Blow Off the Pain
Mist – or M, I, S to the fucking T to some – has enjoyed a rapid ascent to the top of the UK rap game. Last year he was ranked as one of the most viewed rap/grime artists in the country, with YouTube stats resembling those of Stormzy and Skepta, and 2017 has also been good to him. “It was kinda weird making that transition from normal life to travelling the world,” the Birmingham artist says wistfully as we start our interview. “I’ve had to take on everything that comes with this lifestyle.”
After kicking off a series of freestyles and DIY music videos in 2015, last year Mist released his official debut, the M I S to the T EP, from which two singles stood out – Karlas Back and Ain’t the Same. Off the back of the hype, he sold out two country-wide tours. “Last year I had a few bookings but nothing was as intense as this year,” he tells me. “I’ve been flying around to places I never thought I’d ever even visit. But music brought me to these places and it’s been such a great experience”. He then starts listing off the many places he’s touched – Marbella, Napa, Santorini, Kavos, Malta. The list goes on.
Everything about Mist is unmistakable. The Brummie twang, cheeky swagger, neck often full of gold chains and generous sprinklings of Punjabi in his lyrics – “old tight all my apnas, karlas, gouras all of that yeah”. “Basically, it all comes from the Punjabi language meaning Asians, Blacks and Whites” he divulges. “That lingo’s always been around me from young, I grew up with a lot of Asian mates. It’s been part of the way I talk for a very long time.”
“Where I grew up, there were a lot of different cultures,” he continues. “Having Caribbean parents there was reggae always playing in there house, also there was the whole UK garage scene. If you listen to my music you can probably hear a little bit of that sound.” Another distinctive element of Mist’s music is his lyricism, which is often filled with pain and is vividly autobiographical, telling tales of jail stints, high-speed police chases and the crushing loss of his parents. Take his song Madness, where he raps “pain in my chest/ still hurts that my mum can’t see my success”.
So where did he find the courage to deal with such themes in a very public domain? “Well, to start off I didn’t really have the confidence to share these things,” he pauses. “I’ll tell you who played a big part in me finding the confidence to speak – you see Jamal [Edwards] from SBTV? Before I did my warm up session for them, he said to me ‘you’ve got a story to tell, so tell it’. I was kinda in a place where I didn’t really wanna put it all out there, but Jamal let me know that this was what people wanted to hear – people who’ve lived through similar experiences and can relate.
“With rap I can really let people know how I’m feeling,” he says of his therapeutic writing process. “It’s all facts. Whatever I have in my head goes straight onto the track. The pain and lyrics come from experience – life experience. Before fame and success I’d seen a lot of bad things. If it wasn’t for the things I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s part of my journey and it’s all a part of my life.”
One of the recurring themes in Mist’s music is his time in prison. On his debut P110 freestyle, Mist vented about missing his young daughter from behind bars, a time that the rapper describes as one of the worst yet most significant periods of his life. “It was my first time in jail. Before that I’d never visited anyone in prison or ever even been near one,” he explains. “It was an eye-opener and such a weird experience. I had to adapt and get to grips with prison life. With all of that I stepped out of the box and looked at it from a different angle and asked myself, ‘Is this how I really wanna be living my life?’”
“I did a little course in prison, it was a resettlement course and the first thing they asked us on the first day of that course was ‘who are you?’. They didn’t want us to answer with ‘I’m a brother or I’m a father’, you know what I mean? They wanted me to actually tell them who I am, me as a person,” he trails off, contemplative for a moment. “I was sat there for ten minutes and wrote not one thing. That messed with my head, I was thinking how can I not even answer something as simple as ‘who are you?’ I knew I had to find an answer for that question.
“In that period of time I got to enjoy my own company for a while and work out who I am as a person. I had all these thoughts and things weighing on my chest so I started writing,” he adds. “That there became bars, it was all the pain I was feeling and things I’d seen. I just started writing it down. Everything in my first real freestyle, I wrote that in my cell. It was my mate Shadow who told me ‘Mate, you’ve gotta get this out there’. From there things just grew.”
The video of the P110 freestyle is now approaching five million views on YouTube, and Mist’s rise doesn’t show any signs of slowing. But as a rapper from Birmingham, what where the odds of Mist achieving this level of success, when it has always been notoriously difficult for artists who aren’t from London to breakthrough? “People took a while to get used to the accent, the lingo and get used to the whole thing of someone coming through from out of town, but the industry and fans have accepted that we make good music over here” he explains. “When it’s good music I don’t think anyone can turn their nose up at it.”
"Before fame and success I'd seen a lot of bad things. But if it wasn't for the things I've been through, I wouldn't be where I am today"
Never settling for mediocrity, Mist is amongst the set of Birmingham talents who have smashed through that glass ceiling. Alongside artists like Jaykae and Lotto Boyzz, Mist is proving that Birmingham can hold its own weight in this country’s London-centric rap game. “People now know there is talent in Birmingham. My biggest fan base is all in London.”
Mist’s penchant for flash and cinematic visuals, often in exotic settings, have also added to the rapper’s appeal. “Growing up I’d watch the maddest music videos,” he says. His first big budget video was for the single Ain’t The Same and saw Mist fly out for the Dubai experience – high-rise hotels, yachts and all. The video for Hot Property was shot in snowy Iceland and serves as an antithesis of Ain’t The Same – hot versus cold, desert lions versus arctic wolves, quad bikes on sand dunes versus snowmobiles on white capped mountains, and so on.
“It was a deliberate thing,” Mist explains, “I know what I want my videos to look like long before anything. It’s my vision. We haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of music and visuals. There’s so much more to come.”
Photography: Naomi Wood