The latest album from Manga Saint Hilare – titled “Make It Out Alive” – is his most clearest and cohesive sounding body of work to date. Recorded over a year, he went in deep about wading through the struggles of life, painting a picture of a man whose been through the full spectrum of emotions and come out of the other side with a clear mindset. The song structures are fluid and the writing sharp, revealing a record made with care and love over a long period of time.
I spoke to him over the phone last week and we discussed his creative process, how he’s improved his craft over the years and touched a little bit on the state of grime. Reflecting on the interview, he seems like an artist who has developed a critical approach to his own work and is always looking to improve. He knows his own strengths as an artist, is tuned into his audience and isn’t afraid of speaking honestly about his previous work. Carry on scrolling to read our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How does it feel to have Make It Out Alive out there?
It feels good! I’ve had it for so long, people are enjoying it so I’m happy about that.
The reception has been big. I’ve seen it on Twitter, it’s a good album so it deserves the recognition.
Yeah man, thank you. I’ve never really had a project for this long before. I was quite ahead of myself with this one, before I would be just doing it as I go along. With Outbursts, I had the idea and was shooting videos, doing it bit by bit, it was all over the place. Outsiders was a bit more organised but as soon as I finished it, when I got the last mix, I put it out. But this one, I’ve had it since September.
Did it take about a year to make?
Yeah, a year to make. Had it since around September and then I started doing videos. This is the most organised I’ve been, so it wasn’t like, what am I going to do next?
When you were working with Raheim, Spyro and the other producers, was it a fluid process? Or did you find it hard to get your ideas across?
The best example is when I went to Silencer’s to get some riddims, he just had bare. And I remember when I was younger I would’ve just picked loads. I realised, nah man, I didn’t need all of them, I needed that one. I think the best thing to do is to go in with a plan of what you’re looking for from that person, otherwise it’s just overwhelming. Put it like this: Lewi B sends me beats every single day, I don’t use all of them because obviously I can’t. But if you try to use all of them, it’ll be a mess. So when I was going around and picking beats I had to be like alright, what is this for?
I think you can tell when an emcee gets the five pack of beats and picks the one and doesn’t think about the idea in the track and how the beat matches up.
That’s why ’nuff people don’t do projects, anyway. They dont really think like that. That’s not really a bad thing, if you can slap out a single and make progress for you that’s calm. To be fair, I’d like that, because me paying for mixing down fifteen beats and x amount of videos is long. If I can make this impact from one song, I would. It seems like my ting isn’t like that. My thing is like, they want the story… Not they want, I like telling it, but the story is better for me.
Yeah. I think that’s definitely your strength.
It’s cause that’s how I listen to music, anyway. So I think that’s why I can understand the structure of a project or album, because I listen to it like that. Most people don’t listen to music like that.
Yeah. It seems like it’s dying…well, I wouldn’t say dying because that seems like the wrong word.
Yeah, it is dying. But then I understand I know who I’m trying to talk to. Sometimes people try to talk to everyone. You wouldn’t do that in life, you wouldn’t just get a megaphone and just talk to everyone. You would have conversations with people who have the same type of mind frame as you. I think that’s the ting I have to remember: I’m never gonna get D Block Europe numbers because they’re young, they’re exciting, they’re gwarning. You know what I mean? That’s a big audience and the majority of people that make up streams and views are just young people looking for a vibe, trying to find themselves. They just wanna have fun.
I think the main thing is that when you know your audience you get that freedom, you can just zero in on your thing completely.
Exactly. The in ting or the in sound now is drill, everyone’s doing a drill sounding song. I’m not gonna do that because I don’t need to, but I can enjoy it. I think I even done a drill-type sounding tune called No Deal.
That never even got as much traction, I just done that cause I liked it and Lewi made it and it was fun. But that never got no traction with my audience, imagine now that was what I was banking on to blow up? Because my audience, that’s not what they’re there for. But like I said, that’s something I enjoy listening to.
Sometimes people just get lost in whatever is the ting for the time, and then they just don’t find no identity. I always try to say when people are making these projects or making music, what’s it for? I listen to music for stuff, innit. We need different stuff for different times.
That’s a big thing. It’s funny, actually, because with having all this time in the lockdown I’ve been listening to loads of old soul and funk, just loading up Spotify and listening to random stuff. I think with grime being such a small bubble you forget, so to have different stuff for different times is important.
I don’t forget. Not to be that guy, but I don’t forget. I think that’s what grime people forget, as in when they’re making music. They think this is it. Bare emcees and producers are making songs for other grime emcees and producers. This can’t even live in the world. What are you talking about? What’s this about? This is just for if you like grime and you can tell you don’t listen to anyone else, there’s no influences. You’ve listened to X emcee and Y producer and you’ve thought, oh I can do better that or I can do that too, and you’ve made A and B and C emcee and producer. It’s just going round in a circle, whereas if you go and take some time out and listen to some different types of genres and broaden your perspective, you’ll see. It will fuse into it, but you don’t have to copy it.
I read a lot of academic stuff, I can’t do that hard academic writing but the ideas and the way of approaching the music sinks into my writing subconsciously, do you know what I mean? So you end up doing something through a wider lens.
You just get more understanding when you learn more. The grime discussions, oh how can this one say it’s dead, and that’s not dead, I say bruv you lot don’t go outside. It’s bait.
When you’re writing your bars, what type of headspace do you have to put yourself in?
I just have to want to do it. That’s why I can’t do freestyles. I can’t just write to say I’m the best and show off, see like a Fire In The Booth or something? Or a Road Rage, it’s difficult for me.
So you’re the type to kind of write on the fly? As the experiences come to you do you jot things down and then build it?
No, I will sit down and write. I just take my time. When I’m starting a project, I come up with the title first and then figure out what it’s about. So Make It Out Alive was about getting through what you’re going through and remaining yourself, that’s the themes. So once I’ve got it, I start and then I just go through what themes or topics I haven’t discussed. If I’ve got something that doesn’t fit I’ll take it out. Like writing an essay.
That makes sense, it seems like a methodical way of approaching music.
I just don’t wanna chat shit. I don’t wanna go back and look at it like, oh I’ve got four songs about the same thing, or I’ve said that before. I don’t want to repeat myself and I need to be organised, otherwise you just end up with a jumbled project, and I think they’re shit. I’ve done that before. I did a project called 360 Degrees and I think it’s mad shit, because it’s just all over the place. It doesn’t mean anything, 360 don’t mean anything. They were just songs trying to be clever bars, there’s no feeling in that.
I think you can hear that in your music. I went back and listened to your stuff pre Outbursts. You can hear with each record the process is getting sharper and you’re refining it each time.
Sick. I’m happy you can hear that. When Roll Deep stopped making music together I said, yo, I need to pattern up. I was just trying to figure it out, I feel like I haven’t reached the peak. Make It Out Alive is the best version of what I could do right now with my resources and my story. When I done Lunchtime at Art School and White Jean Suit Confidence, I had the ideas but I couldn’t put it together. I just kept learning from my mistakes, so I’m happy you said that man.
How do you think you managed to learn to put it together?
Trial and error. Sometimes people get so excited that they’ve completed something, they think it’s sick cause they put a lot of effort into it. But when you put it in the wider scheme of things, it’s not good. Sometimes I was so happy I finished a song, like yeah man I’ve done it, but that’s not really good. It doesn’t really sit there. The more honest I became with myself, it just worked.
The most important thing is looking deeper into your own process.
Yeah, if you’re aware of it. Don’t just think I’ve done it, it’s sick and then that’s it. And when people say they don’t like it, or it doesn’t get the attention you think it deserves, don’t be be like they hate it, everyone’s against me.
I see that a lot. Even I do it with the writing where I’m like oh, someone’s better than me, that’s when it starts to get bad because you get in a rut.
I see it all the time. I used to be like that, that’s why I know it. Now I’ve took my ego out of it, I don’t wanna hear those songs… They’re not rubbish, they’ve got the ideas and I can see where I was trying to go, but they weren’t good.
Yeah, the ideas are there but they aren’t as strong as what you’re doing now.
Yeah. Imagine now I just said oh they hate it and no one cares, this was the best I’ve done and I just stopped at White Jean Suit Confidence. Even Different Pattern… We done the song and it was just rushed, I remember doing that because I went studio and had no money… I think I done a whole project in a couple of hours… like four hours or something.
We done Different Pattern and… ahh bruv it just wasn’t good! But the ideas…even the beat, not to take anything away from Lewi, it was thin, it wasn’t mixed properly. But the idea was there, that’s the only time I’ve ever revisited a song and said no, I need to go back into this. And that’s how we made the proper Different Pattern.
I’m not very good at making hooks. That’s not my strong point, but I’m trying to get better at it and I’m trying to attack it. So I made a hook and I thought nah, this is a good hook bruv! But it’s done, it’s wrong, the structure is wrong. I remember I sat down with Lewi and he remade the beat and he made the beat a lot better. And I said no, we need to move it around…the hook needs to come first. We just redone it and the rest of it came into fruition, that’s when I put JME and Prez on it.
What I’m trying to say, that was removing the ego rather than being like, nah man it’s sick.
Yeah. It’s self critical, isn’t it?
Yeah, you have to be. Otherwise you’re just stuck, innit. I dunno how it is for other people… Some people are very naturally gifted at this ting and they don’t have to try hard, and some people aren’t. I don’t think I am, I don’t think I’m a naturally sick emcee, know what I mean? I’ve had to do bare work and assessment on what I’m trying to do, there’s bare people that are way better than me, I think, naturally.
I think with creative stuff, I always see it as a muscle. Like with writing, I was good at English at school and I started writing, I was shit at first and then I went back and read. It’s the same thing with writing where you have people who are naturally gifted.
Yeah, it’s the same thing, because you’re a writer you have to work at it. Some people don’t even approach it like that, they think they’re just saying stuff like I’m the realest… Bruv, I hear all that but it doesn’t matter. I think I said this with Spyro not that long ago, it’s like going to the gym. If you go to the gym all the time you’re going to be stronger than me, even if I’m naturally bigger than someone.
So you were saying before that you don’t think you’re very good at hooks and you’re trying to get better at hooks. How do you go about getting better at that?
Doing them, that’s it. Cause before I’d do everything to avoid it. I’d get someone else to do it, or I’d just leave it open. I wouldn’t really think about it. But that’s the most important part of a song, really. Just doing them, don’t be afraid of them. You’ll get better, you just have to attack it.
So do you record a lot and have a lot left over?
No, none left over. I never have extra songs, one maybe. I have an extra song on this one called Highly Favoured, I put it on my Bandcamp. The project was too long and I realised the song didn’t mean anything to the project.
Yeah, just like a loose one floating about. That makes sense.
Like I said, ego would be like: oh I’ve recorded that, I’ve paid for that…I thought nah man it doesn’t add to nothing. I’m not saying anything. I like the hook, but I didn’t really say anything. I can still perform it if it pops off, but it didn’t add to the ting.
That’s the thing, even if it it’s one of those where you don’t think it will do well, it can still exist in its own world. Like you say, you can still perform it live.
Yeah. I never have bare songs. I have to sit down and say…like I said I start with the thing and I know where I’m going. Some people go to the studio every day and do bare tings. Like Wiley, Wiley’s in studio every day. He’s got so many songs, he sent me three beats yesterday!
He’s literally the opposite to man when creating music… I know lots of people like that. They’ve got so much songs, that’s why I feel like it’s harder for them to put it together at the end.
I’ve never thought about it that way. If you’ve got thirty or forty songs and you’re trying to whittle it down to fifteen…especially if you think someone’s created that, so you’re gonna have sentimentality over each song. It’s pretty hard to whittle it all down into an album. Whereas with your thing, it’s quite lean. You know what you’re doing and you know how many songs you’ve got when you’ve got the idea.
It’s all pre done. Even my desktop on my computer, I know where everything is. If you ask me where’s that merch design? I know what folder it’s in. Where’s your green T-Shirt? I know where that is, it’s in the second drawer underneath the black one. So that’s how I create, but then again, some people’s ting isn’t like that. But I feel like it’s too stressful for me to do that.
That makes sense. That’s probably an important part, getting comfortable with your creative process so you can create the best art. It takes a long time to get there.
Yeah, I was trying to copy the Wiley format or whoever’s format. When I was in Roll Deep, when Roll Deep was all together, my examples were in front of me. Obviously, Wiley is the biggest example and he was the most successful. So I’m thinking, oh he has to do it like that to be successful. So that’s why I was just going murking at radio, writing new lyrics thinking that’s gonna get me on or that was my process, but I was just copying a next mans process and I didn’t understand. It’s not until Roll Deep disbanded and I realised, oh everybody does things differently. I can do my ting my own way.
Yeah, you realised you could do your own thing.
I’m not like that, [Wiley’s] naturally like that. In Roll Deep there was always a certain way you’d do things, but then I’ve realised like when I check Flowdan, his ting isn’t like how Wiley’s was. Flowdan does a lot of songs, but he also thinks about it. Wiley does bare songs, quickly. J2K would think about how it’s gonna look, he would think about the marketing and what can we do to make it clever… So I just tried to combine everything that I was seeing. Saying alright, take a bit from that, what fits with my personality?
Hit Page Two for the second part of the interview
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