With a storming collaboration on Leftfield's latest offering 'Rhythm and Stealth', and a rough-cut gem of a debut that will put the fear into ordinary folk, Roots Manuva has quickly made an indelible mark on the British hip hop scene. You won't be able to chant with him over his ecclectic analogue soundscapes, but you'll wish that somehow you could.
He explains the album title 'Brand New Second Hand' in the same rich tone that has fashioned him such a successful niche. "You know when you get hand me down clothes and stuff? It's brand new second hand. Don't worry about it! I'm kinda twisting that on its headů" His album is a new testament from an old soul, and draws on a wide range of influences. "Everything from rock to reggae, to a style of dance, drum 'n bass, and hip hop. Actually, specific to the rap. Krs-One, Public Enemy and all those standard, boring people!" To get an idea of what he is talking about, you'll need to listen to the witty narrative of this eccentric urban evangelist unfold.
Laden with samples from a crazy array of sources, the album still retains a minimalist approach that allows the stream-of-consciousness lyrics to shift freely above the dark echoes of dub, reggae, and hip hop. It is no wonder that he has been hailed as Lee 'Scratch' Perry's prodigal son, or his album likened to Massive Attack's 'Blue Lines'. "Its kinda a big compliment, because I grew up listening to a lot of their stuff - the Bristol sound - Soul II Soul. That's some mind-blowing stuff, man."
Signed to Big Dada, a subsidiary of the stealth-injected Ninja Tune label, Roots has established a genre-defying platform for his music that has taken the interest of fans and big name producers alike. "Leftfield bought one of my earlier 12" and just called me up. I was like 'What da hell? What are you techno guys doing buying British hip hop?" he laughs. "It was cool to work with them, they were very professional". Leftfield have worked with the likes of Afrika Bambaata and Toni Halliday (Curve) in the past.
A tour to the United States last year went down well, highlighting the extent to which the American hip hop artists have been on cruise control over the last few years. "It's a massive place, a huge place," he offers. "We didn't really touch on the big glitzy side of the hip-hop scene, more the college scene, quite underground and quite intimate. It was like being at home. The people were open to our music. It would seem that the Americans take their situation for granted. People were just so appreciative of the respect we paid them. The crowds... they're used to being abused by artists!"
Far more likely to be brandishing a golden pen than a glock, Roots Manuva is simultaneously reinventing the English language and setting the standard for innovations in underground music. He makes it clear, "Just believe in your stuff, and appreciate it. Its all just a belief, and to be quite pig-headed about your belief. Let nobody knock it". In a world of fluctuating constructs his advice could not be more sound. To the people of South Africa he adds, "I'll be dere soon! I'd love to get there and get some of that sun, man - its kinda grey over here!"
'Brand New Second Hand' is out now on Big Dada. 'Dusted' with Leftfield is out on Hard Hands.