Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Manuva-ring Thru The Roots of Brigadier Smythe... the Early Vinyl Excursions of Roots Manuva

Roots Manuva's first appearance on wax was way back in 1990
Words: Postie

Why should Collectors of UK Hip-Hop desire the vinyl offerings of Rodney Smith? Hmm well... not only is Roots Manuva one of the very few "UK Hip Hop" artists from the 90s who has managed to break out of the narrow "UK Hip Hop" classification and gain genuine cross-over recognition from critics who wouldn't usually touch our music with a barge pole, he is also one of the few artists who has managed to do it in a way that hasn't alienated a scene notorious for turning it's collective back on artists who they deem as having sold-out. How has he achieved that? Simple, he hasn't sold out! 

Since '99 The LPs have just kept coming... 
but what came before?
In fact, as a recording artist he's a shining light for our scene. As a musician he has managed to maintain relevance, progress his music and keep us all interested whilst remaining fundamentally true to his hip-hop and sound-system roots. As a rapper he is everything you would want from a truly special MC - he has a distinctive and completely unique voice, a vocabulary filled with words the average listener has never heard before that rep his roots to the fullest and still make sense, and lyrics that cover the entire range of conditions of the human soul. In other words, he's Bona fide!

So after appreciating the above I applied this simple process of vinyl collecting mathematics to Mr Manuva... (Truly original and relatively popular artist with a strong following originating from a music scene with an innate appreciation for vinyl records) + (large back catalogue of vinyl records often pressed in fairly limited quantities) =  (the theory that early/rare Roots Manuva vinyl records would one day shoot up in value and become highly collectable thus validating my possession of them and giving me a warm fuzzy feeling inside!). Then, in Spring 2007,  I was perusing the pages of a freshly delivered HHC when I came across an article by a rap-journo with a fondness for the Homegrown that caught my eye. 

Ancient Britain HHC 211, May 2007
As an avid but often mystified reader of James McNally's Ancient Britain I was excited by the realisation that for once I recognised the subject of the article. In said article, McNally served up a feast of information that for a geeked out Roots Manuva fan with a vinyl addiction and completist tendencies generated a little too much excitement to handle. The result - a lot of time spent trying to find five tricky-to-track slabs of wax, all bearing various pseudonyms relating to Lord Gosh himself - Mr Rodney Smith. All five releases hit the record shops before Manuva dropped the 1999 classic LP - Brand New Second Hand and, when listened to one after another, beautifully chart the development of one of scenes most loved recording artists.

Stupid Fresh Vol 2: Roots TDA vinyl debut
Until I read the article I had no idea that Rodney made his first appearance on wax 21 years ago, way back in 1990, a full eleven years before his Run Come Save Me LP brought him to the attention of the broadsheet press and the wider musical world.

As with the 1992 Blak Twang debut talked about elsewhere on this blog - the missing link to the puzzle is Victor Redwood Sawyer aka VRS (who would later go on to become the 2nd member of Blak Twang back when the name referred to a duo not just Tony Rotten as it is now). I don't know all the ins and outs but the schoolmates formed a group with another friend and called themselves Touchdown Alliance. They cut a track and managed to get it on an obscure 1990 UK rap compilation on Warrior Records called Stupid Fresh Volume 2.

The album itself looks like an early Wax incarnation of what Disorda did with his Mind the Gap tape series - a load of tracks commissioned with the help of an HHC advert from a series of unknown rap groups, put together with the aim of getting them exposure. Whilst many of the names on the back will have drifted into obscurity, Manuva certainly isn't one of them. The notes on the back of the LP could still apply today, describing the group as... "hitting hard from the Southside with a sound all of their own. With their own production company, Safe Sound Productions, they blend together Reggae, Street Soul, Swing Beat and of course Rap."

R.Smith in full effect for the 1st time
And to be fair "It's Our Time" really isn't bad even if the "Oooooooh Teee Ayyy" chorus contribution from the annoyingly singy VRS does over-sweeten it a bit! Whilst the beat somewhat resembles something from an 80s schoolroom educational video, the lyrics and delivery from the first emcee isn't bad - but the fireworks definitely start when our man Rodney jumps on the mic to kick the first of his debut verses. The voice is immediately recognisable even if the flow sounds like you would expect from the 1990 'aspiring teenager' incarnation of Hylton Smithe - its lovely to hear and makes so much sense as a starting point when you place it in the context of his later records.

Touchdown Alliance: "It's Our Time" (1990 Warrior Records)

IQ Procedue 12" on MC Duke's Bluntly Speaking
But if "It's Our Time" only hints at what is to come from the multi-monikered Manuva, his contribution to another obscure record on MC Duke's Bluntly Speaking label by a crew called IQ Procedure is a straight kick in the balls introduction to his future work.... in his own words... "One bright spark breaks through /and the rest of you be lining up neatly in a queue"... too true!

All four tracks on the EP are ill in their own right. It all kicks off with the original version of "Run Tings" and the beat is nice enough in 93-Pete Rock-Large Pro-influenced-jazz-funk-loop-kind-of-way, but things really pick up with the stripped down industrial sounding Southside Relick of the same track that follows on side A. The bass heavy metalic beat and the husky "rude bwoy - liiick" chant give the the track a properly grimey London feel and the ragga vocals of the other emcees only add to make it the earliest example of the sound we would later hear Roots develop and modernise - not least on Slime and Reason.

Released on MC Duke's Bluntly Speaking Label
The flip is made up of two further cuts. "Can U Get With This" is a little more mellow and reverts back to the jazz-funk production courtesy of a couple of familiar sounding horn stabs, saxophone rifts and an ill rolled drum break that sounds like it could have been utilised by any number of early 90s East Coast US producers. "Big It Up" plays out in a similar vein but according to McNally it is in fact "The Gucci Loafer of early Roots Manuva jammies."

IQ Procedure EP (1994 Bluntly Speaking)
Run Tings (Southside Relick) / Can U Get With This / Big It UP 

Front cover of the Sound of Money 12"
Probably a little better known to Manuva followers will be the vinyl single that got released on the massively collectable Sound Of Money label as part of a series of five 12s that included Blak Twang's Dettwork Southeast and the Twang/Roots collaboration Queens Heads (already covered in this blog). It was apparently this track that made Big Dada's Will Ashton sit up and take notice. The A side of the single is home to the original version of Next Type of Motion - which was later remade as Motion 5000 for the Brand New Second Hand LP. Whilst its pretty nice, it really is no match for the beautiful cello sampling 1999 version. The Remix however is another kettle of fish entirely. The samples that kick in for this version sounds something like a cross between a slowed down "10 Crack Commandments" and Jeru's "Come Clean" and it changes the vibe of the song completely to something a little darker.

And on the back Roots in Stockwell Station
On the intro to "Raw Uncut" on the flip of the twelve, Roots announces his intent with the lines... "I send a warning, I repeat I send a warning. This is a Bakkle Rap, but we don't bakkle against Emcees, we bakkle against evil..." What follows is an introspective Roots Manuva at his best. Everything you would expect to hear on an RM record made at this time is present, battling against his inner demons - check, trying to remain positive and collect the Queen's heads - check, South London Jamaican English schoolyard slang - check, Blak Twang contribution on the chorus - check, horn stabs over a melancholy beat - check mate! What a tune!

Roots Manuva: Next Type of Motion (12" Remix) / Raw Uncut (1995 Sound of Money)

Label track-listing is incorrect "That Side"
should read "Fever", "Fever Instrumental"
Moving swiftly on to early Hylton Smythe 12 inch desirable No.4... "Fever" will be a track that is already well known to those with a fondness for Brand New Second Hand, but some may not realise that the version stuck at the back end of the 1999 LP was in fact a VRS relick of a tune Roots originally dropped on the AA side of Skeme's scarce Herbman Hustling 12" released on his own Wayward label in 1996. Whereas the LP relick is a Jazzy little number, the original, produced by Roots himself, is very different. With a stretch of the imagination the original version is best described as Mr Smith rapping in a submarine complete with beat resembling a sonar call and a whale response... sub-sea-level underground madness then?

Roots Manuva: Fever (1996 Wayward 12" Version)

A straight up must have for any fans of Mr Smith
The fifth - and perhaps the most readily available of the 12s - is Roots venture with Skitz on a 1996 Ronin Records 12. Those familiar with Skitz' 2001 Countryman LP will already be aware of "Where My Mind Is At" but may not realise it was originally released five years previously on this lovely double A side record coupled with another track entitled Blessed Be The Manner. Both tracks are absolutely top notch, fully formed Manuva and absence in the collection is a gaping hole in any serious UK Hip Hop collector's crates!

Skitz alongside Roots Manuva: Blessed Be The Manner / Where My Mind is At (1996 Ronin 12")

Peace, love and happy hunting,

1 comment:

  1. I have seen this video Manuva is very tremendous.His voice is very clear and unique.I like to watch some more update on this topic.
    - Hip Hop History