Dizzee Rascal is arguably the most famous UK rapper, with much of his plaudits focused around his debut LP “Boy In Da Corner”, a twenty-year-old record that arrived alongside the emergence of Grime music. Dizzee was part of the Roll Deep Crew, which found success both as a crew and through individual members like Wiley and Dizzee. In 2004, a teenager simply named Manga joined the crew and was around to witness the height of their success, but after Roll Deep’s successful run in the 2000s died down, he rebranded himself as the more distinct Manga Saint Hilaire. The approach to grime was similarly fun to listen to, with a more family-friendly feel to his lyrics that has surprisingly not resulted in mainstream solo success. However, it seems he’s now getting his dues, with his 2020 album “Make It Out Alive” bringing about some acclaim and award nominations. “Run For Your Life” is his latest release, and it’s easy to understand why he’s catching more ears – this is one of the better UK rap records I’ve heard this year.
When I get asked to name my favourite emcees, I often panic and throw out names that spring to mind immediately: Elzhi, Method Man, Ghetts – rappers that glide over beats with exceptional enunciation. It’s something a lot of British emcees possess and Manga is no different, with the song “None of Them” playing up to this quality with what feels like a simplistic piece of songwriting, yet remains infectiously catch either way. Busta Rhymes is a master of this style, whereby reading the lyrics on paper may feel straightforward, yet hearing it executed so precisely is regularly rewarding.
There’s a wicked hip-hop feel to the collaboration “Man Know” with Capo Lee and P Money, which Manga actually dominates. I really like “Together” too which could crossover with its traditional hip-hop pacing, a lot like how Skepta’s “It Ain’t Safe” was like Three 6 Mafia, clearly aimed at Americans. The highlight is D Double E, which it usually is when he’s on a track. The way he works his trademark adlibs in, without feeling played out, is proof of the less is more approach. Just an 8-bar appearance is actually wise, as he would threaten to Freddie Foxxx it. Furthermore, these older garage influences are celebrated and embraced with both arms throughout the album, including on “Just Being Us”, a dancefloor filler that would have torn up many a nightclub back in the day, and should do in 2022 if you can find the right DJ playing. Even lines like “they want their hand held like PSP” are reminders that Manga isn’t afraid to just be his age rather than attempt to appease the teenagers of today. Then you’ve got “Everything Else”, which should be a radio hit but I guess it’s just too damn positive and honest for mass consumption.
The single “Kendall & Kylie” similarly uses relevant celebrity figures as a metaphor for confirming he’s very much of his generation, not this generation. It’s not simply nostalgic nods and heartfelt rapping, with darker production emerging on “ALotALotALotALot” and “Evil Eye” at the end of the album. The former is a divisive loop that’s dripping in bleak energy, while the latter is more in-your-face braggadocio, but both possess this noisiness to them that at least tries something more experimental.
There’s not just a British flavor to Manga’s latest album, with Brazilian vocalist SD9 on “U Run It” and Canadian emcee Tre Mission on “Money Drop”, but its strengths lie in Manga’s adept mic skills and willingness to make an album that’s everything great about UK grime without feeling like it’s awkwardly trying to please two audiences (commercial radio and hardcore grime fans) – something many grime albums fail at. “Run For Your Life” is full of character and catchy numbers, embracing its 30-something audience that Manga isn’t afraid to rap honestly for.