Rodney Smith (aka Roots Manuva) is rightly regarded as a trailblazer of UK hip hop: his recent LP Awfully Deep showed us how foolish it was to pigeon hole him as just another rapper. This mid-price companion piece satisfies our desire for more with another sonic journey into the mind of Stockwell’s favorite son.
Alternately Deep is what the record company call a “parallel universe version” of Manuva’s last album. In layman’s terms that means a collection of rare downloads, B-sides, remixes and exclusive tracks. Before you recoil in horror, it’s best to leave your cynicism north of the river as this comes pretty close to being his most accomplished release yet.
Smith’s soundsystem-influenced beats aim for an organic bass vibe as they draw on a vast range of influences including Jamaican roots, dub, hip hop and garage. His trademark of blending them seamlessly together produces a distinctive hip hop sound somewhere between stoner cool and outright genius. It’s a great sound that’s been easy for him to perfect, but frustratingly long in being recognised properly beyond his traditional target audience. He deserves much more than being the token rap artist on the Mercury Prize nomination list. Alternately Deep cements my respect for him and shows that the best is yet to come.
The album’s opener No Love shows some lyrical humour in full effect. This self depreciating opener proclaims; “Ain’t nobody got no love for Smith,” – perhaps a defiant reference to the frustration at the music business that left him battered after recording the classic Run Come Save Me album.
Double Dart is an infectious dancehall/ragga track, forming one of the album’s highlights with its rapid fire delivery. But the best track is Grown man, which concludes proceedings with strings and a laid back, almost old-schoolish vibe.
Far from lyrical posturing and playing to music industry stereotypes, Smith’s rhymes centre on the everyday things people find easy to relate to, hitting a degree of sincerity much greater than The Streets‘ superficial mockneyness. Top marks to anyone who can use the words “todger” and “gonads” in a rap and not sound stupid. This is the sort of the album needed to be played loud so you can feel the bass attacking you from the speakers.
Surprisingly cohesive for an outtake LP, these stopgap antics from Mr Smith are certainly worth checking out if you’re interested. It might not be awfully deep but it’s certainly not awful. Let hope more is on the way soon.