Whilst Duppy Writer is effectively being presented as a new Roots Manuva release, its concept is hardly a novelty for this leading figure in UK rap. Given the reversions of his material captured on Dub Come Save Me and Alternately Deep, it’s hardly a surprise to find what is essentially a remix project.
All but one of the vocal tracks here are drawn from Roots Manuva’s back catalogue (although some have been freshly re-recorded). But the source material is spread across a whole career rather than being a reworking of any one specific album. Remix artist and producer Wrongtom can hardly claim particularly exciting credentials – so far he is best known for his remix work with the ghastly Hard-Fi. Whilst it would have required superhuman magic to make that band sound good, here he is re-imagining much more intelligent, original and malleable work.
Impressively, despite the nature of the material, there is a freshness about much of this material that makes it seem like more than merely a remix album. Revisiting early Manuva material such as Juggle Tings Proper proves fruitful, as Manuva’s characterful, honest and eccentric rapping still sounds distinctive. The music, meanwhile, is completely transformed from heavy hip hop to endearingly lo-fi contemporary reggae. Ingeniously, the new version is entitled Proper Tings Juggled.
Elsewhere, tracks from Roots Manuva’s murkier, darker work become energised and strident. On the Awfully Deep album, Chin High sounded like a triumph against adversity – an exhortation to fight against dark times. On Duppy Writer, re-contextualised with a propulsive dancehall rhythm, it sounds like an anthem of untethered confidence.
That Wrongtom has both absorbed his influences and developed on them is also clear from lead single Jah Warriors, the one “new” track here. Featuring guest vocals from Ricky Ranking, this is the kind of mix of high frequency digital sound and rumbling bass that could easily have emerged from the Greensleeves or VP labels. Yet this track has an accessible side that could take it beyond the confines of any niche sub-genre, whilst Roots Manuva himself sounds every bit as imposing and engaging a presence as he does on his solo work.
Given both the Tony McDermott cover art and the nature of the material, Duppy Writer has inevitably been compared with the pioneering dub work of Scientist and Mad Professor. But, it may actually be closer in sound to the production work of Adrian Sherwood. It’s exciting to hear Manuva’s often witty, sometimes reflective wordplay in completely new contexts. Wrongtom has reworked the tracks inventively and playfully, with both respect for Manuva’s original work and self-belief in his own imaginative contribution.
However, nothing here actually surpasses Roots Manuva’s own work. Whilst Duppy Writer is an engaging and mostly enjoyable album, it also sometimes feels slightly lightweight, or intentionally minimal and immediate. UK bass music is now such an exciting field that Wrongtom’s dancehall and dub-infused productions, whilst accessible and well executed, are unlikely to break any new ground. This is an empathetic collaboration, but it would be even better to hear something truly radical.