Keep it swinging (Part 1 of 2)

    [Part 1 of 2] Rodney Roots Manuva is a true original. From his unmistakable charcoal voice, to his dark, heady lyrics, to his ability to bring elements of Jamaican dub, U.K. electronics and U.S. hip-hop into one sound — Manuva is the musical equivalent of a one-man army.
    Now, we�re not talking about some G-Unit, money-grubbing army, mind you. One of the things immediately apparent about Manuva (born Rodney Smith), apart from his sense of humor, is the absence of the money fever it seems so many people in hip-hop have caught these days. What you feel is culture and a need for understanding, a need for him to translate his chaotic vision of the world into a sound that allows the world to understand him. And it�s genuinely refreshing.
    Prefix spoke with Manuva at New York Knitting Factory during his tour supporting Awfully Deep, his fourth full-length. Later that night, a laid back Manuva played to a packed house that he held in the palm of his hand, almost without effort. On stage, he gives the feeling that — in the style of the best Jamaican deejay — he will toast over anything and make those in the audience nod their heads. He has a rare presence and an authoritative voice that gets even further into your consciousness as you come to understand what it is he�s saying under that thick dialect. You get the feeling you�re looking at an artist, not just an emcee.



    Prefix Magazine: Is New York the first U.S. date on the tour?
    Roots Manuva: No, no. Chicago.

    PM: And how was that show?
    Roots Manuva: Proper, proper, proper. Down to earth. Grand, grand, grand. Such a rich kind of mix of people. A whole bunch of hardcore heads. A proper lyrical crowd. A lyrical audience. They all listen and knew their shit. It was great.

    PM: Is there a band this tour?
    Roots Manuva: No band. Two turntables. Two drum machines. It was good because I haven�t done that for a little while. It was hard because for awhile we were trying to concentrate on getting the band to do the slop. And this is like the rebirth!

    PM: Is it easier without the band?
    Roots Manuva: Not easier. It provides the ingredients, the resonance for a whole different kind of performance capacity. It�s a mental thing. With the band there — I suppose I�ll be more on a trip where I�m trying to project my inner James Brown or my inner Bootsy Collins. But with the decks it�s like, �Hey, this is my sound system. Welcome everybody. I am your host — check out my crazy sound system.� It�s allowing me to get all into that imaginary sub-universe of the performance. You know? But you can�t really say which one is easier, because with the band, I can let the band do the work.

    PM: You like to have a lot of control over your records anyway. When you collaborate with people, you always have a strong hand in that too, right?
    Roots Manuva: I try not to do collaborations for my stuff unless they�re organic. When I worked with Chali 2na he came over for a few days, we was chilling out, he was living with us — it was a proper union of minds. Most people that (are featured) on the past records � we don�t just know each other just through doing music. It�s people that I chill and hang with and reason with. I feel best with the kind of people that would come round to my house and drink a cup of tea.
    That�s the only kind of people I feature — it�s never like [In A&R voice], �Dizzee Rascal is hot. Let�s get Dizzee Rascal in here on the record.� I really ain�t into that. Because when you make a tune together you�re kind of connected, you enter into a sort of business arrangement, and you�re going to be connected for life because you don�t know what�s going to happen to that tune.
    To me it�s got to be like this audio symbolism of making an alliance with another writer. So it�s really important to be quite choosy about who you collaborate with — in the vocal sense. If someone just wants a couple verses thrown on their beat that�s different — I can do that all day [Smiles].

    PM: How was it when you worked with, say, Cinematic Orchestra?
    Roots Manuva: They were unmanaged and then they joined my old management team, so it�s like they were family. And they used the same studio that I was using to do most of (2001�s) Run Come Save Me. So I�ve known Jason, Jason Swinscoe, because he used to work at Ninja. He used to do international travel. So I know him. That guy�s caused me a lot of pain, boy, and mixed emotions�

    PM: Why is that?
    Roots Manuva: Why? Because a few times I�d turn up at Euro Tunnel like, �Yeah, I�ve got a booking. I don�t have my reservation number, but here�s my passport.� And they�re like, �Nope. No tickets have been bought, sir.� And I�ve got to get to Paris, so I turn back, �No tickets have been bought? Jason, you fucker!� And Jason�s got only one flat level. So I phone him up: �Jason you cunt. You didn�t fucking book the tickets.� And he�s just, �Oh. Sorry.�

    PM: When you�re outside the U.K., where do you feel most at home?
    Roots Manuva: Before I would have said San Fran or Barcelona. But then I like Toronto, and Chicago seems amazing. So I don�t know.

    PM: You were at Sonar (in Barcelona) last year, right?
    Roots Manuva: Yeah, yeah.

    PM: How was it?
    Roots Manuva: It was crazy, man. Them people out there � those Spanish crowds, they do go for it. We did two shows there. The first show was like an industry type of show, which was brilliant for me — for us. In fact, the show we did at Razmataz was probably one of the best shows I did with the band in terms of all locking together and trying to get to our world. The second show that we did in the airplane hangar was a good hype show as well, but we weren�t in control. The crowd were like, �Rah, rah, rah,� and we was like, �Reh, reh, reh.� So it just ended up being like one big noisy mess. It was just rowdy.

    PM: I heard the session you did on Gilles�s show not too long ago.
    Roots Manuva: The one with�

    PM: The parlor session with the piano. I have to tell you, I thought that sounded really good. Have you ever thought about using more live instruments on the studio records?
    Roots Manuva: We always use live instruments�