Britain’s greatest rapper chats about James Blunt,[Canberra] and The League of Gentlemen

South Londoner Rodney Smith, aka Roots Manuva, has been called everything from the “godfather of UK hip hop” to “the voice of urban Britain”. His 2001 track “Witness” is regarded by many as the greatest rap tune to have come out of England, plus he’s seen as a major inspiration for the likes of Dizzee Rascal, whose style of grime music has more recently taken the charts by storm. Having just released his sixth studio album, there’s no doubting that Mr Manuva is still the man. Which is why we forgive him for standing us up. Twice. We got there in the end, eh Rodney?

Your new album, Slime and Reason, is getting great reviews. Some critics have suggested it’s more positive than your previous stuff. Is that fair or were they just taking you too seriously before?
People take things way too seriously and read into things that don’t exist. To me, it’s just music and people can make up their own minds as to what they think it means.

You’ve taken a bit of a step back from the producing this time haven’t you?
I’m still producing in the same way I always have, but am now producing in more of an executive manner way. Nothing has changed.

Is it true you’re a massive fan of the comedy show The League of Gentlemen?
The League of Gentlemen was a big inspiration to me – I loved the darkness and depth of the programme, which had a large bearing on the writing for [2005 album] Awfully Deep.

So where would you fit into Royston Vasey?
I would be the butcher, knocking out the special stuff.

Do you think the UK hip hop scene’s in good shape at the moment with the likes of Dizzee Rascal, who’s touring down here?
If a boy from Bow can be touring[Australia] then the UK hip hop scene must be in pretty good shape.

Your tune “Witness” was voted the greatest UK hip hop tune of all time by the readers of Hip Hop Connection. Have you got fed up of singing it yet?
I’ll still be singing “Witness” well into my 70s. It’s fantastic that people still want to hear it. But at the same time, the new material has been tremendously well received on my current tour.

If you had to get away from it all, leave London, leave the UK. Where would you go?
I’d be straight on the plane to[Canberra].

Do you like getting out touring and seeing different countries?
Yes. And yes.

Are we likely to see you coming Down Under anytime soon?
Watch this space!

What did you think of it last time you were here?
We had an amazing time, a total ball. We got in trouble a few times but it was a wonderful tour and thank you for having me.

You’re well known for doing lots of collaborations, with everyone from Gorillaz to DJ Shadow and Beth Orton. Is there any truth in the rumours about you working with James Blunt?
It is very likely to happen and we’re both very serious about it and James is a really good guy, so we’re hoping to do it sooner rather than later.

Roots Manuva’s new album, Slime and Reason, is out now, on Inertia.