Release Date: Oct 30, 2015
Record label: Big Dada
If you could choose a musical figure to represent Britain today, who would it be? The opening and closing ceremonies from London 2012 gave us a clue about what a people’s choice might be, with prominent roles for David Bowie, Underworld and, er, Mr Bean. No doubt more might go for Paul McCartney, Damon Albarn, or The Kinks maybe. Yet it is doubtful any of these identify with the issues Britain faces right now more pertinently or emotionally than Roots Manuva.
It's difficult not to want to decipher Bleeds. As Roots Manuva, Rodney Smith has always been a cryptic lyricist, but with his sixth studio album for Big Dada, his meditations clamour to be heard. From the bitter opening gambit, Smith clearly has a point to make, but it would feel like a disservice to define it precisely. Smith admits to having songs change their meaning to him "years after recording them"; he prefers a more open approach, one that places value in the "mystery of a song" and its many nuanced interpretations.
With ‘Bleeds’, the sixth studio album by Roots Manuva, the man otherwise known as Rodney Smith says that he’s “ready to bleed for the art”. That’s a bold statement from someone who’s already established a high level of quality collaborating with everyone from The Maccabees to the Cinematic Orchestra, and produced outstanding works across his entire discography - ‘Awfully Deep’ and debut ‘Brand New Secondhand’ being staples of British hip-hop. Yet we all know actions speak louder than words, and luckily with ‘Bleeds’, Roots delivers a record that packs punches across the board.
Ever since Roots Manuva’s first foray into UK hip-hop in the mid-’90s, he’s been celebrated for what he isn’t as much as what he is. When the 43-year-old (real name Rodney Smith) released 2001’s lauded second album ‘Run Come Save Me’, its inspired mash of patois, homespun whimsy and dub rhythms could hardly have been less like Diddy, Ja Rule or the other American rap giants surrounding him. Smith has certainly battled personal demons in his time (his management attempted to have him sectioned a decade or so ago) and sixth album ‘Bleeds’ is often weighty, but sounds consistently alive, and inimitably Roots Manuva.Nevertheless, his chosen producers explore fresh avenues over these ten songs.
Roots Manuva raps for the downtrodden and disenfranchised on his new album, Bleeds. The veteran British MC opens this relentlessly bleak LP with "Hard Bastards," whose thudding beat and groaning background strings convey the crushing pressure that the impoverished endure. As Manuva spits about "rich cunts" and the cheap food and booze that keep the poor down, his plodding, gruff flow and Cockney accent make him sound like a Dickensian Scarface.
"Most broke cunts are all true bastards, and most rich cunts are even more bastards," are the society-scrutinising words that come out of Rodney Smith's mouth on opener 'Hard Bastards''.It's immediately followed by the gloomy 'Crying', which features some real freaky baby squeals and opens the gates for a pretty gritty start to Roots Manuva's sixth studio album, which provides more proof of why he's one of Britain's most prized lyricists.With production help from Four Tet and Adrian Sherwood, he raps tenaciously over dark beats. Organ-powered finisher 'Fighting For?' lightens the atmosphere, as Roots takes on the guise of a preacher – and he certainly makes you want to fight on. .
P.O.S. :: Chill, dummyDoomtree RecordsAuthor: Patrick TaylorI've been a fan of Stefon "P.O.S." Alexander since his debut nearly 10 years ago. On "Audition" and 2009's "Never Better," he proved himself to be one of the few artists who could successfully meld punk rock and hip-hop. Fellow Minnesotans ….
On Bleeds, Roots Manuva’s sixth studio album, the veteran MC proves himself at once immune to hip-hop trends and perfectly capable of beating the hot-right-now rappers at their own game. While artists in the highly-competitive hip-hop scene more often than not race to release as much content as possible, Manuva hasn’t had a proper full-length since 2011 – and he hasn’t exactly been flooding the market outside of his solo releases, doling out guest appearances sparingly in a dramatic inversion of the Lil B release model. While his focus on quality over quantity is decidedly old-school, Manuva is more than capable of adapting to contemporary styles; the moody production on Bleeds at times resembles that which might be found on an A$AP Mob or Odd Future release, but the man born Rodney Smith has no trouble at all adapting to the styles of the day.
It’s not easy to get a handle on what Roots Manuva is about anymore, beyond being a UK hip-hop stalwart. His last few albums have leaned on wonky digi-dancehall, positioning him as a cartoonish party compere. But now Rodney Smith has left the party and got weirder. If he’s the ringmaster of British ragga-rap, then his sixth album is the funfair you don’t want to get trapped in after dark.
In the four years since his last album, Roots Manuva, a great curmudgeon of British music who forged his gruff diction in the byways of south London, relocated to genteel Surrey and cultivated an interest in gardening. The move hasn’t altogether softened his temperament: Bleeds opens with a tirade against the free market labels pretty much everybody as bastards. That bitterness resurfaces elsewhere on the album but the urgency, so bracingly misanthropic on Hard Bastards, starts flagging halfway through.
Roots Manuva may have a Mercury nomination for his second album Run Come Save Me in his history alongside past collaborations with artists as varied as Gorillaz, Coldcut and The Maccabees, but his sixth studio album Bleeds shows Rodney Smith is still intent on pushing musical boundaries. While others may have unwittingly fallen into complacency, churning out the same familiar tunes over and over, from the first few bars it's abundantly clear that Roots Manuva still has fire in his belly. Marsh has always been an artist intent on moving forwards creatively and over the course of Bleeds’ ten tracks, we see a fine blend of genres enthusiastically mixed with hard hitting social commentary to form songs that overflow with ideas.
Armed with his ever-mesmerizing voice and hypnotic wordplay, Britain's Rodney Smith, aka Roots Manuva, is somewhat offhand about being dead serious on Bleeds. A legend in his time, the master lyricist sounds hungrier than many rappers half his age, and his direct, vivid rhymes are deeply personal. While Smith could coast on charisma, his music is doubly compelling because he has an ear for genre-defying production that's gritty, trippy and a few clicks shy of hauntingly unsettling.