It’s 7:30pm, and somewhere in London, Manga Saint Hilare is sat in a car planning out his tour. A visit to Reprezent radio awaits later this evening, prior to the next day’s Dr Marten collaboration show alongside Etta Bond.
“Wagwan, my G!”
There’s an instantaneous warmth to Manga, a humble confidence. He speaks with assurance and thoughtfulness, observing both sides of an opinion with complete empathy. I can instantly tell this is going to be an enjoyable and intellectual conversation, and not just because I’ve wanted to speak to him since I first listened to The Reluctant Adventurer.
The London artist has been putting in work since 2004, since being handpicked by Wiley to join Roll Deep, but before that, before grime, before everything, music was embedded in Manga’s life.
“Music was big in my house”, he says. “My dad’s a DJ; I think that’s how I got to know so much. I’m the oldest out of my brothers and sisters, and even most of my cousins as well, so it wasn’t like I could listen to what my older brother was listening to. It was my dad and my mum, you know what I mean?”
“When I was in Year Six my bredrin came into the school with a Brockie tape, like jungle. My dad listened to jungle too. I didn’t know what was going on with it; I was just hearing the vibes. Growing up it was Garage. That was the first type of music that was my own, you get me? Not inherited from my mum or my dad. You had to know about it.”
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From here, Manga would go onto discover Heartless Crew and So Solid, “more Heartless Crew to be honest, I liked them a bit more, but obviously So Solid were massive”, and then onto Pay As You Go crew, becoming especially fascinated by Wiley and God’s Gift.
“Wiley kept talking about this crew”, he reflects. “When he was in Pay As You Go he used to always mention Roll Deep. I was like, what’s Roll Deep? My first introduction to grime was more through Roll Deep, to be honest. Musical Mobb too. Flirta was from my ends as well, so that was a big thing. I used to see him getting all the gyaldem and I’d say to by bredren, I want to do that as well!”
Manga would later meet Wiley in Harlesden. You must remember, this was during a time when even the biggest grime MC could walk down the street and no one would double glance. Radio was were MC’s were earning their stripes, and therefore, until they opened their mouth, quite often you didn’t know what they looked like.
“So, I met him, I was like ‘yeah, yeah, I emcee’ and all that, obviously. He was like ‘yeah man, take my number, I’ll help you’.”
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When Wiley was in Pay As You Go he used to always mention Roll Deep. I was like, what’s Roll Deep?
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I smile at the thought of this, having read Wiley’s autobiography in which it’s mentioned, quite often, that he was very passionate about helping basically everyone he could. “He used to ring me, not like come through or anything like that, just like how you doing? You good? Stuff like that.”
An MC competition at an under eighteens Eskimo Dance would provide the foundation for what was to come for Manga, hosted by the late, great Major Ace.
“There was a couple MC’s there from North West. I entered it because I needed the money,” Manga tells me. “I borrowed my bredrins money to enter the rave and I was broke. I think the prize was fifty pounds and two tickets to the next one. Bruv, I won it. No idea how. I wasn’t even the big MC on ends. Flirta was. There was Rugrat, y’know, bare man. I wasn’t one of them. Major must have been speaking to Wiley, and I didn’t hear this until he passed, but he was saying that he was thinking about getting me to join Special Delivery.”
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Another meeting with Wiley would follow closely, this time at an over eighteens Eskimo Dance. Manga and I begin to speak about the ‘Wot U Call it’ music video. He informs me that the queue featured in the video belonged to Eskimo Dance, and therefore was where he bumped into the grime father once more.
“I see Wiley in the queue. He’s very good with faces, he remembers you”, he says. “So we said hello, and I jokingly said to him ‘yeah man, maybe I should join Roll Deep!’. He laughed and was like ‘nah, nah, don’t worry about that’.”
“A couple weeks after that he rang me and was like ‘yo, what crew you in?’ I said I wasn’t in a crew. He was like ‘yeah, you’re in Roll Deep’. I thought it was a joke at first, and then I was like what? Do I get a chain or something? What’s the patten?”
Roll Deep Manga was born, but it wasn’t until the artist decided to pursue a forward thinking sound under a newly adopted alias, Manga Saint Hilare, that he would really start to form his own identity.
“Manga Saint Hilare symbolises me moving forward. I’m not panning out the Roll Deep ting, man is still Roll Deep, man talks to everyone, man does shows with everyone”, he says. “The collective just wasn’t doing anything and I wondered, have I got a legacy outside of this? I needed my story to be told differently.”
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I was just trying to be the best MC. I was trying to out bar everyone.
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Manga Saint Hilare’s body of work showcases a vulnerability that is rarely glimpsed at in grime. ‘Current Mood’ was the first track that I ever heard from him. Lyricism such as “single man on a single bed not giving a single fuck / So sick of these silly thoughts that I’m thinking up / Seem to be sleeping less because I think too much” and “Am I happy being sad, or sad I ain’t happy, I think these things all at once” perfectly capture the sporadic and complex thoughts of an anxious brain.
I’m keen to learn of Manga’s inspiration for such work, given grime’s infatuation with male bravado and natural competitiveness.
“It’s calm!” he expresses passionately. “It’s just life. I realised in Roll Deep that no one knew who I was. I was just trying to be the best MC. I was trying to out bar everyone. That’s the problem with a lot of grime, everyone trying to outdo each other but no one’s asking ‘how you feeling my g?’”
“I just say things that man actually thinks about. The Reluctant Adventurer was actually based on the journey from Manga to Manga Saint Hilare. It’s about me leaving behind what was. That’s why it’s called that. I’m not saying I want to forget about it, man was having a good time, but I have to move on and see what it’s like to be me. As I’ve grown older I understand fully who I am and understand all my flaws. I’m not shook.”
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Our attention turns to the voice notes that are littered throughout Manga’s back catalogue, from 'Lunchtime At Art School' to, most recently, 'Outsiders Live Forever'. The voice notes are created by JGrrey, a fantastic, soulful artist in her own right.
Her voice and wordplay is almost poetic at times. Each skit provides a personal insight into the daily conversations between the artist and friends, shining a light on their worries, hopes, dreams and reality. It’s beautifully put together and, actually, at times quite emotional.
“My sis! That’s my bredren. That’s just what we talk about”, he says honestly. “The voice notes are just our natural conversations. I always liked albums that had skits. It brings it all together. She’s a sick artist in her own right. When you listen to her talk, it’s something familiar. She can stay stuff that I’m not saying.”
From JGrrey’s words of wisdom to those of Manga himself, we begin to talk about the his own lyrics, specifically a line from ‘Outburst 004’, the final track from Outbursts from the Outskirts, a record that incited much attention, leading to it being hailed as the best, and most underrated, grime album of 2017.
The line reads, ““grime nearly killed me, and grime saved my life, grime gave me an in, and grime kept me outside”. I’m keen to learn more of the outsider movement that Manga finds himself in the centre of, and just how important a message does he feel it is to imply?
“Not everyone’s the shotter. Not everyone’s the sweetboy, not everyone’s the footballer or the badman. I just realised that I’m not any of these things”, he says. “I want to push something that’s outside the norm. Sometimes you’re down; sometimes you’re upset, sometimes you’re all of these things. It’s just being honest with what’s going on.”
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It’s just being honest with what’s going on...
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On his latest EP, 'Outsiders Live Forever', Manga displays the thoughts of an artist who has come to terms with the stress that staying true to you will inevitably bring. Those who fall on hard times often find it difficult to process that negativity into creativity and inspiration.
“I guess it’s because you just have to. I used to moan a lot”, he admits. “There were two people that spoke to me that made me properly think about it. One was Logan (Sama), years ago. I was complaining that I wasn’t making any money from music. He text me and said ‘bruv, do you sell your music?’ I was like ‘oh... No.’ How are you meant to make money from music if you aren’t selling it?
“The other was with Sian (Anderson). She just said to me simply ‘you can’t let them deter you, you can’t let them get you down, keep doing what you’re doing.’ From then I just tried to be as self sufficient as possible. It made me realise life isn’t actually that bad, for me. Some people are going through real shit, but my ting is alright. I can acknowledge it, adapt and move forward. There’s no point me dwelling on it. Some people don’t have an outlet, for me my work is like therapy. ‘We Fall’(the final track on the EP) was basically me saying ‘I hear you, I am you, let’s keep going.’”
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Our conversation is halted as the team from Reprezent call Manga to see where he is. We’re almost finished. Just before our discussion reaches its climax I have a rather broad question on the state of contemporary grime.
In April this year, Joseph Patterson, founder of TRENCH Magazine, published an article on Complex stating that grime wasn’t dead, but it was in need of a shake up. He questioned whether he wasn’t looking hard enough for gems, which seemed unlikely given his passion for the genre, and went on to question that maybe the current crop of grime just aren’t cutting it.
Manga collects his thoughts, and delivers a typically intellectual and empathetic response.
“There’s bits and bobs to this”, he admits. “He’s looking for Skepta and D Double E, you get me? Man wants the same ting, I hear it. There’s music out here G. Snowy is sick, Izzie is sick. There’s even people out there putting in work on the labels. Flowdan’s got 'Spent Shell'. Then you have people like Kamikaze repping in Leicester. We got people like Bliss and Ten Dixon. There’s bare tings going on G. If you asked these people about them, they don’t know these dons.”
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There isn’t music that’s credible and interesting enough that can capture the people that aren’t pure grime fans...
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He briefly mentions the infamous DJ Argue interview with Jammer on Radar Radio. “I remember one time, I think it was Jammer, was doing the interview, and man couldn’t even name five grime MC’s. They don’t listen to it. They don’t take it in, but, away from that, he [Patterson] is right. There isn’t music that’s credible and interesting enough that can capture the people that aren’t pure grime fans. I hear that, I respect that and it’s true. Everyone wants new.”
“It’s always going to be like that. I’m not here to take away from any genre, because they’re sick. I enjoy drill to the millionth time. He’s right, because I can’t name bare grime projects that are sick. I’ve had the best one for two years in a row. That’s just what I think. That isn’t a thing, that’s just how I feel. I haven’t had the best song, I haven’t had the most streams, but I’ve had the best projects. He’s right and he’s wrong. I just know man don’t listen to this ting regularly.”
And with that our time together comes to an end, but not before Manga informs me of his next project. “It’s either genius or mad dumb”, he says, “I’m excited to see which one.”
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'Outsiders Live Forever' is out now.
Words: Andrew Moore
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