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Rodney Hylton Smith, better known by his stage name Roots Manuva (born 8 September 1972), is an English rapper signed to Big Dada.
Smith grew up around Stockwell, London, England. His parents were from a small village in Jamaica where his father was a preacher and tailor. He spent much of his early life in poverty and this and his strict Pentecostal upbringing had an influence on his music as can be heard in many of his tracks such as "Sinny Sin Sins" and "Colossal Insight".
Of his early discovery of music he says:
It was as a kid. Before I even knew what a sound system was. I was walking past Stockwell skateboard park and there was this sound being set up. They were probably just trying out their speakers. I was with my mum, holding my mum's hand. And I remember my mum being quite intimidated by the whole affair. Such a barrage of bass coming from it! And these dodgy-looking blokes standing beside it just admiring the sound of their bass. It's just a bass thing. A volume thing. I don't know if I rose-tint the memories, but I remember it sounded so good, so rich. It's not like today when we go to clubs and it hurts. It was more of a life-giving bass.
Smith made his recorded debut in 1994 as part of IQ Procedure through Suburban Base's short-lived hip hop imprint Bluntly Speaking Vinyl. He debuted as Roots Manuva the same year on Blak Twang's "Queen's Head" single, before releasing his own single, "Next Type of Motion" the following year through the same label, the Sound of Money. 1996 saw the release of his collaborations with Skitz ("Where My Mind Is At"/"Blessed Be The Manner") on 23 Skidoo's Ronin label. The release of "Feva" on Tony Vegas' Wayward imprint followed in 1997. This was also the year that saw the first releases from Big Dada, a collaboration between Coldcut's Ninja Tune label and hip hop journalist Will Ashon.
Releasing for Coldcut's renowned experimental/hip hop label Ninja Tune in 1998, some of his music may be seen as a predecessor of grime. The following year he released his debut album, Brand New Second Hand. A reference to his family's modest lifestyle, the title is a phrase his mother used for presents he got as a youngster that were pre-used. The single "Witness (1 Hope)" with its lyrical flow and heavy shuffling squelch bass (allegedly a result of Smith trying to copy the Doctor Who theme) is a UK rap anthem. He had such an impact on the UK rap scene that The Times said that "his is the voice of urban Britain, encompassing dub, ragga, funk and hip hop as it sweeps from crumbling street corners to ganja-filled dancehalls, setting gritty narratives against all manner of warped beats." Manuva was rewarded for his breakthrough with a MOBO as Best Hip Hop Act that year.
The lyrics of his songs have a British edge, with critics highlighting his references to eating cheese on toast and drinking bitter as examples of this.
He can be heard on many songs performed with other artists such as Chali 2na (and Ozomatli), Jamie Cullum, DJ Shadow, Mr Scruff, U.N.K.L.E., Fun Lovin' Criminals, Nightmares on Wax, The Cinematic Orchestra, Beth Orton, The Herbaliser, Leftfield, Saian Supa Crew and Coldcut. He also made an appearance on the Gorillaz album, Demon Days, on the track "All Alone".
Manuva headlined the Lounge on the Farm festival 11 July 2009.
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