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11. Roots Manuva – Witness (1 Hope)

13/12/2009

In its timbre and delivery, Witness is every inch the archetypal modern dancehall record – superpolished and futuristic, its sci-fi bleeps body-pop their way across the dubby beats, Manuva’s Caribbean-tinged voice rumbling low around the echoing soundscape. But what relocates Witness closer to Kingston-upon-Thames than Kingston Jamaica, and indeed renders it perhaps the most quintessentially British record on this countdown, is Manuva himself. The now-legendary lyrical references to cheese on toast and ten pints of bitter are planted into the song like Union Jacks on a sun-drenched beach, patriotic and proudly incongruent. His quaint use of “frig” in place of the f-word is uniquely British whimsy too, self-deprecating and modest, but with a knowing wink of naughtiness. But, crucially, what makes Witness such fun is that Manuva sounds so confident and relaxed. His irregular, rugged verses are less like raps and more like languid slam poetry, but Manuva survives that eccentricity on gusto, and then delivers the choruses like football chants. A curious cultureclash of a tune, Witness may have many parents, but in terms of its elevation to the status of hip-hop anthem, it’s something of an only child.

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