The resurgence of British hip-hop in recent years has revelled in rebelling against current trends across the Atlantic. Personal aggrandizement and brand championship has been a consistent element of American rap music since its roots in MC battles; Run DMC famously promoted Adidas sneakers in their records and live performances. But this phenomenon has developed into a malignant force, most clearly illustrated by the money-spinning machine of sugar (puff) daddy and ex-CEO of Bad Boy records Sean “Diddy” Combs (apparently he’s dropped the “P” as it was coming ‘between him and his fans’). Puffy’s media empire currently stretches to include clothing lines, movie-studios, high-class restaurants and reality-TV shows, while sponsorship deals ensure he is never seen in public wearing competitor clothes. Hip hop, born out of inner-city black street culture, has been so aggressively infiltrated by corporate branding in the US that it has mutated from an underground, anti-establishment movement into family-friendly, MTV-generation entertainment with a single message: material possession is all, so consume, consume, consume. As for Diddy, a performer with no talent and zero artistic integrity…I guess we can be thankful he isn’t concentrating on producing music.
On our side of the pond, Rodney Smith has managed (with the help of his sonically inventive and verbally athletic alter-ego Roots Manuva) to claw his way to the top of the growing pile of UK talent. A lyrical honesty and no-nonsense attitude to music speak to his audience on a level they recognise. Turning away from both the violence and the bling-bling self-glorification that historically has signified hip hop culture, Smith prefers instead to celebrate his Britishness, self-deprecatory humour and personal references helping his listeners relate. While still not matching breakthrough 2001 LP Run Come Save Me, Alternatively Deep is a defiantly unique album, drawing from reggae, grime and world music but with Manuva’s signature fat basslines and alien sound effects. A companion piece to the 2005 release Awfully Deep, funky opener “No Love” sets the tone; Smith's sing-song style of delivery and gravely voice creating a comfortable atmosphere for stories of council flats, pubs, underwear, playstations and marijuana. He isn’t afraid to confront personal issues either, with tracks “Things We Do” and “The World Is Mine” questioning his own motives and ambitions in intimate style. This record isn’t a revolution, it isn’t meant to be, but Manuva knows his strengths and plays on them to create a fresh and worthwhile record with messages of peace and personal betterment. If you’re holding your breath waiting for the Roots Manuva branded clothing line to emerge, exhale and spend your hard-earned on what’s important instead.