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The Tel Aviv nightclub crowd will get a rare treat this weekend with an appearance by the UK's premier MC, underground legend Roots Manuva. Considered the grandfather of UK hip-hop, Manuva comes to Israel supported by DJ MK, a respected producer/DJ and a 10-year-veteran of the UK club scene.
Manuva, born Rodney Smith, grew up in a Pentecostal household in South London. His parents were Jamaicans, and he was exposed early to the island's sound-system culture: Crews of friends and family, often with homemade speakers and amplifiers, would set up for parties and community events. The sound systems were crucial to the development of reggae (especially dancehall) in Jamaica, and of hip-hop in New York. Manuva would go on to combine these two influences.
After appearing on a string of singles and collaborations throughout the '90s, Manuva released his full-length debut, Brand New Second Hand, in 1999 on Ninja Tune. The album was a crossover success, and is credited with throwing open the doors for a host of UK hip-hop artists. His sophomore album of 2001, Run Come Follow Me, was a smash hit there, and the lead single, "Witness (One Hope)" became an international club favorite. In 2003 he was named the #5 popular British musician by the Guardian, who called his influence "incalculable." His latest album, Awfully Deep, was released in 2005.
Manuva's music is difficult to categorize, as it encompasses so many influences, including dub, UK club music and drum and bass. Despite his success, his raps have an abstract, non-commercial esthetic, and are therefore sometimes classified as alternative hip-hop. He sometimes raps about distinctly British subjects - most famously pints, cheese on toast and bitters. With his deep London accent, sometimes accentuated with Jamaican patois, his vocal style has had a huge influence; prior to his appearance, most UK MCs were trying to emulate New York, whereas today British hip-hop has a distinct identity firmly rooted in the accents of London and Jamaica.
With the explosive rise over the past few years of "grime" (the London-centric, gritty street hip-hop featuring minimalist rhythms and rapid-fire vocals), Manuva seems to have returned to the underground, although he remains vital and productive. His music contains a certain spirituality and humor not often found in mainstream hip-hop, as can easily be seen in the hilarious video for "Witness (One Hope)," which can be seen on YouTube. His video for "Colossal Insight," the lead single from Awfully Deep, shows Manuva receiving spiritual knowledge while working in a fish-and-chips restaurant.
Quirky as ever, Roots Manuva and DJ MK will perform today (Friday) and Saturday at Comfort 13 in Tel Aviv. For more information, call the venue at 054-773-7237.