While it’s never really had the cache of its American version, British hip-hop has long had several contenders fit to go toe-to-toe with the best the world has to offer.
For the past 15 years, Rodney “Roots Manuva” Smith has been at the very vanguard of that loose movement. Not that he’s ever seen himself in such geography-constrained terms, as he’s been at pains to point out on previous albums.
Cult hits such as Witness (1 Hope) have endeared him to a fan-base way beyond Blighty, but Bleeds takes him into different territory altogether.
It’s a record that’s dark in a manner that previously investigated – previous missives have been bleak in one sense, in relation to his oft-referenced mental health, but here he takes a look at the world around him and decides he doesn’t have much hope for the future – or, indeed, the present.
The opener Hard B******* is a case in point. Smith rants on the state of Britain's youth with depressing accuracy, its strings-led cinematic thrust juxtaposed against uncompromising lyrical considerations. It's a withering indictment of David Cameron's Britain, observing: "Kids are having kids/ Kids that will never work" who have "all got aspirations but nothing they're supposed to/ The TV and the magazine it keeps it kinda hopeful/ That one day in some way they'll get a lucky break".
Crying continues the downbeat journey, with the claustrophobic beats providing a perfect habitat for Smith's dense rhymes, turning his lyrical cannon onto his own existence, with lines such as: "Trying to tell me I'm paranoid … Trying to tell me about life itself/ When none of you people know me". Facety 2:11 injects some momentum, meanwhile, with its producer Four Tet channelling the Los Angeles crew Odd Future's love for addictively repetitious backdrops.
It's not long until the creeping sense of dread returns, however: Me Up! is truly haunting, as Smith switches to a distorted croon to deliver what at first appears to be a paean to a love affair gone weird, but subsequently seems to morph into a wider rumination on his own meaning of life.
It's heady stuff and adds up to make Bleeds confirmation that, much like the eras of Reagan and Thatcher, times of austerity and political despair can turn up some truly life-affirming music.