Profile of producer/MC Roots Manuva.

Hip Hop's Hope: Roots Manuva

Being lumbered with the dubious title of "of U.K. hip-hop's savior" might have sent some individuals spiraling into panic. South London producer/MC Roots Manuva (real name Rodney Smith) shrugged off the media accolades heaped on him after the release of his first album, "Brand New Second Hand" (Big Dada) in 1999, but continues to astound the critics with his raw talent. Big Dada will release "Run Come Save Me," his sophomore album for the label, Aug. 13 in the U.K.

"Witness (One Hope)", the first single from the set was released last week (July 23). An instantly addictive track, it's hip-hop fundamentals are draped around a squelchy acid bassline and slowed down 2-step references, giving enough crossover appeal to gain a b-listing on U.K. national Radio 1's play list. "It's an achievement because when I made that track I never imagined it getting radio play -- it was made for mix tapes, small hip-hop clubs and sound systems," says Smith.

Radio 1 house DJ Pete Tong went so far as to make "Witness" his Essential Tune. "It's cool -- it means I'm doing my job right if he found something in it," Smith adds.

The artist, who inked a publishing deal with Chrysalis a year-and-a-half ago, cut his teeth at Rhythm Station -- a community recording studio in Brixton -- in his teens. He made his debut vinyl appearance on Blak Twang's "Queen's Head" single for Sound Of Money Records in 1996. He then released "Next Type Of Motion," his solo debut for the label and found favor with influential U.K. DJ/commentators Tim Westwood, Patrick Forge, and Gilles Peterson. By the time he had negotiated a deal with Ninja Tune's Big Dada offshoot and delivered "Brand New Second Hand" in March 1999, the British press were hungry for Roots Manuva.

"BNSH", which is rumored to have cost very little to make, has now sold more than 40,000 copies worldwide, according to the label. Its success has allowed Smith more scope financially and creativity as a producer on the new album. "I got more equipment for home, so I could record vocals there and just zone out," he says. "Also, I wasn't rushed, I had loads of time to submerge and get back to the innocence of the first record."

Smith has managed to produce three-quarters of the album himself since beginning sporadic work on the project in March 2000. He has also just finished shooting the video for the second single, "Dreamy Days," which is produced by Skilligan (Iceberg Slim's producer). "He gave me that accessible edge -- Radio 1 reckon they're gonna support this," Smith notes. There are also production contributions from Low Tech (aka Wayne Bennet), who produced two tunes on "BNSH."

"Run Come Save Me" completes Smith's two-album deal with Big Dada, which means the opportunity to court majors will again rear its head, but Smith is looking for a very specific deal. "I was looking to get signed as a business not as an artist. I want to take all my people with me -- PR people, radio pluggers -- people around me that I've built up a relationship with, rather than being one individual thrown into the abyss of a major corporation," he says. Smith cites U.S. deals of such artists as Jay-Z's Rock-A-Fella and Puff Daddy's Bad Boy as sound examples of the ideal set-up.

Smith is already looking toward global activities. The Roots Manuva sound has so far had moderate exposure in the U.S. -- a 24-date tour to promote his first album took in the college radio and alternative circuits was extremely successful. "Run Come Save Me" will get a September stateside release distributed by Caroline.

For the immediate future he plans to plough his energies into his own imprint. He will shortly pull out of the Arms House Records label, which he co-runs. "I have new ideas -- a fresh approach. I'm gonna start a new label. I'm definitely going to put out limited edition things that I'll sell on tour and on my Web site. I travel a lot and I'm in touch with a lot of what I consider raw talent, I would just love to be an outlet for some of that. Also it's a platform for me to explore my production capabilities."