No Hard Feelings: Manga Saint Hilare Interviewed

No Hard Feelings: Manga Saint Hilare Interviewed

A sit-down with one of the most-loved figures in grime...

In the run-up to his headline show at Omeara in London, grime veteran, Manga Saint Hilare sits down with Clash to discuss the power in vulnerability, JGreyy skits and what he’s learned from Drake.

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Manga Saint Hilare is thriving in this, the second act of his career. The first act saw him recognised as part of the legendary Roll Deep crew, but not so much for his individual efforts. Grime is Manga’s native tongue – each of his solo projects released since 2017 attest to him still enjoying and indulging in the raw, gritty energy of its tradition, but each of these projects are also characterised by a vulnerability and a level of transparency rarely exhibited in the space he inhabits. The sharing of his journey through adulthood and the struggles of his maturation in his music has made Manga one of the most compelling figures in grime.  

On the hook to his latest single ‘Finding Out’, Manga sings “I didn’t know who I was, and I’m still finding out” in a wounded vocal, over sombre keys and in between verses that outline the lessons he found wating for him in some of his lowest moments. “Yeah, the messages I’ve got, the response, it’s been amazing”, Manga admits when I ask him about the reception the single has received. He goes on to explain; “People need escapism or to be able to relate [to the music they listen to]. It’s those two things. If you’re just in the middle it doesn’t mean anything. You’re storytelling or you’re showing off but I don’t have anything to show off with so I might as well tell you how I feel sometimes. With this one I feel like I said names as well as [giving detail to] actual points. So rather than saying "back in the day I had no P’s”, its - “I'm at my mum’s house and bailiffs are knocking, and then the conversation I had with my mum about it. I clocked that people that write great songs do that.”

Maybe surprisingly, he cites Drake as the artist who has perfected the paradox of being specific as means to be relatable. “I always say that Drake does it, I call them micro-expressions. So instead of saying “my ex broke up with me, I just saw the text”, he’ll say “I’m on a jet, just came from my last show, I looked down saw the text and that said 'we’re over'” or whatever. We understand the feeling of checking your phone and seeing that, no matter if you were on a jet or on a bunk bed at your mum’s. That’s what makes him great – we're not gonna be in his position but we can relate to the smaller things we all go through.”

After some back and forth about the greatness and greyness of Drake, we return to the topic at hand: the response to the new single. “So anyway, I did that with this song, and it’s sick to get this response man. I’ve been getting some deeper messages and people coming up to me, all of jazz. It’s good though man cos I have these conversations with fans and stuff so I know it’s not just me that’s been bruk or lost or heartbroken, there’s more people like that then people know about stupid [levels of] success”.

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‘Finding Out’ follows on from an elite run of releases - the most recent of which being July’s ‘Glow In The Dark’. The project brought us up to date with the phase of growth, introspection and self-betterment that Manga has been in the last few years. In tandem with 2020’s brilliant project ‘Make It Out Alive’, ‘GITD’ shares Manga’s journey of arriving at this space by speaking candidly on times when he didn’t enjoy the clarity he now possesses, a time when he lacked direction. When I ask him about that period, he speaks as openly as he does in his music: “So, I was going round, murking radio, saying new bars and all that, but no one cared. And I was distracted, I was getting older but I felt like I’ve got nothing. I know that sounds a bit extreme but like I said I’m messing up, getting into debt tryna look like I’ve got tings and I was just in a next world bro, just in my own head. So, when I got to maybe 29, 30 I looked back and was like “rah what was I doing?”. And that’s not to say that I've got it all figured out now cos I definitely haven’t, but now I understand what I don’t do - it’s louder.”

I put it to Manga that it sounds as if he lived without being intentional in how he directed his energy, and he lights up in his response. “Yesssss bruv! I was intentional with nothing. Zero. Like when I say nothing, I mean nothing. Obviously, I was in Roll Deep, on radio or whatever, but that’s why [for a long time] there was no output from me. And that’s one thing – I looked around and thought, “I’ve been here for years, but if I stopped in like 2009 what would you be remembered for?” Your likkle ‘When I’m Ere’ verse? What, that’s it? If you talk about Grime today, hopefully I would be one of the people that would be spoken about. But before, say I would have died a couple years ago, it would have been; “remember his ‘When I’m Ere’ verse?!”, and they would have been repeating that for a week on twitter and that would have just been swag. I would have haunted all of you that posted that [laughs]. But it would have been my own fault cos I wasn’t intentional with anything: my money, relationships, my work. And I had some good times, but when I look back on it, I don’t know how I survived.”

Grounded in the knowledge that to make the best of your future, you have to come to adhere to the lessons of your past, Manga has built a catalogue that paints the picture of a man that has elevated above the versions of himself that were once shackled by low self-esteem, habits of passivity and an absence of direction – of someone that is now equipped to become the best version of themselves. In his music, a key ingredient found in recent standout cuts like ‘Escape Plan’, ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ and ‘Control It’ is the candour with which he speaks about his experience. Typically, such transparency is hard to come by in Grime as the genre’s 140 beats-per-minute staple isn’t generally accommodating of introspection and its hard-hitting clamour isn’t exactly conducive to vulnerability. So why has Manga persevered to marry a style and a sound that have been mostly remained mutually exclusive?

“I’m not with these rules with grime or whatever, man. I think it’s shit. It’s air, it don’t serve anyone. I wanna show a way that you don’t have to be the same. I think I just got old enough to be confident in myself, in my abilities and all of that to just do it. Before I wouldn’t: I was just part of the blend – I was part of this big crew and just tryna be like everyone else and you’re not confident enough to break out of the mould and be yourself. But this is me, when I’m having conversations with my bredrins or when I’m being honest with myself, this is how I feel. It’s not an all the time ting - I’m not depressed, I don’t suffer from certain things but when I’m talking about times that have happened, I’ll hear it. And like I said, there’s more of us than them. Not everyone knows what it’s like to be in the trap with the opps following you and the door’s being knocked off – I don’t know none of that, that’s not my life.”

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“Sometimes I feel like I’m the best MC on the planet and I just wanna flex and what not, but then sometimes I just wake and I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing with my whole life. And I’m worried about how I’m gonna retire. I worry, does my girl love me? Is my mum proud of me? Rah my head is a bit big. I’ve just looked at my bank account - where’s my next money coming from? But that’s normal! Like I said that’s more people than not, and definitely me. Writing that is actually easier. I know that sounds like a cop out but it’s really easier than just picking the highlights. If I ran up the highlights then it would be short projects bruv, or I’d just be saying the same thing. It’s literally easier to just say how I feel and what’s happening.”

As our convo nears the hour mark, we discuss Manga’s upcoming headline show at Omeara in London on November 18th (“tell them about that and how it’s sold out. It hasn’t sold out. But I need it to [laughs])”, the skits that fellow artist and friend JGreyy contributes to each of Manga’s projects (“I don’t tell her what to say, I don’t vet it, I just put it on the end of every project, so when I hear it I’m like “Yo! Shit!” She never listens to the project before; she just gets it. Cos like I say, more people feel like this than you think. It's not really hard to tap into it when you’re honest with yourself”), and the thematic link between each of his projects before Manga makes mention of his upcoming EP, entitled 'Run For Your Life'. Having made mention of recently doing a song with fellow grime veterans Capo Lee and P Money earlier in our conversation, I ask if the EP is aimed at ‘taking it back to the essence’.

He responds: “It is. [Nothing but] Grime slaps. Cos I wanted to do that too, I don’t like always doing [ he sighs deeply and slumps his frame to signify the introspective style he’s mastered]. This one, I’m enjoying myself. It’s five songs. Literally all of them are just hard grime tunes. No intro, no outro. I’ve got P [Money] on there, Renz, Tia Talks, Duppy and Squintz, so I got new people. I’m literally waiting for the last mix today. And I’ve got another [project for next year] with [UK producer] Morenight. That’s different as well, its just bare different stylies. I don’t need to prove that I can put a project together. Until I get to an album – if I even get to that – I'll just have some fun quickly man.”

To sign off I ask if there is anything he’d say to the ‘2018 Manga’, the version that last spoke with Clash. “’Stop buying creps bro’, is what I’d say”, is his first response before spending a moment to think it through further. “There’s not much I’d say, I won’t lie. Mainly don’t limit yourself for anything you wanna do. And them times there I was still tryna gain a bit of acceptance from everyone else, know what I mean? I’d tell myself, “allow that man”, the people that matter will find me. You'll find each other.” He motions as if what he’s about to say is displayed in large letters in front of him. “Don’t worry. You’ll find your people-dem”, is the quote [laughs]”.

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Words: Dwayne Wilks

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