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Manga Saint Hilare Places Grime Back On the Map With New Album ‘Run For Your Life’ [Interview]

On The History of Grime Music

Grime’s very own Manga Saint Hilare, one of the original and longest-in-the-game pioneers of this London sound, recently shared his mindset on MOBO nominated album ‘Run For Your Life’ to remind us all why Grime music is still relevant to this date. First arrived on the scene under grime collective Roll Deep and now independently representing himself through his own name, Manga still has a lot more to prove and is not planning on leaving anytime soon. On a cloudy Wednesday at lunch break, we sat down via. Zoom call with the grime artist to discuss his recent project, Grime history and the current state of British music.



First and foremost, can you please tell our readers who is Manga Saint Hilare?


Manga Saint Hilare is a grime artist who is not really great at morning meetings. [laughs] I’m a grime artist and very proud of it, that’s it!


That’s it, just a grime artist. [laughs] So where in London are you based?


I’m based in Woolwich in South London!


Nice.


It’s a beautiful place!


It really is.


Are you from Woolwich?!


No, Peckham still.


I was born in Peckham, that’s cool!


Repping Queens Road, innit.


You dunno! That’s my original home.

Crazy, that’s mad.


I’ve been in Woolwich for 17 years now so I really can’t claim Peckham. Woolwich is where my plants live.


The first thing that came to my mind when I listened to your music was Wiley, a very respected name in the grime scene. Come to find out, before the return of Manga Saint Hilare, you were part of a collective named Roll Deep? Perhaps you can enlighten us about it.


Roll Deep are the best grime crew in existence ever. Nothing to do with me, they’re just the best. Wiley put me on Roll Deep.


We’re talking about grime before BBK, right?


Yeah, way before. Roll Deep was the first grime crew, I’d say. Wiley was in a crew called Pay As You Go before with Dj Target, Major Ace, lots of people actually but then, they broke up and he (Wiley) made his own crew named Roll Deep which had Flowdan, Dizzie, Scratchy, they were lots of people in it. Once Dizzie left, he got new recruits such as myself, Skepta, JME, Trim, quite a few of us. I was part of the second recruitment of Roll Deep members and that was like 2004-2005.


Ok, so 2001 was when the crew was founded and you were basically part of the second rollout in 2004.

Exactly, I wasn’t with Dizzie, I wasn’t with them lots. Those were the very first members of the crew. I was part of the second (crew) when Dizzie and a few others left, in 2004, I joined.


In other words, you’ve been around! You’ve seen the evolution of grime!

Yeah, I am well old. Yeah. [laughs]



Yeah. [laughs] It’s fine. You recently dropped an impressive project ‘Run for your life.’ So please, run us through it? How did the project come to be?


I try to do one (project) every year. My first one where I started to place everything in this (music business) was in 2016 or 2017, I made ‘Outbursts From The Outskirts’. Then, I made ‘Outsiders Live Forever.’ I’ve done a project with Murkage Dave called ‘We Need To Look After Us.’ Then, I’ve done ‘ Make It Out Alive.’ Then, I’ve done ‘Glow In The Dark’ and now ‘Run For Your Life’ is the following project.

Every year, I try to put what happens in my life, what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling and everything into the best grime project I can make. That’s how I work. I just try to put as much into it as I can and just see what happens.



On track ‘Together’, you’re doing your thing alongside legend D Double E. You have to tell us; how did this perfect cohesion take place?


You know what, with the D Double E feature, there are only a small number of grime artists that I haven’t worked with before and D Double E was one of them. To be fair, there are not that many of us left and I have worked with nearly everyone , but I never worked with Double.


A very strong contestant to be rapping alongside with. You didn’t feel intimidated by him at all?


No! It’s because it was more like I already had the song and just passed it to him. I already knew why I wanted him on this. I’m pretty old and I've been doing this for a very long time. I am confident in my abilities and so, it’s fine.

Let’s put it like this; we’ve done a show the other day, Double and I, for a JME show called Grime MC FM, and D Double E was on the mic. In front of a crowd, obviously, you can’t - he’s the guy. If it was in that setting, I would be like ‘Oh… What am I going to do?’ But, it’s not. It’s just a song.

JME put the beat together. One time we were doing a show and to a few of us, he played 3 hours long worth of unreleased beats and I picked that one. I asked him ‘Can I have this one?’ and he said; ‘Yeah, cool.’ and just sent it to me. First, I wrote the song by myself (without the beat) and then, I thought to myself let me holla at Double because I think he would sound good on it.


And he did.


He sounded good on it. [laughs] Yeah. I actually had two verses from him but I’m just happy he did it.


Superb. My favourite track off the project…


Oh, I’m interested now…


It has to be ‘All My Sins.’


Oh! I knew that you were going to say that!


And I stumbled upon the fact that you produced the track as well!

Yes! You know, I don’t want to say that I produced it because I’m not a good producer yet. However, I only started to learn how to produce during lockdown. When I came up with this project, I thought to myself; ‘Let me try one of my tunes and see how it goes.’

Quite a few people said that they like that song and so, I’m so happy that you like this one. That means the most to me because oh, I’ve done that one! [laughs]


Is this something you plan on doing more often?


If I’m being real, I’m not that good yet at making beats. I’m okay. I can shoot a video, I can do lots of stuff better than producing a beat at the moment. However, when I find the right time, I would be less scared to do it now. So if I make one and I’m happy with it, I will be more inclined to vocalise it now. However, I’m so happy that you chose that one because yeah. [laughs]


It was definitely a very strong first impression when it comes to producing. If we take a look at British sounds, on one hand we have music acts such as Central Cee, on the other hand, we have experimental artists such as Lancey Foux. Although they aren’t directly your peers, those are the subgenres young people gravitate towards right now. What is your opinion on the music scene today?


It’s great.


It is?


Yes, it is! This is because you can go and listen to what you want - There’s someone making the type of music that you like. I think what people are upset about is the thing that they like might not be the most popular subgenre. However, as someone who makes grime music, which has been in and out of popularity, doing the most popular thing doesn’t always bring the greatest attention to it. Again, I’ve been around grime since the time that it started, when it was mainstream, when it went back underground, to now everyone saying it is dead, again, for the eight time. During this drift, there are people who have been here the whole time and there are other people who swore that they loved it who no longer care fot it.

If you take any current rapper right now, then you will find somebody who doesn’t like them. Then again, I know people who have never heard of Lancey Foux in their whole life but, you can see after his project a couple of weeks ago, he’s doing all these big things and grinding in his own right. That’s sick!

I come from a time where they let one act shine at a time. Whereas today, you can have Lancey Foux and he can be selling out tours and you can have Central Cee and his selling out tours. Their music is nothing like each other. You can have someone like Simz where everyone says she’s underrated, but she’s done the most out of every single person!


She’s phenomenal.


It’s incredible! She’s done all of the awards and she’s done all of the tours, but everyone is saying she’s the most underrated because of what? She hasn’t got the most youtube views?! As a matter of fact, look at the 3 individuals that I just named; those are completely different artists and they all exist at the same time! They are all highly talented in their own rights.

Let’s go back to grime, I’m not the most known grime artist at all however, all these plants, I paid with grime. This TV over there, I also paid with grime. Even with this microphone that’s not working well, I paid for it with grime. Only because when I put out music, there are people that will support it. A couple years ago, I would have to be begging radios or maybe try to fit in with what's going on. I’d have to make a drill song or make a pop anthem just to make ends meet. Now, I don’t have to do any of this.

If you ask my supporters, they would probably say that I’m the best. My followers don’t listen to Lancey Foux and I know his supporters don’t listen to me. That’s why I say that things are great because there are so many different types of music and different audiences and pockets. That’s why you can create your own bubble. On the other hand, there are people who think Central Cee is the only thing going on right now or just everything sounds like him, but that’s not true. Like you said, there’s Lancey Foux… I mean, there’s so many people that I find it hard to name them. In 2010, there were just Tinie Tempah and Professor Green.


Yeah [laughs] I remember those days. I think it’s a very interesting time which, part of it, has to do with social media, of course, whereas back then, everyone felt trapped.


Yeah, everyone had to like the same thing! If you don’t really listen to music and only get down with what’s on the radio, then you’re going to think Central Cee, H or Tion Wayne are running things.

I don’t think anyone has to be trapped in one bubble.


But, for a while, it was like that!


Yeah, it was. But now people think whatever they like should be what everyone likes. When previously, you had to like what everyone likes.


How relevant do you think grime, which arguably birthed most of the new sounds today…


It did.


That’s up for debate.


And I’ll tell you why as well.


We will get to this, you can answer it right away… How relevant is grime to the newer generation of music?


I don’t think they understand what it is. You see, with the previous question, there’s so much going on. They are kids that like UK rap, they know who Giggs is but don’t understand the reason why Giggs is who he is. To be fair, if Giggs stopped making music, then they would understand that he birthed UK rap, even though there were UK rappers before him. But like the style of UK rap you hear today comes from Giggs. The reason we MCs rap in our accents, our words and just do it ourselves all came from grime.

When grime came around, there were grime albums, there were artists talking in London slang. The dress code with the tracksuit, that’s all grime! The fact we dress like this; the Air Maxes, the Air Forces, that’s all from grime! It’s more than just the sound, it’s a culture. Obviously. It changed and evolved from Giggs and that, but if you ask Giggs who he listened to before; Wiley, Grime. If you ask the people who influenced the people, everyone derives from Grime. There is not really anyone that wasn’t a grime artist before.

Generations and generations later, I understand it’s partially our fault because first of all, a lot of the main people didn’t stick to it and it wasn’t clarified what grime is. That’s you would get grime and drill confused if you’re not really paying attention.


We can talk about the transition because what I remember were Krept & Konan with ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ which already drew inspiration from Chicago rapper Chief Keef. And then came the Brixton collective 67 which made UK drill official.


How old were you, if you don’t mind me asking?


I was 15 around that time.


Exactly! When I started making music, there was Jungle and Garage. I talked to Dj Target and he grew up used to going to Garage raves. I was only around when it made it on TV. The reason I understand grime more is because I was present at that time. So when you say Krept & Konan, obviously, they were both grime MCs as well - in their respective area. The thing about grime is it’s more of a culture than a sound. When a new generation comes, they always want to put their own twist and their own flavour on it. Again, when Giggs. Krept & Konan, Cadet came, they wanted to make it more street because it was commercial at this time. Once Krept & Konan did ‘Freak of the week’...


Such a miss. Nobody was bumping that.


You see? But that was their most successful song ever! As a youth, you want to be like; ‘Nah… we don’t like that.’ And that’s how UK drill was born. It was the next language, the next angle, the next stories. It was all 67 and then, Harlem Spartans - all these people that came out of nowhere because the sound before that had changed and became commercialised.



Would you encourage the new generation to pick up grime music?


Yes. The only thing that they need to change is not try to do what we’ve done and put their own spin on it. There are lots of new grime artists like Duppy, Grims, Snowy… But the only thing that is holding it back is that they’re trying to recreate what we’ve done. Grime is not like any genre because there are layers to it - radio, clash, and so many things make up this element.

The last time that grime had a rebirth was new blood talking in their own language. There was Stormzy, AJ Tracey, Dave…


J Hus?


No, J Hus never done grime. He is the reason I think that Afrobeat rose in the UK. Where is he from, again?


Gambia.


Gambian, of course! He’s gambian and makes sure to talk like this so people know where he's from which I think is why afrobeat is popular in the UK.


I think we have to give respect to Fuse ODG.


Ok, yeah! I never listened to Fuse ODG that hard and I only know a couple of songs. Alright cool, I didn’t know. But again, sometimes the first person to have done it is not the person that influences everyone else.


True.


For example, a lot of people don’t know Wiley is the best and will be the best ever in grime. When I speak to kids, they don’t understand. I’d be like on grime reddit and they don’t understand why Wiley is so well regarded. Instead, they’ll probably say Skepta or JME.

Back to AJ and Dave and Stormzy, they were all using grime instrumental on tracks like ‘Thiago Silva.’ I listened to a recent song and thought; ‘That’s an old Kano instrumental.’


So you’re saying it’s the lack of preservation and knowledge…


Yes! That’s the perfect word you’ve just used - the lack of preservation because I feel like the main characters in this thing don’t say grime enough. They do what drill artists are saying right now; ‘I’m not just a drill artist, I make…’ and that’s the same thing grime artists have done for years because it was seen as lesser than music. ‘I don’t just make grime music!’ and they go and make other stuff and it’s boring. We’ve all done it! And we don’t preserve our stars, our godfathers and explain how we got to this point, you understand? Skepta is there, Wiley is there, JME is there, people are there but they don’t really connect with the youth as much as they should, in my opinion. So then, the youth don’t have respect for it.

You see, the difference with Giggs is the youth respect him because he’s still in touch. Central Cee, for example, he respects Giggs.


I think everyone just respects Giggs.


It is because he stays in touch and keeps on reminding us, whereas grime, when there was so many arguments about who started it and where it came from. It has gone through so many phases, transitions and sounds, it’s been banned or it’s been dead, at this point, it’s been modelled. What is it even? What is real grime? Again, going back to Stormzy, Dave, AJ Tracey, if a lot of the older grime artists didn’t push them away and it made them not want to be part of it.

In terms of innovation on our side, we need to go forward and not keep on just looking back.


As a final question; What is next for Manga Saint Hilare? Any tour dates to announce?


Ok, I don’t have a manager and I don’t have a booking agent. In terms of what’s next, I don’t know… [laughs]


Let’s follow up with another question then; you mentioned D Double E was one of the grime artists you hadn’t collaborated with yet. Is there anyone you would like to work with?


Yes, Skepta is the only person left.


Surprising.


Why?


History wise, BBK was formed out of Roll Deep.


Oh no! I’ve been on the same song with Skepta and we came up together however, in terms of getting on one of my songs part of my own project. I haven’t got a song with just me and him. Also, that is one of the only people I know I can make a song with. I can make a song where Skepta would sound good for one of my projects. I know I can do that. I’m just saying I haven’t hollered at him.


Yeah, hopefully we can make that happen.


I can make it happen! It’s just about me getting the song hollering at him. Luckily, it’s not even deeper than that. I know he’s busy. It’s got to be a moment as well. Obviously, we have to respect his status today because he is the most global star that we have. A part from Central now, but I’ve been everywhere in the world and when I ask; ‘Who do you know?’ They all know Skepta. It’s been like this for years. That’s the only person on the top of my head. In terms of artists, he’s the only one left.


Honestly, we would love to see it and I can only imagine how it would turn out. You should mention it when you win your MOBO award!


Ha! I will, if I win…


That would be sick, I will keep on your word.


Nah, it’s calm! This time next week, I will pull up in my tracksuit and if I win, I’ll say it, don’t worry.

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