“Cost of life so cheap ’round here
But the, cost of living ain’t cheap ’round here
This insane Britain, ready to claim Britain
Nuttin can change Britain, Britain’ll stay Britain and
There’s somethin about these Brits
The nouveau riche, and the old hat money
The birthplace of the gentlemen
that ain’t gentle when they wish to gentrify
The politician who’ll smile and say ‘How d’ya do?’
and swear blind he can change your life”
If you want to get at the heart of why the 2011 England riots occurred, the Roots Manuva song “Skid Valley” would be a good place to start. There can be little question that opportunistic people took advantage of the fires burning in London or elsewhere for their own benefit, but there’s a deep and growing dissatisfaction among the masses with their own economic situation. It’s one thing if your lot in life never changes, it’s a whole ‘nother thing if it gets worse with each passing day. When the well off seem to ride blithely above the whole global recession on a downy pillow cloud of good fortune, it stirs anger in the people they piss on below even if they charitably offer you an umbrella first. It doesn’t even matter if you live in a democracy or a dictatorship at this point – if the cost of living is up and your personal income is down the status quo just won’t do any more. That anger is causing riots, revolutions and political upheaval worldwide. As Rodney Smith notes in the song, it’s the very “Britain will stay Britain” attitude that fosters anger. That just won’t do, and politics as usual, that just won’t do either.
So who is Roots Manuva, and why is his message so important? He’s a 38 year old rapper from Stockwell, South London who has been the voice of the disenfranchised dating back to the late 1990’s. Award winning albums like “Run Come Save Me” are noted for both the well above average beats that Rodney rhymes on and his willingness to shatter English stereotypes while simultaneously embracing a culture that is for better or worse his own. He likes a good game of football, and a nice pint of bitter with his mates, but there’s no question that he’d like to see a better tomorrow for all of London’s disenfranchised – whether people of color, people of a different religion, people living in poverty, whatever. He’s a fan of puns and double entendre as shown on his recent “Slime and Reason” CD but can be serious as cancer when needed. His fans in the UK need no explanation for his accent, but outside of the Commonwealth his Anglo flow gets him a little extra attention since it gives him the sound of an aristocratic hip-hopper (yet one who’d probably punch Prince William).
Rodney works with a variety of producers on “4everevolution,” including Daddy Kope, Ricky Ranking and DJ MK among others to achieve his sound. The sound is a bit eclectic, but not in a way that would be off-putting. Within the confines of 17 tracks you can find a gentle breezy backdrop on “Much Too Plush,” an electro-Carribean style melody complete with Rodney sining on “Wha’ Mek,” the pounding techno rap bass of “Get the Get,” and a fierce East coast hip-hop flow on “Who Goes There?” The one thing that stays the same from song to song is Rodney’s defiant attitude: “If we tolerate this, we cease to exist […] now we count one two to apocalypse.” He’s having fun and making jams you could enjoy, but subtly working in the themes of change and revolution at the same time. The up-tempo “Watch Me Dance” single lets him cut free and have some playful fun, but in the grand scheme Rodney is on “The Path” to bigger things:
“We meditate, and we gyrate
and see with purity and clearness
Babylon rise and Babylon fall
Don’t know what they take us for
The more we strive they hate us for
Rank state of mind we shall deplore”
Roots Manuva is a revolutionary now and forever more on “4everevolution” but he’s also something beyond that – an insightful musician who realized he can give a message to the masses and still move their asses. He’ll sing, he’ll rap, he’ll speak patois, or he’ll give you a straight up hip-hop flow, but the one thing he’ll never do is bore you. There’s always more than meets the eye to Rodney Smith, the man with a common last name but a totally uncommon style.