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BBC – Music – Review of Roots Manuva

Written by on October 27, 2020

On his 2011 full-length, 4everevolution, Rodney Smith (aka Roots Manuva) warned us against the perils of prankster life. He believed that human life had been devalued, though the cost of living wasn’t cheap.

Elsewhere on that LP, the rapper/producer simply wanted to dance and let go of heavy burdens, showcasing an affinity for offbeat cadences and forward-looking lyricism.

With Smith, you never have to wonder what’s on his mind; his delivery is uncompromising, and that makes him one of hip hop’s most accessible MCs of any ilk.

So at this point in his career, Smith has nothing else to prove, which might explain the transitional feel of his Banana Skank EP. Over its 15 minutes, the veteran quickly leapfrogs scant melodies and breezy island rhythms, similar to those of 4everevolution.

The EP feels like a continuation of his 2011 album, its four songs mixed for loud airplay on a decent sound system. To that end, it hits the mark, but doesn’t do enough to stay in your brain long past initial consumption. That it’s a Roots Manuva project will certainly make it noteworthy, though its light fare and brief runtime do it few favours.

There’s still a little worth digging into: the original version of Banana Skank fused live drums and bright synthesizers, which played well against Smith’s fluid cadence. The EP’s remix is a bubbly Caribbean dance number that nods to his Jamaican roots with stuttering electro-pop.

Conversely, Part 2 is a darker piece, its menacing synthetics evoking a heavier mood, even if the song remains energetic. The other cuts, Natural and Party Time, lean toward Smith’s lyrical side.

On the former, he and Kope rise above a stilted beat to showcase their rhythmic dexterity. On the latter, the mood is noticeably intergalactic; Smith and Kope “crush the solar system into atoms”.

In the end, the EP doesn’t pack enough punch. While it serves as a buffer between projects, an artist like Smith shouldn’t simply pass through. His talent is made to linger, and Banana Skank rushes off too soon.

Perhaps he’ll stay a bit longer next time.

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