In Roots and Reggae culture, a stripped-down, dubbed-out version of an artists’ big single is nothing new. The phenomenon also crossed over to Disco in the 80s but years before every artist album had to be followed up by an obligatory (and usually limp) remix effort, Bristol based Soul-Beat-Reggae sound-system Massive Attack allowed their seminal second studio album Protection to be re-imagined by Dub-Reggae studio don The Mad Professor. The resulting No Protection is now seen as more of an afterthought when considering the bands’ career but the release certainly pinpoints a clever and somewhat underutilised A&R tactic to highlight an artist’s influences.
Roots Manuva aka Rodney Smith is obviously a fan. He’s been chanting words like ‘Re-lick’ and ‘Re-fix’ in his music for years and indeed, August 2002’s Dub Come Save Me is the only other such attempt at re-dubbing a popular album in recent memory… until now. Teaming up with Wrongtom, a producer previously most notorious for being the in-house remixer for Hard Fi, Duppy Writer sees Wrongtom taking vocals from Roots Manuva’s four official studio albums and completely reworking their backing tracks, resulting in some of the most imaginative contemporary Hip-Hop or Reggae ever released.
A combination of luck and timing, Tom called on Big Dada label boss Will Ashon for some accapellas to do a version of the single Buff Nuff strictly for his DJ sets.
“It all trickled down from there. I think (Will) was sitting at home formulating ideas, and I did a mini album to go along with Slime & Reason and once that was done and the response was positive, I think he started to formulate more ideas,” he chuckles. “I was thinking the same thing but I didn’t want to approach him about it because I didn’t think it was my place.”
Suggesting he’s been a Roots Manuva fan for fourteen years, Tom seems to have caught the UK Hip Hop bug before he did the Reggae one.
“I was a really big fan of UK Rap since I was a kid. In the late 80s I was big fan of Overlord X, London Posse and Rodney P,” he says. “I think because it was one of those home-grown things that I grew up with, it felt like it was ‘my thing’ and it sort of grew up with me. Rodney (Manuva) is one of those guys, I think he became the biggest star in UK rap and is probably by far, the most interesting.”
Tom is surprised by the notion that Reggae is considered foreign music by some of his countrymen, suggesting that at one point in time, it was hard to avoid.
“It’s hard not to be exposed to Dub and Reggae in London – it’s almost like the soundtrack of the UK – with bands like UB40 hitting the charts when I was growing up and before that, The Specials,” he says. “I’m amazed when people look at it as this ‘other music,’ because it feels very British to me.”
No stranger to collaboration, Roots Manuva’s albums have, until lately been mostly adorned with his own magnificent production, however 2008’s Slime & Reason introduced listeners to the work of Toddla T who has since gone on to dominate dancefloors across the globe. Is Roots Manuva running out of ideas?
“I think when you have been working for so long, it’s nice to work with new people, to keep it fresh, just so you don’t get bored. It’s hard for me to say because I’ve been working for that long but I’ve been working with lots of different people and for me, it would be nice to work on my own thing for a few years,” says Wrongtom.
Having done dubs for Lily Allen and soon to be released band Palmer International (featuring members of The Specials), Tom fears, like any artist, he’ll get pigeonholed.
“Because I do such a load of different stuff I’ll always get some work doing other material than Dub stuff, but you have to stick to what you’re good at and I guess I’m ok at the Dub and Reggae stuff,” he says with a wry sense of sarcasm.