This Roots Manuva article was written by Joe Turner, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Michael Liggins
The disgruntled uncle of UK rap is back with his sixth studio album, ‘Bleeds’. Rodney Smith, a.k.a. Roots Manuva’s previous record ‘4everevolution’ (2011), was arguably his best since 2001’s classic ‘Run Come Save Me’, and his latest effort more than matches it.
‘Bleeds’ is possibly Manuva’s darkest record (right down to its artwork, Smith’s hooded face looming from a red-brown shadow), but while the darkness of his other albums has focussed on introspection, here the rapper directs his gaze outwards on themes of poverty and social disintegration.
The melancholy strings that open ‘Hard Bastards’ recall the opening to ‘Run Come Save Me’. Smith takes aim at politicians, “The government don’t trust them and keeps them all in place / With cheap food and cheap booze that keeps them out of shape” and offers a stark depiction of modern Britain; “The underclass, the lowly class with no damn togetherness / The union that sold them out and sold them togetherness / Will look the other way as the first becomes the third world.”
On the elegiac ‘Cargo’, Smith sounds weary as he spits his rhymes over a haunting piano soundtrack. The hook highlights the essential loneliness of death, “We’ll be leaving here alone, alone / Well a really easy way we go.” Yet, in the second verse he is defiant as he declares “So I will stay blest I will stay / Dedicated to the quest […] From a stronghold that can’t be took down / Whole world will be ready to be shook down.”
Religion and faith are recurrent topics throughout Manuva’s work and these matters hang heavy over ‘Bleeds’. ‘Don’t Breathe Out’ looks at religion through the prism of black poverty: “Get to the blackness, get to the facts / The poor don’t relax, the poor do funky soul clap / Switch and adapt, turn the Jesus black.” Elsewhere, on ‘One Thing’, he subverts the image of evangelists who espouse religion while coveting money on ‘One Thing’ “When I shake my tambourine I shake that ever so keenly / I do my best to get a Lamborghini.”
The production on ‘Bleeds’ is a departure from previous albums. In the past, Roots Manuva has been known for his ragga-inspired digital beats, but here the production, mostly handled by British producer Fred, predominantly features analogue instruments and samples. This is especially evident on album closer ‘Fighting For?’, its retro piano and organ samples evoking US conscious rappers like The Roots. The new direction signals a move away from the party beats of earlier albums, better suiting the heavier lyrical content. One notable exception is ‘Facety 2:11’, a collaboration with Kieran Hebdon (Four Tet), Smith’s halting vocal delivery mimicking Hebden’s glitchy beats.
With ten tracks in forty minutes, ‘Bleeds’ benefits from being one of the shortest and most focussed efforts of Smith’s stellar career. His bitter insights into the ills afflicting Britain’s lower classes make this album one of UK hip hop’s most vital and relevant this year.