In the hip hop Olympics Roots Manuva has always been Team GB's only hope - and since his remarkable debut Brand New Second Hand in 1999 he has continued to produce brutally honest work that - while encompassing hip hop, dub, ragga and funk- manages to sound essentially British, but at the same time different from all other sounds that trickle from the UK hip hop scene. His 2001 follow-up Run Come Save Me saw Rodney Smith gain wider acclaim being nominated for a Mercury Music Prize and took the dark subtleties of BNSH and mixed them with a new found penchant for the 'pop hit'. Lead single Witness was voted greatest UK hip hop tune of all time by the readers of Hip Hop Connection. In 2005 came the the introspective Awfully Deep which, while receiving its dues in musical acclaim, was largely misunderstood by Smith's gathering throng of fans.
Thankfully Slime And Reason is unlikely to suffer the same injustice and is a dazzling return to form for our reluctant hero. Trying to narrow down this emcee's strengths is something of a challenge. He's done more than most for UK hip hop and yet his beats need only the slightest nudge to stray from their hip hop root. He can hit us with a crowd pleaser like Witness then retreat into the introspective shadows for the rest of the record. Despite his success his rhymes are laced with the insecurities of the common man and so as a result he's able to counteract his critical acclaim with the kitchen sink wit of a hip hop Morrissey. Slime And Reason incorporates all these contradictions and is a marvelous summation of his career so far. It plunges into the textured depths of Run Come Save Me while tapping the money-making hit machine of Witness to a fuller effect. The beats crunch with electro futurism and yet this album more than most draws on a sound of old.
The record seems to be divided into 2 halves and each half draws on a different source. The Jamaican record label Studio One provides the sonic source material with a grass roots dancehall flavor running through much of the first half of the record. This is where the carnival atmosphere is created and by track 7 we've been given more hands-in-the-air but shakers than on all his albums combined. Opener Again & Again is a ramshackle celebration of Smith's inspirational roots with its looped brass section sample bobbing to the swagger of the rhythm. Do Nah Bodda Mi is a stand out moment here and is almost certainly set for dance floor greatness this summer. Produced by dancehall maverick Toddla T, it's a no holds barred romp featuring lightning guest vocals and contrasted monotone Smith rhyming. Buff Nuff assumes a similar tempo and is as shameless as things are ever likely to get. Sadly this song suffers greatly under the shadow of the recent Flight Of The Conchords song Boom - and together with Smith's attempts to entice a female by offering her a lift on the handlebars of his push bike, this song is virtually impossible to take seriously.
The second half draws on his hip hop influences and is a lot less fun and with songs like It's Me Oh Lord it does tend to get bogged down in its seriousness. However, this contrast is what we love about this emcee. He really has a lot to say which, in this genre, can sometimes be a rare thing. We see his bare boned insecurities about success and money in 2 Much 2 Soon and the trials of a family man reduced to a "long streak of piss" nursing a "lethal concoction" in a local pub. Well Alright with its examination of Manuva's place in the music business and The Metronomy produced Let The Spirit are two of the best and most worthwhile tracks on here and will be the songs that take this record back to the greatness of the debut.
The album begins with Again & Again's line "A lot of people don't know about Smith, how I came to the scene and came to uplift" and ends with the subdued The Struggle. With bookends like this its easy and yet curious to see Smith's sense of vulnerability in this life and this business. He's been a household name in hip hop circles across the world for some time now and this fourth installment can only project him more into people's consciousness. But his charm and lasting appeal may well reside in the fact that no matter how big this album gets it will always be a case of "The struggle continues on".