire most notable for his work with MIA.
Where to start? The Four Tet rubdown on ‘Facety 2:11’ is the sort of thing that’d have Fatboy Slim reaching for the phone to offer remix duties, while Switch lends a proper dancefloor rumble to ‘One Thing’ and adds a weight to ‘Crying’, a joyous piece of work that drops some killer reggae pimping keys right at the end. But the big wins come out of the On-U Sound Castle, Ramsgate, courtesy of Adrian Sherwood, who brings Doug Wimbish and Skip McDonald along for the ride.
Lest we forget, Wimbish and McDonald cut their teeth in the Sugarhill Records house band and went on to become Tackhead. Righto. So among the half a dozen or so cuts straight outta Ramsgate, we get the very special ‘Don’t Breathe Out’, which unfurls a corking sample of Barry White’s ‘Honey Please, Can’t Ya See’. Expertly wrangled by Sherwood and Fred, the swirling, plumped up chorus is as satisfying as anything you’ll hear this year. Or last year. Or the year before.
When Rodney claims that in an “egocentric jest of daring to do things in the tradition of Jesus, I’m ready to bleed for the artform”, he is only half joking. He may not quite be Jesus, but every last ounce of everything is squeezed out for this near-masterpiece. Oh, and let’s not forget ‘Cargo’, which he says is his stadium song because, well, you never know what might come up in the future.
Like ‘Cargo’ says, the “original blueprint / don’t need tweaking”. The reason? ‘Bleeds’ is just one show-stopper after another after another. All these years down the line and Roots Manuva is still waiting for everyone else to catch up.