Alternately Deep

Artist: Roots ManuvaTitle: Alternately DeepRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Orisanmi Burton

Who is Rodney Smith? The answer may illicit blank looks and shoulder shrugs by those in the Western hemisphere but pose that same question to folks on the other side of the pond and be prepared to hear a barrage of accolades. The bloke from Stockwell, South London known as Roots Manuva has garnered global recognition for his novel blend of dancehall, dub, electronica and Hip-Hop sensibilities. He emerged from obscurity in 1999 with his debut LP Brand New Second Hand. American listeners were immediately struck by the raspy voice, unmistakably British accent and his pervasive use of West Indian lingo (both of Smith’s parents are from Jamaica). His second full-length, Run Come Save Me was a valiant sophomore effort which produced the menacing track “Witness”, a song voted “The greatest UK Hip-Hop song of all time” in a poll administered by Hip-Hop Connection. Smith’s critical and commercial success has opened the door for other UK personalities like The Streets and Dizzie Rascal. Their combined success stories may signal the beginnings of a full scale UK invasion of Hip-Hop culture.

Alternately Deep (Big Dada) is for all intents and purposes Roots Manuva’s fourth studio LP. It is comprised of unreleased tracks taken from the recording sessions which brought us his last LP Awfully Deep. Alternately expounds on the themes which made its predecessor such a critical success. Pensive poetics, hard-boiled drums and bountiful base lines are aplenty on this 12 track offering. On the remix to “Check It”, over steady, metronome-like bass drops Smith urges listeners to “Come check it out now/See what we about now/Laugh aloud now/We let it out now.” He goes on to proclaim for all non-believers that “My LP sacred/Call it The Bible.”

The album has quite a few enticing tracks. Unfortunately, their similar feel gets a bit monotonous at points. Many of the beats start to sound the same, especially as the album progresses. An example of this fault is “This World is Mine”. However, the sub-par soundtrack is bailed-out by insightful lines like “It’s so sad to see my people get juked by dem plastic gods/World threattas/Don’t you see my lightning rods/Rebel Fela Kuti/Sun Ra ti/bumbo natti /Decipher the scriptures/We focus on distorted pictures.” As alluded to in the title, his lyrics throughout the album are consistently thought-provoking.

Roots Manuva is just one of many international MCs who teeter on the margins of American fame. Hip-Hop’s international popularity has been touted so often that these day’s it’s almost a cliché. But these conversations take place largely in reference to the success of American artists in foreign markets. It is doubtful that a release like Alternately Deep will give Roots Manuva any substantial crossover record sales in the United States. In fact, judging from his track record and his consistent avoidance of the more formulaic approaches to creating Hip-Hop music it’s doubtful that he has any desire to do so. Nevertheless, when international Hip-Hop artists truly begin to make a dent in the American consciousness Roots Manuva will most certainly be sited as one of its most capable ambassadors.

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