Rodney Smith aka Roots Manuva is one of the titans of Black British music.
Smith made his recorded debut in 1994 as part of IQ Procedure through Suburban Base’s short-lived hip hop imprint Bluntly Speaking Vinyl. He debuted as Roots Manuva the same year on Blak Twang’s ‘Queen’s Head’ single, before releasing his own single, ‘Next Type of Motion’ the following year through the same label, the hugely influential Sound of Money. 1996 saw the release of his collaborations with Skitz (‘Where My Mind Is At’/’Blessed Be the Manner’) on 23 Skidoo’s Ronin label. The release of ‘Feva’ on Tony Vegas’s Wayward imprint followed in 1997. This was also the year that saw the first releases from Big Dada. In 1998 he joined the label and the following year released his fiercesome debut, ‘Brand New Second Hand’. From an initial 3000 records put into the shops ‘BNSH’ has now sold over 50,000 copies in the UK. It also made the first dents in the wall of complacency and indifference which has often greeted home-grown Black music in this country. Manuva was rewarded for his breakthrough with a MOBO as Best Hip Hop Act that year. As if to demonstrate the broad appeal of his style, he also featured on Leftfield’s ‘Dusted’ from their ‘Rhythm & Stealth’ album.
Big things were now expected of Smith and he delivered with 2001’s ‘Run Come Save Me’, the record which gained him a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize and which has currently sold well over 100,000 copies in the UK. More importantly, it spawned the all-time classic ‘Witness’ (voted the greatest UK hip hop tune of all time by the readers of Hip Hop Connection) on an album that ran from the broad, swaggering pop of ‘Dreamy Days’ to the dark, odd meditation of ‘Evil Rabbit’. It is also the record which led the Guardian newspaper, in October 2003, to proclaim Manuva fifth in their ’40 Best Bands In Britain’ feature, proclaiming that “his influence is incalculable and he opened the doors for the Streets, Dizzee Rascal et al.”
One of the true pioneers and originals of British music, any album from Roots Manuva is an event. When it’s as good as ‘Bleeds’ it’s one of the musical events of the year. Both genre-defying and deeply rooted in what he describes as “the culture of Bass and Verb,” the record innovates and consolidates in equal measure. Rodney Smith describes himself as “a British Black musical Mark Rothko” and ‘Bleeds’ is another masterpiece from this abstract wordsmith.