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Roots Manuva meets Wrongtom - Duppy Writer

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Artist: Roots Manuva meets Wrongtom

Album: Duppy Writer

Label: Big Dada

Review date: Dec. 3, 2010

If a good turn of phrase and a clever rhyme scheme were the only hallmarks of the best rappers, then Britain’s Roots Manuva would struggle to distinguish himself from the mean. “Me far-flung frontier / I’m Captian Kirk,” he raps on “Proper Tings Juggled.” “The fruits of the roots / A vision of splendid splendidness / Now me proud to be / Spitting in the face of the beast / . . . You might watch me, but I’ll watch you, too / There’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

Roots Manuva is pretty pedestrian when you take his words at their face value. But rappers aren’t poets; they’re performers. And to hear Roots Manuva on his new album, Duppy Writer, is to appreciate what has made him one of this decade’s more sought after cameo artists in the interstices of hip hop, dub and grime.

Roots Manuva is blessed with a lovely baritone, full and sweet but tartly delivered. It is the voice of a man born to call, not respond. And with his lilt, a pollination of English and West Indian inflection, he is downright entrancing, even when, as on “Worl’ A Mine,” he’s practically growling. Being zonked by a rapper’s voice doesn’t mean that a whole album would be fun or rewarding, however — Chubb Rock had a commanding speaking tone, too, but who remembers anything other than “Treat ‘Em Right”?

Duppy Writer, which reworks a number of Roots Manuva’s earlier tracks through a reggae frame, isn’t a landmark achievement, but Roots Manuva does his best to hold attention. Praise is due to his selectivity — the album’s sum of 13 songs, all straightforward and to the point, respects listeners’ time and Roots Manuva’s limitations. Duppy Writer also showcases Roots Manuva stretching beyond his standard dancehall cadence. Check the stuttering pattern on “Dutty Rut,” which owes more than a little to Eminem’s ghostwriting on “Forgot About Dre,” or the lyrical enjambment across the bars on “Motion 82.”

Nevertheless, there is a certain repetition to Duppy Writer that is not so much constant as stuck in place. Duppy Writer, produced by the British DJ Wrongtom, is steeped in dub — indeed, the point of the record is to present Roots Manuva as a dub artist —and has a somewhat lethargic affect. Heavy bass and echoing guitars cushion the album. When combined with Roots Manuva’s purr, the atmospherics create such a stupor that, by the end, it has all the energy of a downy mattress. One exception to the recurrent reggae is the jazzy “Lick Ya Foot,” the piano on which recalls the coda of Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew.” A standout, “Lick Ya Foot” is what dub would have sounded like in Ali Shaheed Muhammed’s hands.

So maybe long form (or at least long form dub) isn’t Roots Manuva’s most flattering platform. But Duppy Writer doesn’t deny his singular talent: the ability to rap not only confidently, but sonorously. Only a case of laryngitis could seemingly derail Roots Manuva. So, a word of caution to our would-be dubster: stay out of the cold this winter and keep your voice under wraps. We’ll be waiting for you come spring.

By Ben Yaster

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