Release Date: Oct 25, 2011
Record label: Big Dada
Somewhere amidst all the bling-groping and macho bravado of the hip-hop world exists Rodney Hylton Smith, better known as Roots Manuva. The London-born cult icon has over the past decade established himself as a soothing antidote to his transatlantic peers, his bruising lyricism infused with a wit, conscience and Proustian turmoil unbeknown to the rap game’s domineers. Now fast approaching 40-years-old, Smith shows little sign of a mid-life crisis on new album, 4everevolution.
Now aged 39, South London rapper Roots Manuva may well be the elder statesman of British hip-hop, but his eighth studio album, 4everevolution, shows he can still summarize the state of the nation more succinctly in one line that most MCs half his age manage over the course of an entire album. "Cost of life so cheap round here/but the cost of living ain't cheap round here," he cleverly delivers in his distinctive, sleepy Cockney drawl on the cinematic "Skid Valley," a diatribe against the government featuring dramatic, James Bond theme-style strings and impassioned soulful vocals courtesy of Skunk Anansie's Skin. It's just one example of the effortless, lyrical wordplay and socio-political messages on offer throughout its eclectic 17 tracks, which embrace a whole host of urban sounds, from wobbling the dubstep on "Here We Go Again," a cautionary tale of a friend who's taken the wrong path in life, to the twitchy grime of "Revelation" to the woozy, East Coast hip-hop beats and skank guitars of "Who Goes There?" Indeed, Manuva's trademark swagger and acerbic wit are still very much in full flow, but this is by far his most versatile record to date.
The approach of middle age is often a time for introspection, though not usually for rappers. Rodney Smith has always been an exception, though. Nearing his 40th birthday, he has delivered an album that's contemplative, insightful and filled with a beleaguered sense of the hard-scrabble nature of contemporary life. Skid Valley, a sketch of life outside the bubble in 2011, ends with the couplet: "Low pay packets and high inflation/ And now they want to blame us for the end of the nation." Wha' Mek domesticises this insecurity: "What makes you sigh ...
Rodney Smith, aka [a]Roots Manuva[/a], was trading in wry, humorous Brit-hop back when a teenage [b]Mike Skinner[/b] was still chained to a games console. With ‘[b]4everevolution[/b]’ Smith continues to avoid the genre’s default Americanisms and instead dabbles in proggy electronic wizardry (‘[b]In The Throes Of It[/b]’), warped R&B (‘[b]Takes Time To[/b]’) and sleekly produced, astute socio-political commentary (‘[b]Who Goes There?[/b]’). Smith’s career may have taken a wayward track while Skinner prospered, but it seems this natural eccentric and chameleon has outlasted the young pretender.Ash Dosanjh .
What started out as a collection of songs for other artists to use has evolved into Roots Manuva's fifth album, and it's a good thing he kept them for himself. Not all of 4everevolution shines – tracks such as "First Growth" feel like Manuva by numbers – but there are some gems here, and it's good to hear the veteran south London rapper adapting his gruff tones to such a wide variety of material, from "The Throes of It", a seven-minute, bleeps-and-bass epic, to dreamy Caribbean number "Wha' Mek?". Meanwhile, Manuva casts a withering eye on "nothing-can-change Britain", riddled with greed and corruption, on the nicely sardonic "Skid Valley".
4everevolution is an intentionally ambiguous title, one that leaves the prospective listener with a question of authorial intent. Are the contents of the album indicative of revolution, or evolution? Are we going to be listening to an incendiary set of anthems for the uprising, or are we going to hear the next step in the formation of a multifaceted and interesting hip-hop artist? The answer is overwhelmingly the latter, as Roots Manuva uses the opportunity of a new album to fly in directions he’s never even hinted at. The most immediately obvious of these is the surprising, intriguing “Wha’ Mek”, on which we hear less of the character that is Roots Manuva and more of the human that is Rodney Smith.
Roots Manuva (born Rodney Smith) will turn 40 next year, which isn’t a great sign for an artist like him. The English rapper has yet to build a substantial following stateside and has taken a backseat to peers Mike Skinner (of The Streets) and Dizzee Rascal in his homeland. Realistically, his career has probably peaked, and he now has nowhere to go but down.
A pure, you’re-only-as-old-as-you-feel joy of a fifth album from the Brit-hopper. Garry Mulholland 2011 One of the most agreeable recent developments in the making of long-playing records has been the rediscovery of brevity. Whether the reasons are aesthetic or cynical, the last 10 years or so has seen a gradual return to the short, sharp 40-minute album after all the turgid, filler and skit-filled self-indulgences of the 1990s.
I always thought of Roots Manuva as a mature sort of chap. Sophisticated, poised, not just because of the way he toys gleefully with aristocratic cadences, but through the breadth and depth of his thinking, the type who was born fully grown. But here he is starting his new album with a track called 'First Growth' apparently claiming a new maturity with its gentle funk and a weary hook, "now we finally know, now we finally see, it's our first time growing up".