The Rootsman: “Tales from the Hood” Album Review

Written By: Ethan Griggs

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Performing under the Rootsman moniker, John Bolloten had made quite a name for himself by the time he released Tales From The Hood in 2004 on the Subversion label. Bolloten found notoriety in the London club scene in the 90’s with his trademark blend of hip-hop, electronic, and global influences ranging from Mexico to Scotland, where he first discovered his love of music. Since Tales, we haven’t heard much from the Rootsman other than a couple of collaborative albums with Muslimgauze, On-Line Jihad and Fuck Israel, and it’s been six years since those releases anyhow. Thankfully, as of last year, the Rootsman’s entire catalog is now on Bandcamp for you to stream.

Tales from the Hood is basically a giant collaborative project. Every single track has a feature artist on it ranging from the upfront and alert Mexican (“Me Nah Trust”) to the enigmatic King David (“21st Century”). The album is an eclectic collection of dub, reggae, hip-hop and calypso that the Rootsman has made a name out of throughout his career. Tales is a globally inclusive collection of these genres that simultaneously included challenges to their traditions. The music isn’t too far displaced from the idea of Lee Scratch Perry if he had decided to move out West from Jamaica to be a rapper rather than settling for his native genres.

Thematically, though, the album is very much in the vein of reggae and dub’s nativity and its values. Even though many of the beats sound dark and confrontational, much of the lyrical content on the record is a call for positive change around the world. There is a Rastafarian overtone throughout the whole record. “I must be redeemed/Wash my ends and be clean”, sings Determine on the standout track “Redemption Chant”

One of the record’s most exotic sounding tracks is the percussive and Caribbean influenced “My World Is Spinning”, featuring a slinky vocal by Horace Andy. The song is notable in that it is a strong love song as opposed to one with political and social overtones. “When she walk by me/I have to say, ‘Si si si”/When she smile at me/My whole world is spinning” croons the singer on what is easily one of the record’s most rewarding moments.

Overall, Tales From The Hood proves to be one of the Rootsman’s most recognizable and influential works, as its pallet of worldwide sounds continue to find their way into more mainstream music such as Drake’s latest album and Nicki Minaj’s verse on “Side to Side” by Ariana Grande. Perhaps the Rootsman is heeding the call and is planning on releasing music in the near future, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him stay out of the spotlight at this point. In any case, Tales From The Hood serves as a nice morsel to tide us over until he changes his mind.