Interview: Roots Manuva

Simon Parkin Roots Manuva for many years carried the burden of UK hip hop expectations. Last time it didn't sound like much fun. Now he tells SIMON PARKIN he just wants to wear his girlfriend's high heels and act very silly. Further listening: Roots Manuva

Simon Parkin

Roots Manuva for many years carried the burden of UK hip hop expectations. Last time it didn't sound like much fun. On his new album he tells SIMON PARKIN he just wants to wear his girlfriend's high heels, get covered in ice cream and act very silly.

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Roots Manuva AKA Rodney Smith grew up around Stockwell in South London. His parents were from a small village in Jamaica called Banana Hole where his father was a preacher and tailor.

Spending much of his early years in poverty, this and his strict Pentecostal upbringing have clearly influenced his music in the past, notably on tracks such as Sinny Sin Sins and Colossal Insight.

His last album, Awfully Deep, was thick with an heavy air or dread and paranoia and even seemed to suggest he was close to throwing in the hip hop towel.

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Thankfully he hasn't and he's back with a new album, Slime & Reason, which as well as marking a shift in musical focus towards a more 80s electro-funk and dancehall sound, in collaboration with some of the scene's current hottest young talents, is also his most fun yet.

t Slime & Reason seems to have a different sound?

“The whole bucket has been thrown in there. The album should really have been called all over the shop. I've really stuck my neck out and tried my hand at much more than I usually do. I just wanted to return to the giggles. Return to the childish schoolboy sonic giggles. Return to a time when good dirt weed gave you giggling fits not turned you into a zombie. I wanted to muck about in my girlfriend's high heels and put on some wigs and get a bit silly.”

t I take it that it was a more fun album to record than Awfully Deep then?

“Yeah, it was a less serious process. It still had a working ethos running through it though. I still had to set it up, apply myself and it still drove me mad just as much as any record or creative preparation does. But I just think it's weird on the evolution of an artist when you get to a stage where you've put out more than two or three records it leaves you in a state of 'just exactly what is it that you do now?' Do I really want to repeat the supposed successful snapshots of the record that have gone before or do I try to come back as a new man with a relevance to what's going on now? My worst fear in music is to become considered another coffee table item or to be considered easy listening. I want to keep having a laugh, keep relevant and keep down with the kids for want of a better phrase.”

t Is that why you've worked with young producers like Sheffield dancehall upstart Toddla T?

“Yeah, he helped to record some of the other tracks that ain't on the record too. He has lots of good energy and kind of reminded me of me back in my old community studio days. We hooked up and I made him choose a few beats and produce. At the time I really couldn't see the stuff we were doing going anywhere but the response back from the label was like 'yes, this is great!' Buff Nuff (the album's first single) is really just a bit of a silly boy's joke and I'm A New Man isn't really like a traditional Roots Manuva song at all.”

t It was obviously a process that inspired you?

“It was a peculiar process but an enjoyable one. And in terms of gestation period it's been, for me, the most easily accessible record that I've ever done. I haven't gone actually gone out of my way to annoy the audience or annoy the British hip hop scene, which in the past I have done. I've previously been on a mission to say 'look you guys are missing out on a whole sonic spectrum' and 'you can do this or that'. This time I've just gone in mucked about and come up with some tunes. No airs or graces.”

t The new single, Let The Spirit, which you did with Metronomy, seems a departure too?

“Yeah, I get my tonsils out to sing on the chorus! The underlying theme of the record was to twist the gospel sound to mess about with church hymns. I'm a massive fan of P-Funk and Parliament and whereas I wouldn't mess about with such straight templates on other records this time I was just letting me hair down and enjoying being a little bit cheesy. I'm just a more reasoned, seasoned person than I was when I was making Brand New Secondhand or Run Come Save Me. I'm not fighting against anything. My shoes are off and I'm slipping around on the shiny floor in my socks.”

t That fun seems to be reflected in the recent videos, especially Nuff Buff with you as an ice cream selling Rick James lookalike?

“Ha, yeah. I love coming up with the ideas, though the harsh reality of making videos, standing around all day, covering yourself in ice cream and slime, isn't as much fun as it looks.”

t What was the thinking behind the album title?

“It's just a corruption of the phrase Rhyme and Reason, it's my slang for getting it on and having a dastardly insight into the order of things. It's also negative and positive. It's the difference between the pleasures of ballet or the pleasures of watching a mud fight. And this record is mud fight.”

t Roots Manuva plays the Waterfront on October 5. Slime & Reason is out now.

Further listening: Roots Manuva