Roots Manuva, Airborn Audio | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Roots Manuva, Airborn Audio 

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When his second album, Run Come Save Me, appeared in 2001, Rodney Smith--aka ROOTS MANUVA--seemed like the great hope of British hip-hop, making a crucial move away from the example set by American rappers and toward a style based in dub and dancehall. But before long the frenetic sound of grime (see Dizzee Rascal, Saturday) made Manuva's leap look like a baby step, and he disappeared from view. Awfully Deep (Big Dada) is his first album since, and judging from the rhymes, the last four years haven't been easy for him. On "Colossal Insight" Manuva sounds like he's throwing in the towel before he can be marginalized even further: "This could well be my last LP / I've had a good run, I've made a few Gs." Elsewhere he goes in for sour-grapes revisionism ("UK rhyme savior / No, never quite / That was just a media totality hype," he insists in "Too Cold"), and the harrowing title track recounts a stay in a mental hospital where "crooked doctors and kinky nurses . . . poke you in the arse and measure your schlong." The ascendance of grime notwithstanding, Manuva's music still has plenty to offer: he's incorporated dancehall-style phrasing but retained his South London accent, and his big, booming voice spills out in a relentlessly syncopated flood, dropping syllables into the menacing synth-bass grooves that roll beneath.

The New York underground crew Anti-Pop Consortium disbanded in 2002, and members High Priest and M. Sayyid have returned to action as AIRBORN AUDIO. The duo's long-anticipated debut full-length, Good Fortune (Ninja Tune), is a fine slice of warped hip-hop--molasses-slow, sideways flows; lurching, tempo-shifting tracks spiked with everything from toy-piano tinkling to woozy electronic noise; and wonderfully abstract, evocative lyrics. Good stuff, but it sounds like Priest and Sayyid are just picking up where APC left off; meanwhile their former cohort Beans has released a pair of albums that have advanced beyond the group's old sound.

Roots Manuva headlines; Airborn Audio opens. Tue 5/3, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499, $12.

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