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Mainstream Grime: Roots Manuva & Wrongtom

Ninja Tune's current king of hip-hop hits the mainstream with producer Wrongtom aboard.

Roots Manuva is a phenomenon. To many he is a bridging gap between grime and the mainstream, however, unlike others who have attempted to connect cultural movements, and alienated themselves in the process, he has become accepted by both. The current King of hip-hop for those who don’t like hip-hop is able to headline the dance stage at Reading and Leeds before playing a stream of European dates for Ninja Tune XX. His latest offering, Duppy Writer, is an album of Dub reworks by producer Wrongtom and will be your soundtrack to the last barbeques of the summer. We met up with the man himself to get his take on Duppy Writer.

Dazed Digital: How did you come across Wrongtom?
Roots Manuva: He did a remix for the last album, Slime & Reason, it was done so well we just thought we’d let him do anything he wants! So we gave him the keys to all the acapellas and he just went. And the nice stuff, you know? The good thing about this is that he didn’t go for the obvious, he could have gone for any old track but he actually listened to the albums and looked out for the kind of style and aspect he was after. Which I’d say was early 80s, dancehall, roots reggae.

DD: Are you happy with the remixes?
Roots Manuva: As remixes go I couldn’t ask for any better really. He was respectful of the songs – the thing with remixes is that you’ve got to be game for a laugh. But for an album project, he stood out amongst the remixers that I’ve had over the years as someone who really likes this kind of thing. So, when Will (Ashton) from Big Dada came up with the idea of letting him do a whole album I was like, “Yeah let him do his thing”.

DD: Is it hard to give someone total control over one of your songs?
Roots Manuva: It’s a compliment when someone does it off their own back and puts it on the Internet. But to actually package it and call it a project, that’s a bit frightening. He’s done a really good job though, it’s quite surprising - he’s put life into areas of songs that wouldn’t normally have had any life. There’s a lot more specialist, early 80s, dancehall reggae DJ crews that are going to be able to play more Roots Manuva than they would have previously.

DD: What is Dub College?
Roots Manuva: It’s a concept, a night concept really. It was the name of a mix tape download thing and we turned it into a night. We did three at The Book Club and then we did one at Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch. It really went off, we were thinking about doing a mini-festival but for now it’s just the name of a night.

DD: Do you think it’s true that you’re writing is inspired by England?
Roots Manuva: I’m inspired by everything really, I wouldn’t say it’s just England.  The thing with my music, which I’ve never understood, is when people say that it’s hip-hop for people who don’t like hip-hop. “You’re the King of Hip-Hop for people who don’t like Hip-Hop!” From that context, I become an elementary introduction to hip-hop and bass music for a lot of people. But within lyrical or MC-based music there is a lot of Englishness in it anyway –it’s not really that unique at all.

DD: Do you feel pressure wearing that crown?
Roots Manuva: Oh no – it will whither away soon! People are getting much more used to the sound of a British voice over beats and rhymes. The old rock ‘n’ roll press is getting bombarded with British MCs - it’s going to seem normal in a few years.

DD: Do you think that grime is stronger in Britain than it’s ever been?
Roots Manuva: I wouldn’t say stronger. There is more of a business model for it that follows through and seems to be working. The problem with early British hip-hop was that it didn’t really translate to the bigger companies. Early jungle and drum ‘n’ bass didn’t really translate either, the same with two-step, and they might find that dubstep doesn’t translate. However, I think a mesh of all these things, which I’d call grime, is making baby-steps towards being understood and handled and better received when it comes to national and commercial radio playlists.

DD: What’s next for you?
Roots Manuva: I wish I knew! I’ve recently bought a sound system so I’m probably going to spend the next five years trying to make the best sound on planet earth.

Roots Manuva Meets Wrongtom – Duppy Writer is out 6th September 2010 on Big Dada.