Manga Saint Hilare is grime’s realest storyteller

today16/02/2024 3

share close

“I feel like kids today have the space to find their community. But when I was growing up as a boy in the ’90s, if you wasn’t good at fighting or you weren’t the light-skinned pretty one with the curly hair, or good at football, then you didn’t exist. Because rapping wasn’t a ting then. I mean, it was later, obviously, and that’s when I became involved.” Manga Saint Hilare, ex member of the seminal grime crew Roll Deep and longstanding album artist in his own right, is giving Mixmag a bit of context about growing up Black British (specifically of Saint Lucian and Saint Vincentian extraction) in London just before grime hit in the early 2000s. Which is to say that he’s telling a story. That’s what he does: Manga is nothing if not a storyteller. And as you’d expect from a live wire lyrics man who’s known for his ability to shine a light on subjects that other MCs might not want to touch, like self-doubt, depression and fears about the future, he’s an open book in the way that only someone who’s done a lot of work on themselves can be. He’s a guy who’s been through it and come out the other side.

When Mixmag links up with Manga to chat about his new album, the excellent ‘Everything Is Under Control’ with More Night, out now on MNRK UK, we find ourselves effortlessly embroiled in his world of comics (“X-Men, the way they have these powers but are really struggling to deal with the world is so sick”), prestige TV (“The Sopranos is shit, I’m sorry, nothing happens and everyone is horrible”) and of course his beloved grime (“People compare grime to drill now, because from the outside it seems the same: same BPM, similar subject matter. But our thing is not just about that: it’s a style, a kind of slang, a heritage. Grime is an attitude – that’s why I have different genres on this album but the approach is always from a grime perspective”).

Read this next: Grime: the complete history in 10 perfect tracks

He’s on top form, a doting new father at 38, though he admits he’s happy to be away from the nappy changes and housework for an afternoon when we meet up in a North London hotel bar in late January. We soon realise Manga isn’t someone whom you ‘interview’ – he’s someone you have a chat with. Plus he’s not one to only tell stories where he comes out on top, as we find out when we ask him about what it was like in the first part of his career. Back when he was 18 and hooked up with grime’s biggest crew, the mighty Roll Deep, after a chance meeting with Wiley and unexpectedly winning an MC competition in Ealing led to the genre’s infamously erratic godfather calling him up and asking “Are you in a crew? No? Cool, come to Bermondsey and come studio.” As Manga tells it: “Wiley didn’t even turn up for three days. He kept telling me to go back the next day. But luckily I saw that they were making [Roll Deep’s 2005 debut album] ‘In At The Deep End’ and that’s when I was on ‘When I’m ‘Ere’. To this day a lot of people think I’m from East as I’m on that track and they think Wiley discovered me from there. I get love from there, it’s cool. But I even get people who think they knew me from school there – and I went to school in Edgware!”

Written by: Tim Hopkins

Rate it