Hip hop in Britain has its fair share of heroes. From Rodney P to Skinny Man, from Sway to Wiley. Each of these artists has helped Britain find its feet with regard to hip hop, and on his 50th birthday, we’re going to take a look at the impact of the legend that is Roots Manuva.
In the mid to late 1990s, while US hip-hop was thriving, Britain was undoubtedly struggling to find where it fitted into hip hop culture. With acts such as Big Brovaz rapping in American accents, there was en masse confusion.
The Black British youth were primarily influenced by what their parents played. For the children of first-generation Windrush immigrants, this would have been genres such as reggae and calypso. Yet, with American hip hop being such as dominant force in Western popular culture, they were yet to see someone like themselves doing it.
Born to Caribbean parents, Roots Manuva was influenced by sound system culture. However, he chose to pursue the hip hop genre, which, in the mid-90s, was unheard of in Britain. During the 1990s, jungle music was the predominant force, along with garage. However, Roots Manuva, going against the grain, was determined to have hip hop in Britain.
Releasing his debut with the group IQ Procedure in 1994, by 1997, Manuva landed a deal with Big Dada, a label that would become home to Wiley ten years later. Manuva would also produce music for Coldcut’s renowned experimental hip-hop label Ninja Tune in 1998, and some of his music is seen as the predecessor to grime.
In an interview with Wordplay about his pioneer status and how you can shift and impact culture, Manuva declared, “You have to think out there. You have to think differently. Thinking outside of the box is the only way to survive because everything gets so similar,” Manuva can rightly be considered a pioneer. Back in 1998, when he released his debut, Brand New Second Hand, British hip hop was considered something of a joke, American rappers ruled supreme.
Manuva impacted British hip hop because he was one of the first to stray from Caribbean-infused music, realizing he had been born and raised in Stockwell. Regardless of his parents, he was British. People like Wiley and others would then, of course, go on to fuse hip-hop with dancehall and garage to create grime. But rapping in a British accent, talking about British life and not mirroring American culture. Roots Manuva was the foundation.
Below you can watch an interview Manuva did with the Red Bull Music Academy, talking about his beginnings in hip hop and his journey in music.