Review of Duppy Writer Album by Roots Manuva

For all the respect paid, and his undoubted influence on British hip hop, there is always a suspicion that Rodney Smith - aka Roots Manuva - was doing less with the more god had given him. At around the time of the release of his second album Run Come Save Me - what with its Mercury Prize nomination and acres of adoring press - it looked like finally there was an artist in possession of the strength of character to take the fight to the US hip hop scene.

Roots Manuva Duppy Writer Album

And yet somehow, probably within the four year gap until the follow up Awfully Deep was released, that head of steam bled out, the creative higher ground being stolen inevitably by a hungry new generation of boys in the corner, most feeding off the more DIY style of flow which first surfaced publicly via The Streets Original Pirate Material.

Still very much active since then, if Smith cares much now about seeing this crop harvesting a clutch of number one singles and annexing the pop market, the boldness of Duppy Writer's high concept certainly doesn't show it. Working again with Wrongtom - who produced a number of reworked tracks from 2008's Slime & Reason - Duppy Writer reaches further into the Manuva back catalogue, allowing the reggae sounds of the rapper's familial Jamaican roots to be proudly shoved to the foreground.

The Caribbean principal of versioning stems from the era where copyright laws were just another sound system's problem, but even if it's origins hark back to the Kingston lawn dances of the 1960's, the results on Duppy Writer are at times nothing short of radical. Firstly get used to the fact that the names have all been changed to entrap the innocent - Juggle Tings Proper thus becomes Proper Tings Juggled, Buff Nuff now = Rebuff - but then next be prepared to get your head around the different place they'll occupy in your head. Anyone with a clear memory of the Awfully Deep's Chin High will have placed it as a blocky, nourish exercise in unforgiving techno; here it's spliffy twin is the lo-fi dancehall bounce of Chin Up. Once understood, the effect is invigorating, as Motion 5000, detached from 1999's Brand New Second Hand album, becomes Motion 82, now dubby sermonisin' laid down all fresh.

It would be easy to point out that this is a formula which has been used before, but despite being arguably the first wholly owned black musical form in post Empire Windrush Britain, reggae now stands perceived by some in recent history as old man's music. Here and now then we can hope for two things; that Duppy Writer helps rescue it from relative obscurity - along the way avoiding the fate of the Blues - and that it also outlines a whole raft of new possibilities for British urban artists. Roots Manuva himself will carry on, have no doubt about that.

Andy Peterson

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