You have to love a rapper who says ‘frig’ more than he says ‘fuck’, and Roots Manuva is very lovable indeed. His first album, 1999’s superb ‘Brand New Second Hand’ introduced the concept of the British rapper as a
[I]”bruk pocket Frank Sinatra”[/I] and set unprecedented standards for UK hip-hop. ‘Run Come Save Me’ shows even greater imaginative flair. The single ‘Witness (One Hope)’ may have missed the charts, but it deserves to live in eternity for its video alone, a hilarious revenge fantasy in which the grown-up Roots sabotages his old school’s sports day, competing against some enraged little kids and winning every race where once he came last.
That impulse to rework the past and make new sense of his surroundings runs right through ‘Run Come Save Me’. On ‘Dub Styles’ Roots reckons he’s [I]”French kissing the chaos”[/I]; his endlessly allusive wordplay is that of a sensitive ‘geez’ carefully negotiating a confusing and hostile world. Roots is a worrier – about whether there’s a god (‘Sinny Sin Sins’), whether he drinks too much (‘Stone The Crows’), whether MI5 might have a file on him (‘Ital’), and about whether he and his girlfriend might be [I]”walking down a primrose road to nothing”[/I] (‘Dreamy Days’). But there is of course hope and confidence too, expressed in striding beats and rugged arrangements that sound like the work of a Stockwell RZA.
It’s vulnerable and absolutely real, with a totally English attitude which sets it apart from almost any other hip-hop act you can name; not just in the references to [I]”cheese on toast”[/I] and [I]”ten pints of bitter”[/I] but in Roots’ strange mix of anxiety and playfulness. Musically, there are cheeky lifts from Craig David’s ‘Seven Days’ and Destiny’s Child’s ‘Independent Women (Part 1)’ in the dope-celebrating ‘Highest Grade’, but otherwise, the tracks are dark and spacious, the opposite of the lavish arrangements of fellow south Londoners Basement Jaxx, but even more evocative of that thrilling, if troubled part of the UK.
[I]”I feel sensual and every now and again I feel a sense of woe”[/I], confesses Roots over the marching beat and military whistles of ‘Join The Dots’; ‘Trim Body’, meanwhile, is a strangely sad ode to a girl seemingly declaimed through a megaphone. It all adds up to a deep-focus, multi-layered shot of Roots’ world, an elaborate but instantly recognisable universe of the lost and found.