ROOTS MANUVA with AIRBORN AUDIO at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), tonight (Thursday, May 5). $17.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
When I catch Roots Manuva, he's at London International Airport about to depart for Coachella, California. The next day, the luminary UK MC, born Rodney Smith, will be the only hiphop act on a stage shared by Sloan, Kasabian and the Locust; he's on right before the Dresden Dolls.
"I'm playing the indie stage. I don't know why! I'm gonna buy a guitar on the way there," he jokes over his tour manager's mobile phone. But compared to some of the ambitious musical plans he's been telling me about, Manuva copping a new Fender at duty-free doesn't sound far-fetched at all.
"I've got some mad ideas about recording some records without any recognizable instruments, or records with just voice, records with other languages on them. Just more out-there records," he says, adding that he's been inspired by the strange sessions he's overseen at the London studio he recently invested in, as well as the band he's touring with.
"I've been listening to a whole bunch of different styles and just trying to reconnect to the mothership, as it were," he laughs.
Manuva understands, however, that any drastic changes in sonic direction might piss off his surprisingly broad fan base.
"People are closer to the music, and more passionate about it, than I ever thought or ever imagined. I don't wanna hurt their feelings by coming out with a record that'll be too crazy for them. I'll have to resurface as somebody else."
So he really isn't bullshitting, then, when he warns, "This could well be my last LP," on his latest, the reliably murky Awfully Deep. Though he sounds confident and comfortable on the mic on his third album, the MC is seriously considering retiring the Manuva moniker and becoming someone different.
"This may be my last album as Roots Manuva - I might do one as Rodney Smith," he reveals.
Manuva broke into hiphop in 99 with his debut Brand New Second Hand, but his Mercury Prize-winning follow-up, 01's Run Come Save Me was what really inspired the deluge of fan love and giddy critical praise that elevated him to UK's hiphop saviour status.
Yet all the glowing descriptions just get on Manuva's nerves - and provide more reasons to resurrect himself.
"It's just lazy journalists, man. The whole UK MC tongue had been evolving before I even touched the mic. There's a whole host of British underground tape stars that have lent a hand to the lyricism that's celebrated today. It's not just down to any one person, you know?"