Music

Roots Manuva: Slime & Reason

Roots Manuva’s autonomous background singing detracts from his most stirring quality: effortlessly smooth delivery.


Roots Manuva

Slime & Reason

Label: Big Dada
US Release Date: 2008-09-30
UK Release Date: 2008-09-01
Amazon
iTunes

On his sixth solo album from Big Dada, Slime & Reason, Rodney Smith, a.k.a. Roots Manuva, Lord Gosh, and/or Hylton Smythe among other aliases, firmly points back to his Jamaican roots. Widely recognized for his critically acclaimed debut album Brand New Second Hand, which arguably pre-dated the advent of grime and other dub mutations, and also his song "Witness (1 Hope)", which forever branded him with the rhyme "witness the fitness", his latest effort has an overall brighter sound through pervasive reggae influences, but darkness is never far off.

The album starts with a Caribbean chorus sung in that classic indecipherable island-speak, over bright accordion-like synth production. Manuva raps, "I’m back at the drawing board / And I’m sketching out my plans with two crystal balls", but instead of looking forward the lyrics reminisce like the music’s skanking carnival anthem.

Painting the most pastoral Jamaican scene on the record is "The Show Must Go On". Its melody and content are the components of an archetypal Rasta ballad but tinged with electro effects and a firmer beat.

The album’s second track, "C.R.U.F.F.", meaning "a play on 'ruff' meaning 'good'", consists of Theremin-sounding samples that wobble through notes, mimicking the pioneering electronic instruments’ phantom sonorities and preternatural sounds. Lines like "Chosen, living my life like it’s golden / I’m rolling, spinning my dice like I’m bowling", are Biggie-esque in their syntax and snowballing rhymes. Manuva’s flow, diction and delivery have always drawn from Notorious’ lucid and weighted vocals. But in these situations Manuva also conveys his ideas with similar clarity and simplicity.

Because he’s a British rapper such moments frequently get lost in translation. Take the line "Obligatory ragamuff rag enuff manic / I’m mangling, strangling, him or her" from "C.R.U.F.F" or the track "Do Nah Bodda Mi", whose title is more or less encrypted. During these moments the aesthetics of Manuva’s vocals are all we have to go by. Luckily his baritone is one of hip-hop’s most natural, maintaining an addictingly warm balance between bass, rhythm, accent and speed.

However, his voice is most adept at rapping, not singing -- an advantage wise rappers exploit -- so any attempts to sing a hook with his best R&B falsetto fall flat, and such missteps tend to stain. The Metronomy-produced "Let the Spirit" is musically the best track. Its electropop melody builds from just a faint pixilated stutter before a dub-inspired and resolute beat solidifies it and heavy arpeggiating synths make it dance floor-ready. But then background vocals enter, as layered by Manuva, and disaster ensues. It’s the same perilous move that Ja Rule commits with shameful regularity and alacrity. (Ja Rule’s singing is more severely offensive because it’s generally paired with some saccharine diva.)

Manuva repeats the singing offense on "A Man’s Talk", "It’s Me Oh Lord", "2 Much 2 Soon", and many others with mixed results. "A Man’s Talk", another solid Manuva-produced track that resonates with maturing and existential sentiment, isn’t ruined because the hook is one part chant, one part song and one part rap. On the other hand, "It’s Me Oh Lord" begins with a falsetto hook that immediately establishes the song’s underlying, but shaky, melody. The problem is that Manuva, as a singer, limits the potential of every track on which he makes this attempt. What is great about him, his facile and buoyant flow, is precisely what gets compromised because this ridiculous vocal juxtaposition is presented.

"2 Much 2 Soon" is an interesting dilemma. Though Manuva again grossly mismanages the vocal hook, the song reverberates his serious and lightly sardonic writing. He simultaneously challenges the immaterial ethos ("So if I bling yes and rightly so / Bourgeois hippies wanna fight my flow") and cites his family’s inspiring humble origins ("I came from this I gotta do better / My pen is my sword my pen is my Beretta"). At the same time Manuva also develops a hesitancy in his delivery, waiting until the last two beats of a measure to rap, at which point he sounds like he’s freestyling or just unrehearsed. The jury is still out on which forces ultimately prevail on this track.

Manuva’s incessant background singing is regressive in a musical way, not nostalgic as the rest of the album intends to be. Perhaps inseparable from his production and writing process, its addition can detract from his most stirring quality: effortlessly smooth delivery. Except for some profound philosophical shift, poorly sung hooks are here to stay given that Manuva’s musical mantra reads, "You gotta sing like no one’s listening. You gotta fart like there’s no one there to smell it!" Well, we’re there and it stinks.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image