No one artist can be attributed to creating a flourishing UK rap scene, but Roots Manuva (Rodney Smith) can definitely be said to have pioneered a new era of British music. Ever since his breakout single ‘Witness’ he has shown that the British rap scene can be more than just an impersonation of its American counterpart. Later on Smith enjoyed a continued run of critical successes with his own albums as well as collaborations with the likes of Gorillaz, the Maccabees, and Coldcut. With his sixth album Bleeds, Smith continues his impressive streak with slicker productions while maintaining his lyrical integrity.
In interviews, Roots has talked about how this is his first ‘professional album.’ While previous albums were mostly self-financed, Bleeds is an album that clearly has that sheen of additional production to it. Opening track ‘Hard Bastards’ opens with a mix of cellos and choral work as Smith launches into a melodramatic, world-weary look at urban life. This extra level of attention fortunately never overshadows his delivery, which remains frantic yet controlled throughout.
With extra expenses covered, Bleeds also benefits from an exciting blend of producers, among them electronic darling Four Tet and the relative newcomer Fred. Frequent M.I.A collaborator Switch also appears, most notably on the near-horrorcore track ‘Crying’, a fidgety and uneasy track whose samples of a sobbing baby feels like an unintentionally suitable addition for any Hallowe’en mixes.
Lyrically, Smith maintains his outstanding standards. There’s no song here that doesn’t feel like a master craftsman at work, but one that has changed from his early rhyming couplets about cheese on toast. He’s not angry more so than he is uneasy about the state of affairs. In ‘Stepping Hard’ he wonders “Can I ever be more like the mountain do…because when I think of living, in my heart I’m kidding.”