Album Review: Roots Manuva Slime & Reason (Big Dada Recordings)

Britain’s foremost rapper, Roots Manuva (or as his Jamaican parents named him, Rodney Smith) returns with his fourth full album. The listener is immediately hooked in with the infectious carnival anthem “Again & Again”, where Roots states his mission: “I came to the scene and came to uplift.”

There’s a defiant streak throughout the record, addressed to “rebel youth with that brick in our hand” spitting lines like: “with every breath and every noun/ we dare not stop burning Babylon down.””2 Much 2 Soon” sees Rodney responds to criticism from “bourgeois hippies”, explaining that the bling he sports functions as a store of value, ready to be pawned as soon as his income dries up:

I wish that I was a trustafarian
I wouldn’t have to hustle and I wouldn’t have to swear at ‘em
I came from nish, I gotta to do better
My pen is my sword, my pad is my Beretta.

Most reviewers saw this record as a departure from his introspective 2005 LP Awfully Deep. While the overall mood is elevating, darker elements lurk within Slime & Reason. There is shame here, in a track from the point of view of “a long streak of piss, a drunken bum” contemplating his life, “The Show Must Go On”. And there is anger, as in “Do 4 Self” where Roots appears to take pop at the Blair/ Church of England statements of contrition for the slave trade – “years too late with their half-arsed apology/ I got no acre and I got no mule”.

Roots Manuva’s enthusiasm carries you through it all, with a quirky humour and an evident love of his art. The album has a broad sweep, transgressing musical genre boundaries from hip hop, dancehall, and analogue dub to rocksteady funk. Roots relishes playing with contradictions in his oeuvre, such as the spiritual vs. the profane. In the end, despair is held in check by exuberance, and Smith maintains, “the struggle continues on.”

Mike Kay

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