////ROOTS MANUVA////AUGUST 2008////
Stockwell’s finest, Rodney Smith, a.k.a. Roots Manuva, is nothing less than a shining gem in a current music business which appears more confused and unable to decipher genuine talent than ever before. Few could argue that his innovative approach and unique style make him the most heavyweight MCs that this country has ever offered up. His stand out track ‘Witness’ has been noted as one of the all time greatest hip hop tracks ever. Groundbreaking albums such as ‘Run Come Save Me’ and ‘Brand New Second Hand’ opened the door for the likes of The Streets & Dizzee Rascal, not to mention being a massive influence for hugely in vogue Arctic Monkeys. This month sees the release of his fourth full studio album ‘Slime & Reason’. Before the HMS Manuva docks down in Norwich in early October, Rodney took some time out to join the dots…
You’ve been doing a fair few Festival shows of late, do you find a big difference between these and your own headline shows?
With festivals, we don’t know where we goin’ (laughs), we just get on and have a blast; it’s less rehearsed and more rough ‘round the edges, also we’re not working with our own engineers or our usual set up – so it’s a lot more risky…
It can be a little daunting then?
It’s a much more luxurious experience playing to your own audience; you can set up and target the people who bought the records. It’s a whole different experience; you are playing to people who know the songs so you approach the shows in a different way…
With new album ‘Slime & Reason’ so close to its release, have you had much feedback yet from friends?
Oh yeah man, (laughs) a few people don’t like the cover though, but music-wise yeah, they seem to like it, which is good.
I’d read that ‘Slime & Reason’ is the conflict between doing what you want and what you know is right. It sounds like your conscience plays a big part in your life? Do you have a big one (conscience that is…)?!
I don’t know if my conscience is bigger than any other person’s. Y’know, ‘Slime and Reason’ means a million and one things and it’s also a corruption of the phrase rhyme & reason. It’s more about finding a suave, and enjoying the stumbling and making mistakes and learning form them. I suppose the ‘Slime’ is the negative and the ‘Reason’ is the positive, so it’s the two sides of the story…
Did you take time out to write, or has it been a gradual progression since the release of ‘Awfully Deep’?
It’s been written over the last few years. I did try and book a residential studio and make it in one setting but that never worked out. I booked this six bedroom place with a Jacuzzi in the backyard and a massive garden (laughs) and then I didn’t do anything for a month. Mucked about, had the kids come down, it was good. We started, but we just couldn’t get into it…
What are the highlights on ‘Slime & Reason’ for you – For me ‘Let the Spirit’ a ‘Man’s Talk’ are both mind-blowers?
‘Its Me Oh Lord’ really made me laugh. It’s a massive corruption of a Church hymn though…
It’s by far the most diverse album you’ve come up with. Did you set out to mix so many styles?
I wanted to try and get some kind of melodic, (pauses) actually a sonic sleaziness – a cheesiness. I kinda wanted to create a warped Gospel – twisting things up from the inside out. I was borrowing a lot of gospel melodies; I wanted a new sonic template…
As with your other releases, is there an alternate version of ‘Slime and Reason’ in the pipeline?
Yeah I think there is going to be a dub version which will come out with the first 20,000 copies…Limited edition…
As we speak now, there are still a few weeks to go before it is release date arrives; is this an enjoyable time for you? Or do you get the desire to try and re-think or change any areas?
No, it’s pretty awful actually. It’s like a pre-menstrual tension. I feel like I’m in no mans land. By now they’ve pre-sold it, they kinda know how well or badly it’s gonna do already (laughs). It’s just in the hands of the Lord now (laughs)… I’m angst-ridden.
Over recent months Outline has been lucky enough to chat to some of the finest up and coming Grime MCs out there. As one who has been on the scene for over a decade I wondered how you opinion on the new generation?
Oh yeah, I’m very enthused by it. I think there’s a lot of interesting artists and elements coming through. I’m all for it, but I get a bit narked that they give it a new name – why can’t it all just be hip-hop? I like the Newham Generals who are signed to Dizzee Rascal’s label. I like Kano as well, but don’t really think he’s grime, he’s just an artist.
Are there any albums you just can’t stop playing at the moment?
Yeah, I like the Flying Lotus’ album…
So after four full studio albums, countless guest appearances and numerous remix albums you must be feeling a little ol’ school now? What is the best vision that hindsight has offered you regarding the business end of things?
Taking things slowly and never forgetting the power of word of mouth. For the records to grow, word of mouth tends to be the strongest means. When there’s orchestrated hype attached to something, it always ends up being a stumbling block. You gotta take time to make things grow organically.
The last time we spoke you were considering releasing your own albums through your website?
Yeah man (laughs), it’s always there; it’s always the light at the end of the tunnel. Try and keep ‘all the one’ for one’s self (laughs).
As you’ve grown as an artist have the headaches also increased?
It’s the same headache as it always was. I don’t know where the enemy lines are, ‘cause you do bigger shows, but at bigger costs. There are more people taking cuts from what the artist has generated; everyone’s got their hand out, from the taxman to the venue owner – everyone is making money off the art.
The internet is totally changing the face of how we are using an getting hold of music, do you see this as a good thing?
It’s interesting, but I really need to brush up on my knowledge of it…
Is there a fear or an underlying paranoia of your music leaking before it’s released?
No, I always kinda think when stuff leaks, people gravitate and choose it by themselves; it makes for more of a real hit or a real popular record. I’ve never been bothered with leakage or pirating at all.
Do you find it easy to sit back and enjoy your own albums?
Oh yeah man, although I don’t listen to them very often. I don’t usually have copies of them or I can’t find them. Over the last few months I’ve been listening to Brand New Second Hand to try and get my head around that. It still surprises me…
Although it’s been regarded as one of the all time greatest Hip Hop tracks, do you ever get sick of playing ‘Witness’?
Nah, never; I mess around and say that to audiences to tease them, but as a track it was mixed so specifically that there are so many elements to it that it’s a joy to do. It’s weird that after all this time I still like doing it; it just keeps growing though…
People love what you do and seem charmed by your approach to music. Can you embrace and accept this love or does it make you feel uncomfortable?
I feel as if I am just as big a fan of the music as the people who have brought it over the years. I’m surprised and amazed by it; it’s a very strange relationship for me. I’m just a vessel for it. I could never have planned the way in which my career has panned out over the years. I could never have planned it that way. It’s been a series of very beautiful accidents really…
So is it your hope to keep making records for the future?
Yeah, I hope I’ll keep making records, but I don’t know if I’ll keep pushing the brand of Roots Manuva…
I’d read in a previous interview that you were pretty disturbed by the misinterpretation of your last record. Why was this?
Just the whole dark humour side of it; some journalists took some songs really, really wrongly. It wasn’t so much the English, but more the international media. It’s funny ‘cause there were songs that were played on BBC Radio 6 and they totally got it, which is funny cause I was a bit scared that they wouldn’t and they’d be getting complaints. BBC 6 kept playing ‘The Falling’ and I was like ‘stop playin’ it pleeeease, people are gonna complain’…
Nowadays, with such a back catalogue, how do you go about choosing a set?
The set chooses us (laughs)! When we were doing the live band thing, it was about what translated well, but now that we are going back to more of a sound-system thing (with some live elements) it can go anyway. The set chooses us. If someone is shouting something, we’ll try and find it.
Tell us about your average rider?
Champagne, whole chicken with… what them dips called, y’know them dipstick ones?
No, the ones you have with celery and carrot. The ones with at least four different cheeses (laughs)…
So what can we expect from the Norwich show?
We’re going back to the sound-system style. It’ll be all over the shop man; it’s not gonna be your standard hip hop show… we’ gonna get a bit cheesy, maybe blast a bit of Euro pop with bits of Calypso….
Finally, you’ve played here a few times before; do you have any lasting memories of Norwich?
I remember the last time there was a bloody cat fight outside the University.
I didn’t know if I could ask you about that?
What a cat fight?
I heard you were involved?
(Pauses) Oh…that one (laughs), yeah that one was me. I weren’t talking about that – yeah that was me, they had to hold me back; I got into an argument with one of the band (laughs)…!