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Five things you didn’t know about Roots Manuva

The British hip hop maverick on out-there fans, car-washing shortcuts and how to avoid getting typecast (as a caterpillar)

© Shamil Tanna

Known best for the floor-filling ‘Witness (1 Hope)’ from 2001, UK hip hop hero Roots Manuva (aka Rodney Smith) is still as quixotic and iconic today – as track ‘Facety 2:11’ (a recent collab with Four Tet) proves. Smith tells us how he almost ended up playing Hollywood’s coolest caterpillar and why Coldplay need to turn it down.

1. He’s got some frighteningly dedicated – and just plain frightening – fans.

‘I met this guy at a festival a few years ago. I think he was tripping. He just couldn’t believe it was me, he was amazed. He was reeling off tracks from different albums, with all the words. He kept on touching me and saying: “I can’t believe it’s you, I just can’t believe it’s you.” I couldn’t convince him that it was me. It was pretty out-there.’

2. He’s swapped London for leafy Surrey. Sort of.

‘It’s good to be close to green space because I’ve got young ones, but I’m still always in London. It’s a pain, because I have to avoid the last train home, as it’s always full of nutters. But I do still cycle around London a lot. It’s dangerous, but you get addicted to the danger!’ 

3. He’s surprisingly grumpy about noise for a musician.

‘I used to live next door to [church and gig venue] St John-at-Hackney, and I got annoyed because people like Coldplay would play there and make a lot of noise. I couldn’t even hear myself in my own front room.’

4. His acting career extends to joyriders but not caterpillars.

‘I once did a film called “Dolphin”, where I was the leader of a gang of joyriders from Croydon. I got offered a part in “Alice in Wonderland” playing a caterpillar, and I turned it down. I didn’t want to be typecast! That was the end of my acting career. Every actor I met wanted to slap me and say, “That was the beginning, you damn fool!”’

5. He’s a crafty cleaner and car-washer.

‘I’m good at tidying other people’s houses, but not my own. Well, I’m good at making their houses seem tidy. And I can wash a car quite well. The secret is paying attention to the nooks and crannies. It might not actually be cleaned that well, but I can give you the impression that it’s gleaming.’

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