Exclusives Interviews 4 December 2023
Author: Andra

Manga Saint Hilare Talks New Album, Whether Grime Is Dead Or Not & More

4 December 2023

A well-known veteran who has been flying the flag for the UK grime scene for almost two decades, Manga Saint Hilare doesn’t need much of an introduction. He has been bodying sets since the days of pirate radio, battling MCs, shelling down stages and starting mosh pits all over the UK since the early 00s’. Besides his undeniably lengthy and solid career, Manga is one of the pioneers of the grime scene.

His outstanding pen game, dexterous flows and unmatched versatility brought him a MOBO nomination for Best Grime Act in 2022 as well as critical acclaims for his latest album Run For Your Life and wide recognition across the globe for his music.

Today Manga Saint Hilare is officially a father, a new radio host on BBC 1Xtra and is carefully planning on rolling out a fresh batch of music which he been secretly working on for nearly two years. Find out more about his plans, what he thinks about the ongoing “grime is dead” conversation and how he navigates the music industry in the interview below.

What have you been up to recently, what have you been working on?

“Recently I got a radio show on 1Xtra so I’ve been doing that. I’ve been working on a project too called Everything’s Under Control. I had a daughter, she’s five months now so that’s new! I think that’s it really. So like yeah been busy, but it’s all new stuff so it’s good.”

How did the 1xtra gig come about? and how are you finding it?

“To be fair, I don’t know how it came about. They just texted me. They said “Do you want to do the show?”  I said “Alright, cool.”  I mean I’m a person that I’ll just give it a try, why not? Do you know what I mean? I’ve always enjoyed radio, I’ve always enjoyed going on radio.

“Doing it every week is very different. I’ve been 1Xtra a lot of times. Many, many, many times. But doing your own show, not your own show, I’m just saying, but presenting and having to learn timings and say certain things is difficult. But I’m enjoying learning it a lot.”

How does it feel to be a presenter on the same radio where you’ve been so many times as an artist?

“It feels weird. It feels weird because I’ve gone on shows like Target’s show, I’ve been on Sian’s show loads of times. You do your little bit and then you leave. But now I’m able to do things and  find songs and read out texts. It’s very different.”

Look this is something thatI’ve always wondered and wanted to find out – where does your name come from?

“Oh, well, to be fair, Manga doesn’t come from anything. I’ve just had it since I was in school, I just liked the letters. I used to do that graffiti, and I used to like the letters that look like Manga. And then Saint Hilare is just like a family name. Yeah, it’s not that exciting to be fair. (laughs) I was Manga for the longest part, but then you can’t, like I said, I’m old innit, so it was before Google and Twitter and all that stuff. So you can’t really search Manga because of, you know, the Japanese comics.

“So obviously at the time that wasn’t a thing. So I added the Saint Hilare about, what, about 10 years ago now, which is mad. Just to give myself a differentiation. And it was for my solo work out of Roll Deep as well. So that helped like “Okay, this is this chapter,” you know what I’m saying?”

Thank you for that! You have recently released a song with MoreNight and Frisco called “Kill Sound”. What’s the story behind it?

“To be fair, there’s not really much of a story. My next project is all with MoreNight. I like doing projects with one producer and I worked with Lewi B like multiple times, Sir Hiss and then this time it’s MoreNight. Yeah, there’s not much of a thing. To be fair I just thought Fris would sound good on it. I’d done the song and then I sent it to Fris and he sent it back. But we’ve done it a while ago actually, that song’s quite old because it’s taken a while to get the project out.

“So some of the songs have been on there for quite a bit. But I’ll be honest, not much of a story on that particular one. It’s just that I thought it sounded sick and then Frisco killed his verse. And then we got the video, I’m very happy with the video as well. I love the video man!  Because if you was there on the day, you wouldn’t know but it wasn’t like a big budget but he made it look really expensive and cool. So I’m happy with that.”

Since you mentioned the tape, let’s talk about it! I know you wanted to keep it hush hush for a minute but since you’ve mentioned it I’m all ears. I listened to it back to back just the other day, I absolutely loved it. Not one song got skipped!

“Thank you man, I really thought about it, like I really really worked hard on this project! Like I said it’s taken a long time to finish it because I tried to give it like, MoreNight is a really cool producer so if I had an idea MoreNight would be like “Oh, let’s do a jungle song!” “Let’s do this and let’s do that”. He can make a song to the highest level. So it was sick, you know what I mean, because sometimes you work with producers that might be good at that grime, but then that’s it. Or they might be good at something else, but you know what I mean. But MoreNight is very talented and he can do everything. Like everything you can think of.”

“I’m happy with it man, I’m really happy with it, I’m very proud of it. I hope people actually listen to it if that makes sense because a lot of people might hear the singles and watch the video. I hope they listen to it because it’s put together very intentionally like the start is the start for a reason and the end is for a reason, you know what I mean? It’s not just thrown together so I hope people take it in how it’s presented.”

What would you like this project to bring after it comes out and people hear it?

“I would like to win like a Mercury Prize. I feel like it’s that type of writing on there, you know what I mean? Like, there’s a story, like,  Everything’s Under Control is about paranoia and protection. So everything’s under control in a bad way, like “Oh, they’re watching you, it’s nothing you can do about it.” Or “Everything’s under control, don’t worry about it, it’s already written,” you understand what I’m saying? That’s why some songs are more like, not depressing, but like down and some are more energetic. So that’s like the theme of the project. And I feel like I’ve written really well and I feel like we’ve made great music on this project. So it would be sick for it to be recognised like “Okay, this guy can really make good music.”

I think everyone knows that by now though, everyone knows you make really good music.

“I don’t think so, you know. I’ll be real. Yeah, people that listen do but a lot of people don’t listen if that makes sense. Like my supporters, they look forward, that’s why I always do projects, they look forward to my projects and they live with them, you know what I mean? I get great feedback every time I drop a project, I’m very proud of that. But outside of the people that listen to me regularly, like the “industry” I think because I’m a grime artist they just think “Oh, you’re going to sound like this,” or “Your music’s like that.” They don’t even listen, I know they don’t listen. Because I speak to people “Oh yeah I heard that”, they heard like.. I’m trying to think what my last thing was, I don’t even know what song it was but like I played it and they was like “Oh rahh, what is that”  and I was like “This has been on a project for like a year,” do you know what I mean, but you’re just hearing it now. So I know they don’t listen, they’re always surprised. Like sometimes I like tweet my lyrics, I just tweet them and they’re like “Oh that’s sick” and I’m like “Yeah but I’ve said that ages ago, you don’t listen,” you know what I mean? “

“But it’s fine. You got like the street rappers, like a Headie One or whatever, like the roads run to listen to them. And obviously, that’s not me, but I’m saying they get listened to immediately. And then you get like a (Little) Simz or a Knucks or one of them man there and they are like critically acclaimed, do you know what I mean? Like they’re for their pen. But I think I’m like that but they don’t really take me in like that, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think they do that for me. Like I said I feel like the grime scene has got crazy talent but then we don’t get taken in like that.”

Do you think you’re going to change that for the scene?

“I’d like to man, I’d like to. That’s the whole point, that’s the reason why I put so much musicality in it, to try and show people, like, bro we’re doing great over here. And we’re talented. Of course, you’ve got Capo (Lee), you’ve got JME, you’ve got Novelist, P, all these people that are mad talented as I said. And we can perform, we know how to perform, we know how to put on a live show. Like, it’s a big thing, we’re some of the most well-rounded artists this country’s got, whereas I just feel like the respect’s not there anymore.

“I don’t know why. It’s just, I don’t want to say disrespect, it’s just indifferent and it’s like more just ignored, do you know what I mean? It’s just like, yeah, like I said, again I’m not saying it for these man, I’m just trying to say like the Headie One and K-Trap tape, people will make sure they rush it like “Oh it’s midnight, let’s go listen to it, let’s hear what it’s saying, let’s dissect it” and boom boom boom. They don’t do that with any of our projects. Do you know what I mean? And again, not saying they shouldn’t do that to theirs, but I feel like our thing is, especially I can speak to myself, like a Novelist or JME, our project is as good.”

Which song do you think is gonna make the most noise then?

“I’m not sure you know, I’m not sure. It’s not like, sometimes I’ve had a song where, like.. So like one of my first projects Outbursts From The Outskirts – “Different Pattern” with JME and Presi (President T); was one of the big like streaming whirl, video done good, whatever, all that type of jazz. But today I never play that song. That’s why “Slew” and “Far Away” lasted longer than that tune innit. So obviously with grime, there’s different elements, like there’s shows, there’s radio, there’s things, there’s many different places it can live. So I’m not sure what song’s going to make the most noise. Obviously I’d rather just have the project make noise. So when someone says “Oh listen to Manga” you should listen to Everything’s Under Control.

Everything’s Under Control has grime deeply embedded in every single track although you’re bending so many genres on it, there’s even an amapiano song called “U Be U” with Eliza Legzdina. There’s something on there for everyone. 

“It’s more like so I can just show that there’s grime MCs, which I am as well, but there’s grime artists. Like I said, we can attack anything. Any genre or style or whatever is always attacked with a grime energy and a grime mindset, do you know what I mean? Because grime isn’t always just 140 and boom, you know what I mean? It’s not like that. I always say this about Boy In The Corner. On Boy In The Corner two songs are 140 BPM and that’s the best grime album ever. So even though not a lot of songs on there are 140 traditional grime, everyone considers that to be the best grime album ever. That’s how I look at it, do you know what I mean?”

In the end how long did it take you to polish your album and get it ready in this format?

“About a year and a half. Maybe even longer than that, maybe two, really, from start to finish, maybe two. When it comes out it’ll probably be about two years.”

And what’s your favourite song off the tape?

“Don’t Worry” or “It’s Okay To Open Up”. “Don’t Worry” is for my daughter and I wrote it before she was here. So I was a bit scared. I felt like I didn’t want it to come out before she was here in case something happened, do you know what I mean? So now she’s here and everyone’s great, I like listening to it. Like “Okay safe, when you’re older you can listen to this.”

Besides being an incredible, all rounded artist you’re also an avid music marketer. All your organic campaigns are super creative and your content is top notch. Being on your socials is always a vibe. Tell me, how did you embark on this journey?

“That is just like embracing my natural personality. I thought that when I was growing up a grime MC had to be a certain way like road and angry, do you know what I mean? And I thought that’s not really me. And it wasn’t working for me either, that’s another thing. All that stuff, like I’m not saying it was being silly, but my personality wasn’t coming across. Whereas now I’m a bit older and a bit more confident in myself and I just put across who I am. I like having a laugh and a joke and I like TV and all this type of stuff. I’m not scared to show who I am whereas before I was a bit scared if I’m being honest. I’m not scared to do a song like “It’s Okay To Open Up” or “All For One” because I want to say it but before I wouldn’t have been confident enough to make that type of music.”

“So the same with the marketing, I’m not scared of doing the same as long as it’s authentic. I realised that once you think something is funny someone else will think it’s funny. Someone else might go on my page and think “Oh this guy’s an idiot.” Actually I do get that sometimes, I get sometimes “Oh just go and spit bars man” and whatnot. And that’s fine, you know what I mean? Because I still obviously do that. And I like that thing, I like the connection with that. People come up to me and they don’t even listen to my music, they like the merch and whatnot. People will buy my merch and t-shirts and whatever, and now they can listen to the music and enjoy the t-shirt. So hopefully I can get around to them enjoying the music, but that’s the same with the marketing. A lot of people just know me from the videos I do and hopefully I can get them to the music.”

What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about the marketing game so far? 

“Just be yourself. Don’t try and be something you’re not. Show yourself. This is like P Money and JME, they like computer games. See, I’m getting older so I’m calling them computer games. (laughs) They like gaming, you know what I mean? So now they do that on their stream, they stream on Twitch and do all these type of things because that’s what they like. But if I was to do that, people say “You should get on Twitch and play games.” I say I don’t play games, you know what I mean? I like comedy, I like TV, that type of thing there. So I just lean into that man. I say you should just be yourself. Yeah, just be what you’re worth, if that makes sense. That’s the one key thing.”

What about the most important things that you’ve learned about the music business? 

“Build your own I’d say, in every aspect. Build your team if you’ve got a team. Learn how to do something yourself. If you’ve got time go on YouTube, learn how to edit videos, practise it, how to mix down your projects, even down to the aspect size of your Instagram video, what pixels should it be, things like that. A lot of artists don’t even know that, you know what I mean? When to upload your music so it comes out on the right day, how many times, just things like that. I would say small things but it adds up to quite a lot, just knowing how to make sure it comes out correctly and looks good no matter what it is.”

When is the best day to release music then?

“Friday, it used to be Monday I think. I think it used to be Monday. But to be fair, that’s for people who are trying to chart and all that jazz, do you know what I mean? Sometimes when you release on a Friday it’s very congested because everyone’s releasing on that day so to be fair just do what you want really but more like give it time so have it in the system for six weeks so it can be considered for playlists and things like that. Make sure it’s registered, make sure you can get your PRS, your PPL. So even, you might not get a lot of money from it, I don’t really get a lot of money from PRS that much, but it’s registered just in case it does. Just in case, like I said, let’s say “U Be U” really takes off and it’s played on radio all day, it’s all registered already.”

Thank you very much Manga! My last question is, because you work so hard on proving people wrong every single day when it comes to this right, and I want to ask you this question because I want to hear all that enthusiasm when you say it. Tell me, IS GRIME DEAD?

“You know what, I think that conversation is dead. That’s what I’d say. It’s just boring man, it’s just the same thing. Listen, I understand what they mean, like I said we’re not the forefront and it’s not respected as it used to be. But me personally and many of my peers literally go around the world every week doing grime. Around the world. There’s only about 6-7 countries I’ve been to and not done grime. Do you know what I’m saying? Like me, and again I’m not the biggest artist, I’ve been everywhere – I’ve been in Australia, I’ve been in China, I’ve been in America, I’ve been in Canada, I’ve been all across Europe. Again, this isn’t a brag, this is just like lucky, and again there’s people who are bigger than me. Like I said Jammz just done Brazil, Flowdan just done an India tour. This is all grime. DJ Oblig was in India as well. They’ve got a big scene out there too, that’s what I’m saying.”

“But I think one of the issues with grime is it’s not an online genre. So it’s hard to translate all that. So you have to kind of see it and be there to understand a little. So like all the people that come to Grime MC FM or Grime Originals will be like “Wow”. You have to be there. And I think that’s the thing, like now we judge everything online in terms of views and followers, which I understand. But I think grime is more of an experience that you have to be there to understand what the level is. It’s unmatched. It’s better than every genre. Every single one. I’ll stand by that all day. I always say it’s so impressive because you can go to let’s say there’s me, Capo, Novelist, JME on a set and Spyro’s DJing. We can do that set seven times and it will be different every single time. Get me? The UK Rap guys or whoever, when you go to their concerts it’s just the songs. You’ve heard the songs and obviously you’re experiencing the people but safe, it’s not really different. So naturally they’ll get more views because people like the music and they want to sing it. Whereas grime, if JME’s doing grime in Fabric it’s going to sell out in probably like a minute and people are going to be there and enjoy themselves and go home. Not so much watch the video. Obviously JME does get a lot of views but I’m just trying to say that it’s not so much an online genre.”

“I think that’s what hurts it, recruiting new people, but the same way, there’s not really a country I haven’t been in doing grime. And again, I’m not the biggest artist. I know that there’s people, I said Flowdan, Capo, all these people are going across the world every week doing grime. But we do need to make sure that the younger next generation can do that too. I think that’s why all this grime is dead talk is very damaging because it just shows that it makes the younger generation not want to do it. So we have to show them that we’ve just done, like I said we’ve done Prague and brought Duppy. Duppy obviously is a younger MC and that was his first time doing it abroad. And he couldn’t believe it, he was overwhelmed. And I loved that, I was so happy that I was there to even see that. Because that’ll give him a fire to show that “Yeah, this can be done bro.” You know what I mean? You can do this. I had to see as well, like, if you go off the online comments you think there’s no point. But he went there, saw thousands of people enjoying him and now he’s probably got a different energy towards it. Do you know what I mean? You’ve got Trav Presents, they do their sets all the time and again, these are younger, newer MCs and the crowd is young people. Safe, that’s what we need. To keep it there. It’s fine, it’ll be fine.”