Awfully Deep [EP]

by: Roots Manuva

Roots Manuva has never lacked for critical respect from his British public -- a MOBO award for his debut, a Mercury nomination (and heavily favored to win) for his second -- but if he ever wished to crash the charts from Brooklyn to Bengal, 2005 was the year to do it. The success of British rap in general, and grime or Dizzee Rascal in particular, appeared to grant him the perfect point of entry into the greater world of pop music. The concept was even more perfect considering that the bashment style pioneered by Roots and his alter ego, producer Lord Gosh, was a natural fit for any Dizzee fans unaware of his hard-hitting, dubwise, digitalic work (which must have been an influence on a few grime producers). Instead, Roots Manuva decided to pull way back and record an introverted, questioning, occasionally angry album, one that studiously avoids the monster productions that propelled Run Come Save Me into the canon of great hip-hop albums. Early on, he proclaims what a term like British rap means to him: "I'm just a U.K. black making U.K. tracks/I've got love for every one of those scenes/and them pigeonholes will have nothing to hold me." Fans who see him squandering all of the inertia created by British rap's quick ascent to worldwide respect won't be excited by what they hear, but a few tracks do stand out. "A Haunting" conjures up the ghosts of his West Indies and African roots with a spectral horn line and nyahbinghi rhythms underneath a near-spoken-word reading. And in the closest track to his patented bashment style, "Chin High" rides a brutal tech bassline and stuttering electro effects to support a rap about the absurdity of machismo. Overall, Roots Manuva may have a lot to say during the verses, but when his choruses consist of little more than a repeated line shouted over and over ("Awfully Deep," "Too Cold"), listeners won't be hanging around long enough to decipher his rhymes. ~ John Bush

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