Word on the street is building that Roots Manuva's forthcoming record 4everevolution is on a par with his best work. The good news is that on the whole it is, navigating around a diverse musical palette, the shining light of UK hip hop has managed to create a compelling and concise hour long state of the nation address.
Sounding just as comfortable with his rhymes swathed in bass as he is approaching a ballad, Rodney Smith delivers a summary of the current UK urban musical landscape without missing a step. Opener 'First Growth' introduces a recurring theme of childhood ("This our first time growing up"), while a funk-influenced bassline provides momentum for a track that somewhere along the line owes a debt to disco. Thematically it's an interesting place to start when considering the album title, which emphasises the presence of either revolution or simply evolution. Taking the elements of an outdated musical style and creating something contemporary seems to support this approach.
'Skid Valley' meanwhile references both the expected ("Chicken shops") and unexpected ("Get the kids into private school, mummy and daddy never raised no fool.") with an orchestral backdrop worthy of a Bond theme. It's a comment of the degradation of modern society, but with its tongue firmly in cheek. It's not all Hip Hop with a conscience though; first single 'Watch Me Dance' is as close to throwaway feel good pop that Smith is ever likely to get. The collaborative track which saw Toddla T releasing his own version earlier this year, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to impressive names featured here, Elsewhere in this diverse collection of songs you'll find Daddy Kope and even members of Skunk Anansie.
There are also hints of Smith's interest in dub hiding here too, the backing track to the soulful 'Wha' Mek' demonstrates an element of this, with repetitive synths threatening to feedback into echoes at any moment. Whatever style Smith turns his hand to, from pop to straight up hip hop with a dash of reggae and dancehall thrown in, there's the feeling that he's doing it with a knowing smile on his face. Even the 7-minute long 'In The Throes Of It' doesn't outstay its welcome with superbly timed vocal delivery that occasionally sits just off the thudding drum beats that pin down the track.
As 4everevolution comes to a close with its clever wordplay ("She's a quality item, she don't do spam, all I need to give her is 2 gig of RAM") and eclectic pick n'mix of styles, the ease with which Smith has kept your attention is impressive. Thankfully there's not a disappointment amongst the 17 tracks, but some do feel a little out of place to begin with, giving the feel of a compilation rather than a cohesive album. Credit where its due though, if UK hip hop continues to evolve like this then Roots Manuva will have started the revolution.