Driving across Tower Bridge, I looked over at the London towers that make up an iconic skyline. When you live in London, it can seem that you’re living in a bubble. Different underground music scenes are saturated with artists that are trying to make a name for themselves. The competition in the city is tough and most don’t make an impact to warrant sold out shows and substantial video views. So when an artist from the UK’s second city released a song that took over the capital city and had everyone in the club speaking in a different accent, I was very intrigued.
The music scene in Birmingham has been prominent in the Grime scene for a while and rapper ‘M-I-S to the fucking T’ is no stranger to the genre. “I started with Grime. I wasn’t trying to be an MC like that. Everyone had bars. It was like a hobby”. Birmingham, where Mist was born and raised, is a major city in England’s West Midlands region that has been made a hub for multiculturalism due to its history as a manufacturing powerhouse. “Where I grew up, there was a load of different people and cultures around me. I had friends from multiple different backgrounds. In some cities, the majority of the people are one race. In Birmingham, a number of different races of people are bigger.” Mist was correct. Ethnic minorities make up just under half of the population. With this amount of rich culture around him, it makes sense that his friends are almost like a banner image for a Bennetton ad.
Arriving at a studio owned by Steel Banglez, a UK producer who has been working in the underground scene since the early days of Wiley and has producer credits on albums by your favourite artists, I walk into a room where rapper Mo Stack is freestyling to instrumentals. When Mist arrives, the mood lifts as the mandem trade stories and the banter flies around. Conversations quickly get turned into topics as Mist starts to rap about whatever is said in the room. I can tell that he’s passionate about his craft. “I grew up listening to Grime. My mate Grimmy, he was an Asian MC. Grimmy and I used to freestyle together which was an interesting link up. During my sentence, I used to write raps to pass the time. I wasn’t in there thinking about coming out to be the best rapper. It was a way of getting down my experiences so that others can understand. People may call what I do ‘Road Rap’. But what I do now is what I like to call ‘real life rap’. Grime is filled with energy. When I was doing Grime, it was a hype ting. But I feel that my style suits rap more because I can slow it down and really get across what’s on my mind. I found the best beats that matched the way I MC’d were rap beats so I focused on that.”
Mist has jumped in the scene and made a Tsunami-sized wave in a short amount of time. I’ve witnessed this before with Bugzy Malone where an artist from outside of the M25 has the backing of their home city. This translates into London paying attention to an undeniable force. But this was different. When the hit single ‘Karlas Back’ hit the roads, it was universally accepted almost immediately. Independent radio stations added the song to their playlist at the speed of light and clubs were turned over as everyone was shouting out their ‘apnas, karlas & gouras‘. This made its way all the way to the IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, who used social media to quote bars from the Brummie rapper to show appreciation to his fans after winning a fight.
I tell you what. If it wasn’t for the fans, I wouldn’t have even made an EP.
Even with the level of hype surrounding the new artist, completing a body of work wasn’t Mist’s initial thoughts. “I tell you what. If it wasn’t for the fans, I wouldn’t have even made an EP. It was the supporters of my music getting on to me so much and asking when they can buy my songs. Back then, I didn’t take my music as serious as I take it now. When I started, I wasn’t thinking of iTunes. I wasn’t thinking about how people would want to purchase and own the tune. I was just putting it out on YouTube and having fun. Yeah, it was definitely the fans that were telling me to put out an EP. They liked my songs that much and they wanted to own the collection.”
In September 2016, ‘M I S to The T’ was released on Sickmade records and according to his management, it’s already sold over 71,000 copies. From the popular videos that have been viewed millions of times to the several million streams on Apple Music and Spotify, it is clearly apparent that his music is well sort after”I was new to this. I didn’t know that people would actually buy my music. I know I get loads of views but actually buying music is different. My manager definitely made me realise what we can do and helped me a lot so we’re just gonna keep working hard and see where we can take this.”
Everything happened so quick, I don’t even get time to properly reflect on what happened in the short amount of time.
I’m always openly speaking on social media for artists to have faith in their supporters. YouTube views are one thing, but putting yourself and more importantly, your art, out there for people to spend their money on is a leap of faith. Fortunately, the popularity that is seen on Mist’s creatively produced music videos is translating into tangible music sales.
2016 for Mist was a whirlwind. From one release to the next, hundred of thousands of views were accumulated in days and radio play were more or a less a given. As well as being the UK’s most popular unsigned act across all genres in 2016 on Spotify, I wanted to know has it as sank in yet. Is he aware of the impact that he is making? “You know what it is yeah, I can’t even say I was surprised or anything. I was in a daze. Everything happened so quick, I don’t even get time to properly reflect on what happened in the short amount of time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely aware of what’s going on and I appreciate and respect what is happening with my music but, like, it’s certain things like what I’m getting booked for. It’s a mad ting.”
Mad ting indeed. The level of support that he has from his fans have landed him some pretty notable appearances. Being on the same flyer as Money Mayweather in your home city must feel nice, as well as being booked for multiple festival performances, including Glastonbury. These are major wins for a breakthrough artist, but here we were, standing in the cold outside of the studio where he is getting ready to make more music. Standing in his Canada Goose coat, he seems happy, having just engaged with 1500 people on Instagram live with Mo Stack, he makes sure he stays busy. Often it’s when speaking with the people that put him in the position, that he gets the sense of where he is. “These things are new to me, you know what I’m saying. Other people are telling me how big this is, but I’m new in this ting.”
One reason why his music made an impression on me was his straight bars and honesty. You might have seen the flash cars and jewels in the videos, but one listen to the first song on his EP will give you an insight into his life on the roads. Mist has had a colourful existence so far to say the least. From stories of the trap to car chases with the police that included helicopters, he definitely has made the right choice to put that all aside and focus on music. He puts the pain into his songs.
Frequent references to his late mother seem to be the catalyst for his motivation to make the best out of his situation. Working hard to put his daughter through private school, “We’re getting there. It’s definitely one of my most important goals.” One of the first songs that he made was ‘Sickmade’ where Mist reflects on his time locked up and how his intentions were to switch from the roads to making his stamp in the music game. Listen deeper and you can still hear his old ways creeping through. One thing is for sure, it makes for good music. “I’m just trying to use music to tell my story and I’m happy that the people are feeling it.”
Pain in my chest. It still hurts that my mum can’t see my success
Another thing that is evident is that Mist makes sure that it is musical. With UK rap, songs can fall into the deep bass quicksand and forget about the need for melodies. Meanwhile, the Northern MC has linked up with producers like Steel Banglez, Sevaqk and Shadow. This has resulted in a sound that suits the different tones of his Brummie accent. “When I make music, when producers are making the beats, I have to be there. A lot of producers send me good beats, but I find that me working with the producer in the studio, telling them what I like to hear is when I make my best music. That’s how all of my latest bangers have been made. I’m very involved in every part of the making my music”
Sitting in the studio, I got to see how their collaboration works. Mist stands next to Banglez as he’s playing the keyboard, giving suggestions to the where he wants the music to go. As the drink is flowing and the conversation gets louder, there’s a fun vibe in the studio that sparks ideas and results in Mo Stack and Mist starting the process of making a song. “When the vibe is like this, we could finish a song in 30 minutes. But at the same time, a tune could take a month to make. It all depends on the situation. I don’t force it. If I’m in the studio and find myself not in the mood to write then I won’t. I’m not into forcing creativity. I wanna give 100% to my bars so if I don’t feel it, then I won’t release it. That’s why it won’t be the same every time I release a song.There’s a different vibe that contributed to the different songs that I make.”
2017 is looking very bright indeed. With more collaborations, countless gigs and another headline show at KOKO, one of London’s best venues for live music, Mist is showing no signs of slowing down. “Traveling nationwide was beautiful for me. I was surprised how quick the tickets sold out. I didn’t even want to put out that many tickets for my first tour but they sold out in under an hour. Being able to interact the fans and show my appreciation to them with a great show was sick.”
As I packed up my camera and mics, 2 of the best rappers in the UK stepped through the door. Earlier, during the social live stream, Mist was freestyling and calling out to Krept, who was tuned in. A few calls later, Krept & Konan were in the studio forming lyrics to a song. It seems that Mist is an artist with a vision and a plan. His work ethic and good attitude has won an engaging audience and respect from some of the best in the game.
There’s no doubt he will continue to deliver and put on for his city. “Birmingham can feel like a small place. But it is very active considering how small it is. Music wise, more rappers are breaking through. I feel like the time is getting closer when more artists are going to enter the music scene from Birmingham and make waves.”
Catch Mist live on his Sickmade Karla UK Tour, tickets are available here.