On Bleeds, Roots Manuva’s sixth studio album, the veteran MC proves himself at once immune to hip-hop trends and perfectly capable of beating the hot-right-now rappers at their own game. While artists in the highly-competitive hip-hop scene more often than not race to release as much content as possible, Manuva hasn’t had a proper full-length since 2011 – and he hasn’t exactly been flooding the market outside of his solo releases, doling out guest appearances sparingly in a dramatic inversion of the Lil B release model.
While his focus on quality over quantity is decidedly old-school, Manuva is more than capable of adapting to contemporary styles; the moody production on Bleeds at times resembles that which might be found on an A$AP Mob or Odd Future release, but the man born Rodney Smith has no trouble at all adapting to the styles of the day. The only aspect of Bleeds that seems in any way dated is in the total absence of empty materialism in Manuva’s lyricism. Listening through Bleeds, one never learns which brands of liquor Smith prefers, what sort of car he drives, how much money he has in the bank or what the labels on his clothing say – and the fact that these things are actually noteworthy only proves how desperately the hip-hop scene, and pop culture in general, needs rappers like Roots Manuva.
Working primarily as a storyteller, Bleeds finds Manuva exploring a cultural landscape dominated by violence, tragedy and “hard bastards” across ten paranoid masterpieces. Each deeply personal song comments on the darkness of existence with the kind of eloquence that has made Roots Manuva one of UK hip-hop’s greatest treasures for over two decades, and three of the songs break the five-minute mark; the bass may be heavy throughout, but making the club bounce is far from Smith’s mind on Bleeds. The self-described “British black musical Mark Rothko” channels J.G. Ballard in the car-crash narrative of “I Know Your Face”, enlists the production assistance of IDM titan Four Tet on “Facety 2:11”, and expertly subverts weed-rap cliches on the twisted “Me Up!”. It may have been four years since the last Roots Manuva LP, but Smith most certainly hasn’t been sleeping all this time.