When you put on a hip-hop record, you can generally count on a beat that’s easy to skank to. You rarely expect deft lyrical craftsmanship and candid meditations on life. Once in a while, however, you come across an album that delivers both. Roots Manuva’s latest release Slime & Reason manages to come pretty close, combining the danceable rhythms and sauciness a dancehall audience expects, with the haunted pathos born of an impoverished, Christ-steeped childhood. Rodney Smith, the mastermind behind Roots Manuva, is apparently undergoing some growing pains; his powerful personal insights have started to bleed into his raw, musical instincts, producing such soul-blistering tracks as “Let The Spirit” and “It’s Me Oh Lord.” The subtext of spirits and emotional baggage doesn’t detract from Smith’s frenetic energy and sense of humour, which is in fine form on this album; see “Buff Nuff,” a tongue-in-cheek dancehall track in which Smith offers his object of desire a ride on his bicycle in exchange for sex.
Smith can occasionally get in his own way with the ingenuity he lavishes on his music. On first listen, it’s easy to be distracted by production frills and Smith’s own weirdness. But the warmth of the lyrics, not to mention the near-perfect grooves present on almost every track, make second and third listenings unavoidable. Don’t let the creepy album art scare you off—Slime & Reason is a refreshing reminder that music designed to make you move can also have the power to make you sit down and say, “huh.”