Roots Manuva (born Rodney Smith) will turn 40 next year, which isn’t a great sign for an artist like him. The English rapper has yet to build a substantial following stateside and has taken a backseat to peers Mike Skinner (of The Streets) and Dizzee Rascal in his homeland. Realistically, his career has probably peaked, and he now has nowhere to go but down. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to let up. Something about him screams that he’s a gamer, and that he plans on sticking around until he physically can’t, or until nobody cares about him anymore. That deserves some respect.
Roots’ sixth proper studio album (and first since 2008‘s Slime & Reason, excluding 2010’s Duppy Writer, English DJ Wrongtom’s collection of Roots remixes), 4everevolution, pumps out some seriously tight grooves without sacrificing authenticity or integrity, which is exactly what it aims for. There are some very solid moments here. When the production is really on—that is, when the perfectly EQ’d drums, wobbly bass lines, and ethereal synths interlock just right, like on “Beyond This World” and “Watch Me Dance”—Roots doesn’t need to do a whole lot, and that’s something he knows well; he’s very cognizant about recognizing when to blend in with a beat and when to stand out. The dude is a veteran of this rap shit, and it shows.
The subject matter of the album doesn’t quite align with what its title suggests, as any revolution spawned from this will be for the dance floor only. Still, Roots goes pretty hard when he tries. There’s a slew of savor-the-(subtle-)wordplay lines on opener “First Growth”, including these: “Paranoid people are the most annoyed people / Peeping to see who’s a Peeping Tom / News leaks, now we see where the news is from”. That sort of observational reportage is out of the ordinary here, but as long as you’re not expecting any KRS-One-like insight, or even a whole lot of life-affirming lines, from 4everevolution, that shouldn’t be a huge shortcoming.
That’s not to say there aren’t problems here—there are, and they prevent this from being an exceptional album. The hooks, whether sung by Roots or otherwise, are generally easily forgettable or even futile (see “Wha‘ Mek”, “Crow Bars”). And the production is eclectic, yet cohesive to a fault; too many tracks melt together. A solid 15 minutes could be chipped from this album’s slightly daunting 65-minute running time, and its quality wouldn’t be worsened. (Come on, rappers, when are y’all going to figure out that’s usually the case with albums of that ballpark length?) All in all, 4everevolution solidifies Roots’ stance as an elder statesman of British rap, but his chance at being an ambassador is fading fast. Is he still a gamer? Absolutely. Verbal virtuoso or visionary? Meh.