How easily people forget the last Next Big Thing. Listening to people talk about Dylan Mills, a.k.a. Dizzee Rascal, would make even the biggest hip-hop fan believe that the teenager had single-handedly saved British hip-hop. No one stopped to remember that only two years ago a different emcee was runnin’ this rap shite.
Released in 2001, Roots Manuva’s seminal second album, Run Come Save Me, finally proved hip-hop could make the jump across the Atlantic. Now, in the year 2 A.D. (After Dizzee), when house producers are trading mp3 files with Carolinian emcees and RZA is jetting across the world in search of rhymes, Roots Manuva returns to the crime scene with an album that nearly surpasses Run Come Save Me‘s considerable accomplishments.
Certainly, if Dizzee is the savior everyone says he is (and if you’ve seen him live, you’ll believe it), then Roots is the father, the British God emcee. If comparisons to Rakim sound like blasphemy, Awfully Deep is the first place you should look to be convinced otherwise. Over a perfectly paced fourteen tracks, Roots Manuva uses his stream-of-consciousness style flow over a huge range of beats. The strongest of them counter Dizzee’s video-game beats on Showtime beautifully, like the Roll Deep-style garage of the title track or the glitch-hop of “Colossal Insight.” But he’s removed from that scene, as he explains on the latter cut: “I don’t give a damn about ‘U.K. Rap’/ I’m a U.K. black making U.K. tracks/ And I’ve got love for everyone of those scenes/ and those pigeonholes were never nothin’ to hold me.”
The rest of the album is just as strong. The plodding gothic beat and sing-along self-inflective chorus of “Too Cold” (“Sometimes I love myself/ Sometimes I hate myself”) could imply an Eminem track, but the flow is classic Manuva. The slower tracks, with the heavier reggae influence that was so prevalent on Run Come Save Me, are equally effective: “A Haunting” is a great mid-album break and “The Falling” is a top-shelf mood piece with a message. But the album peaks eight tracks in with the brilliantly energetic “Chin High.” It’s a call to arms for nothing in particular, but this universality only makes it a stronger club single, with its synthesized beats and speedy tempo.
Ignored for too long, the influence of Run Come Save Me should be remembered with the release of this worthy follow-up. But Awfully Deep can survive on its own as another indication that British hip-hop should not be ignored. Along with 2003’s Boy in Da Corner and last year’s Treddin’ on Thin Ice from Wiley, Awfully Deep continues the building movement from across the sea. It’s a great step in the right direction.