Album Review by Kris Griffiths
Upon the release of his debut album BRAND NEW SECONDHAND in 1999, Roots Manuva – real name Rodney Smith – was hailed as the saviour of British hip-hop. His second offering RUN COME SAVE ME cements his current status as Britain’s rap king. The South Londoner has produced a work that oozes originality and flair, and immediately positions itself among the best hip-hop albums made on either side of the Atlantic.
The beauty of RUN COME SAVE ME lies in its Englishness. Roots actually celebrates being English. Here is a hip-hop album refreshingly devoid of rapped references to gang warfare, drive-by shootings, smacking up bitches, crack cocaine and all things American gang-star. Instead we get original rhymes about Tennents lager, council flats, the National Lottery, cheese-on-toast and all things British. Roots chooses to rap in a distinctive London accent combined with Jamaican dialect, and keeps profanity to a bare minimum – there are more ‘frigs’ than there are ‘fucks’.
“Dance master burst the bionic zip-splitter / at breakneck speed me down ten pints of bitter” goes the first line of WITNESS (ONE HOPE), the addictive first single awash with swirling sci-fi effects and a massive bass-line. Elsewhere on the album certain tracks reveal Rodney to be an intelligent and sensitive man, and one who is not afraid to reveal himself as such. We don’t see him masquerading behind the image of a snarling gangster rapper with a shooter in his hand and a bitch on his shoulder. In SINNY SIN SINS he touchingly reflects on childhood experiences of violently enforced church attendance, dropping quality rhymes in each of the three verses: “Thanks and praise to the King of the Jews but I’m all confused / why should I turn the other cheek and get beat?”, “With their strange perceptions of heaven and hell / to this very day I’m still frightened of their spell”, “Can I trust King James to translate these papers? / Do I need a middle-man to link with the creator?”
In STONE THE CROWS he worries about doing too many drugs whilst in the superb second single DREAMT DAYS he ponders the futility of “messing around with chemical rushes when natural highs come a whole lot cheaper.” However immediately preceding this ballad-like beauty is the bouncing ode to the mighty herb, HIGHEST GRADE, where he amusingly purloins the chorus from Craig David’s ‘Seven Days’: “I bought an ounce ‘pon Monday, burn a lickle piece by Tuesday, see me toke a quarter on Wednesday…”
RUN COME SAVE ME is a lungful of fresh air in the smoggy world of hip-hop. I wonder what Snoop, Dre and Diddy would think of a limey rudeboy rapping about washing his socks and briefs. As Roots himself declares in Witness – “We don’t give a frig about what them fools think”. Witness the fitness.