As the popularity of UK rap continues to soar, more rappers are becoming incentivised to tackle the ominous album. This is, in effect, causing genres like drill and grime to stand up straight next to more typically profound and impactful sounds; no longer the cool kid slouching in the corner, rap now tries to look the industry dead in the eye, to be taken wholly seriously by its often judgmental counterparts. A paucity of instrumental conglomeration, bland song structuring and repetitive thematic arcs, however, have meant that many UK rap albums in the past few years have fallen flat, even from some of the biggest hitters. Grime’s shallow stylistic tendencies and lack of tonal liberty have resulted in too many overlong and overly familiar albums. As one of the flickering embers of new wave grime, Manga Saint Hilare’s new album ‘Run For Your Life’ feels like a pivotal moment in the evolution of the genre and also the wider scene’s impression of the style – could he pull it off?
An avid collaborator with a dense and fruitful discography, Manga emerged in the mid-tens and has had to grind for his rise. With grime’s appeal teetering and the dizzying increase in the popularity of drill, he has had to fight for relevance whilst the generation before him could ride the wave of their teammates. Although he has steadily risen in popularity throughout his career, it’s fair to say that the rapper hasn’t ‘blown’, but ‘Run For Your Life’ could well be that crowning moment.
The album sees Manga uphold arrogance, aggression and acumen. It has its fair share of classic-sounding grime cuts, like ‘Man Know’ with fellow frontrunners Capo Lee and P Money and ‘None Of Them’, but there is also an eclectic array of tracks that evoke deeper emotion and thought, flaunting Manga’s more introspective capabilities and allowing the album to prosper in its variety. ‘I’m Worried Aren’t You?’ is a superb cut that questions societal and political intentions over a chopped vocal sample and off-kilter percussion. Closer ‘Electric Future’ is a sobering self reflection, bold and thought-provoking, the rapper vivid in the difficulties that he faces.
It’s an unsurprisingly collaborative body of work; striking up a fulfilling balance between seasoned veterans like D Double E and the aforementioned P Money and relative newcomers like Brazilian MC SD9. Manga, though, is undoubtedly front and centre of everything that works about the album, flaunting the songwriting nuance that elevates him beyond many MC’s. There are provoking narratives throughout the album as the artist allows us to see beyond his sharp flow and grit-laden charisma and into his artistic and personal psyche.
‘Run For Your Life’ succeeds in providing enough variety to sustain interest throughout its giddy 51 min run time. Remaining in touching distance to the core essence of UK grime, Manga pays homage to the greats before him whilst beginning to write the genre’s next chapter in a book that hasn’t yet been fully written. There’s life in grime yet, and Manga Saint Hilare is its beating heart.
Words: Ben Tibbits