Mad About: Manga Saint Hilare
23 Dec 2022
Manga Saint Hilare is an artist who continues to improve as his career progresses. Bursting onto the scene on the legendary Roll Deep track, ‘When I’m ‘Ere’, Manga has adapted into an artist who is much more than just a Grime MC. His last two projects, ‘Make It Out Alive’ and ‘Glow In The Dark’ are demonstrative of an artist who continues to evolve his sound whilst still basing himself in the the genre that first brought him success. His ability to portray emotion through his lyrics while also having a barrage of ferocious flows and punchlines in his locker make the rapper a unique talent. We spoke to him about his new record, ‘Run For Your Life’, as well as the state of the Grime genre and his status in the game:
You’ve just dropped your latest project, what do you think the reception’s been like?
I think it’s gonna get a Grammy. (Laughs) I’m joking, man. But nah, I’m happy, because it was meant to just be a five track project and it got out of hand. Everyone seems to be enjoying it and enjoying all of it instead of everyone liking the same song. That’s why I do projects instead of just singles, do you know what I mean? I want you to hear the whole thing – the story from start to finish. The fact that people are enjoying the whole thing, and my launch party was sold out as well. It’s fun, it’s sick.
I would say this album is more ‘grimy’ than your last two projects. Would you agree with that?
I’d say it’s definitely more grimy than Glow In The Dark, but probably about the same as Make It Out Alive. It’s definitely more traditional Grime than Glow In The Dark, though. It’s because it was just meant to be five Grime songs, straightforward. That’s how it started. I started with ‘OnlineOffline’, then ‘None of Them’, then ‘Kendall & Kylie’, and a few other ones too. Obviously it was intentional. Grime has got different pillars, innit? We’ve got sets, clashing, radio, just live performance, and songs. A lot of people think that where Grime falls down is when it comes to the songs. It’s difficult to capture the energy of Grime music when you try and put it on a track. I agree with that, to be fair. The other day we had Jme’s Grime MC event, and there are going to be moments from there that you can’t replicate on a song. It’s impossible. I still want to show the world that you can make great Grime music, though. That’s why I’m here.
With the whole ‘Cammy Riddim’ challenge this year, do you think that Grime is on it’s way back a bit?
Boo! Boo! Grime’s dead! Blah Blah Blah! (Laughs). ‘Cammy Riddim’ was big for us lot but it didn’t quite make it over (to the mainstream). I wish it did. I wish it went on forever. People have got this narrative on Grime that people don’t want to hear it. People say to me ‘I don’t listen to your type of music’, even on collabs and all that. But if it was Kwengface and he spat on ‘Cammy Riddim’ and it was called the ‘Kwengface challenge’, everyone would go crazy. Because it’s rooted in Grime people aren’t really jumping on it like that because it’s not what’s popular at the moment. I’m happy ‘Cammy Riddim’ had it’s time though because it’s one of the best beats ever.
Grime can only come back when the young kids do their thing on it. Grime last had a resurgence because there was still OG’s like Wiley, Skepta. Jme made ‘Man Don’t Care’, we had ‘Shutdown’, ‘On A Level’, ‘German Whip’. Dave and AJ made ‘Thiago Silva’. That was also when the UK Rap style was coming to an end, so it needs an amalgamation of those type of things. People are still making Grime music every day though. You’ve got my project, Blay Vision, Capo Lee. There’s loads off stuff going on but it’s gonna take another cycle – another generation – to get it back into the mainstream. Grime is more than just a BPM, it’s more of a culture so you need kids to embrace that and put their own stamp on it instead of trying to replicate what we’ve done.
The title of your project is ‘Run For Your Life’. Is that meant in a positive or negative way?
It’s positive. You have to go forward, and if you’re struggling, you’re done. You have to go forward and if you stay still, you’re dead basically. The title is basically a suggestion. It’s a nudge. You have to continue, you have to ‘Run For Your Life’.
And on ‘Run For Your Life’ you have a lot of Grime veterans making appearances. Do you feel that’s kind of been lost with the new generation in UK Music?
I don’t think it’s been lost with the new Grime kids. Renz will make songs with Duppy, Duppy makes songs with Mic Of Course, SBK makes songs with Queenie. There’s loads of people who work together. In terms of other genres I think people prefer to stay in their section, but we were like that too. I wouldn’t have made songs with D Double or Mayhem before, because I didn’t really know them like that. Obviously we see each other and all of that but I don’t know them well.
Because we’re older though we can kind of put our pride and egos aside and just come together. When I was younger I would only work with people I knew. I feel like once you become older and you’re a bit more secure in yourself, and you do what’s best for the music.
You’ve started making your own art as well…
Yeah, I do that. I enjoy doing the art prints, the merch. I love it. It’s fun. That’s why I enjoy doing projects because I get to do all of that. It’s draining at the time but it’s good for me because it looks exactly how I want it to look. It’s not going to look like everyone else’s thing, because it’s me doing it. Luckily I’ve learnt the skills so that I can get it to a level where I can present it to the world. Same with videos as well. I can edit my own videos and shoot them if I need to. I know a little bit about everything now so I can make it look how I want it to look so it’s not just generic if you get what I mean.
Do you enjoy that kind of independence?
Yeah, for sure. It saves you time, it saves you money. You’re more proud when you see the end product because when you see it you can sit back and say, ‘Yes, I done that’. Even if I don’t do the artwork or the video I have the ability to still have a say because I’ve got the skills. So it’s definitely freeing.
You’ve mixed it up in terms of production on this record. Do you enjoy working with multiple producers?
Nah, I prefer doing it with one producer usually. Usually I do it with Lewi (B). I’ve worked with Lewi on two projects and this one was a lot of people. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, it’s just that it’s hard to do with lots of producers because you have to make it fit. It’s harder to keep the story consistent with loads of producers. With one producer, like with Lewi, we start at the Intro and work on it all the way through. I think it sounds better with more producers, because it’s varied and it keeps it more interesting sonically. It’s just harder to sort out. Do you know what I mean? It gives you another thing to sort out.
In terms of your career now, you’re nearly 20 years in the game. Why do you feel like you’re still able to connect?
I don’t know if I am, man. I haven’t got a clue (Laughs). You know what it is? I think it’s because I’m open to new things and I’ve really had to care about this thing. It’s not that you don’t get the ratings you deserve, because no one deserves anything, and I don’t think I was as good at making music as I am today. Sometimes when I think that I wasn’t getting ratings, I didn’t deserve them anyway because I wasn’t even that good. I was just passionate. I feel like I’m collecting my ratings now when the time is right. I think why I’m connecting now it’s because I care, and I’m trying. I think it comes across. You can hear I’ve taken the time in whatever I’m doing. You can hear that I tried.
You’re also not afraid to open up, like on ‘Electric Future’ from your new project. That’s something that’s not as common in Grime music. Do you think that gives you another lane?
Yeah, it does. When I talk to the mandem, yeah? Everyone has these stories and these feelings but no one says it. They do in other genres but in our one, people won’t really say it. I’m just older, bro, so I don’t really care about it if that makes sense. Sometimes people come up to me after a song that’s personal comes out and ask like, ‘Are you OK?’, and I tell them I’m calm because the music has given me the outlet to get something out of my head. I encourage it, but then the traditional Grime fan doesn’t like those songs anyway. I’ve got to give them ‘Online Offline’ for the bars and for performing, but a song like ‘Electric Future’ will probable last longer. Those songs connect with people more and help people and that’s a good feeling.
This year we’ve seen you on the ‘No Rules’ Podcast, and you’re also now a 2 time MOBO nominee. Would you say you still feel like an outsider?
Big up Specs, that was sick. I love doing stuff like that and I don’t really get the opportunity to do it that much. In terms of being an outsider, I still feel that way, but more people are liking man and it’s kind of unnerving (Laughs). I need to feel that ‘no one likes me’ feeling so I can function. You still get humbled, though. When I was at Grime MC, it’s a BBK crowd, it’s a Jme crowd. I came out and none of them cared. It’s humbling because it’s not my crowd and they don’t know about me so I have to impress them. There’s levels, you have to know yourself and it’s good to feel like that. I used to feel like an outsider in the Grime scene, but not so much anymore.
I do feel like that in the overall UK music scene, though. I get it because I’m not the most recognisable name and all of this stuff. In the grand scheme of things, I definitely feel like an outsider. You don’t see me at any of these parties or events, I don’t get asked on all of these freestyle platforms or any of that. In terms of the Grime scene though, I definitely feel like a staple now. That makes me happy because I wanted to be here and make a mark rather than just be here. All of this stuff means something but it doesn’t mean you’ve made it, so I still feel like an outsider.
What’s next for you going into the new year?
I want to tour, definitely. I want to do London, Brighton, Bristol or Cardiff, or both, and Manchester. It’s hard to do it by yourself without a promoter or booking agent, but I’ll get it done. I’m going to drop a new tape as well called ‘Everything’s Under Control’. It’s got ‘Maybe Not’ with Jelani Blackman on there which is on the new FIFA. There’s still stuff I need to build on it but now I’ve finished ‘Run For Your Life’ I can get on that. But don’t worry about all that. It’s ‘Run For Your Life’ for a good while.
Manga certainly looks set to follow his own advice and keep moving forward. While he still might identify as an ‘outsider’, the rapper continues to make inroads into UK music and is producing some of the best music of his career. ‘Run For Your Life’ is a perfect example of how Grime music can continue to be relevant in our culture, and while Manga might be in the wrong generation to bring it back to the mainstream, he will go down as a true pioneer of the movement. Manga Saint Hilare is an artist who continues to improve and strive for more, and this is why he will still be able to connect and grow with his listeners for years to come.