After a high-profile chase on the M6 with ten police squad cars in hot pursuit, Birmingham rapper Mist ditched his vehicle. For a while he hid in residential gardens, only to be located by helicopters shortly after and apprehended. “I sort of felt like I’d had my chance with music and didn’t make the best of it,” he says, in reference to the day that earned him a stay behind bars over Christmas in 2014.
However, like a Brummie phoenix, Mist’s time inside HM Prison Birmingham catalysed his rebirth. Before his period of incarceration in Winson Green ended, he had to complete a resettlement course. The first question asked was “who are you?”. Mist couldn’t answer. “I had no profession or anything that I could write down,” he remembers. “When I went back to my cell, I took it in like, bruv – how could I not answer who I am? Isn’t that the main question in life? If you can’t answer that, where are you?”
He says all this from across an artist’s room in a swanky record label office, just off High Street Kensington in central London. Though the room is minimal, Mist, aged 25, is in an ostensibly different place to where he was just a few years ago. For a start, there’s the setting: as we sit and talk he sips on herbal tea – a remedy for a sore throat procured the night before – while pausing from time to time to silence a ringing phone from deep inside his Canada Goose jacket. Then there’s the motive. We’re sitting here a few days before the release of his second EP, Diamond In The Dirt – a nine-track release that, at least on paper, looks set to propel Mist into the upper echelon of British rappers.
So how did he get here? I guess at this point it’s wise to start at the beginning, beaming straight into Mist’s early years so anyone who has been sleeping can easily catch themselves up to speed.
Raised in a Caribbean household in Erdington – a neighbourhood in the north of Birmingham – Mist consumed music like it was food. His dad, a guitarist, played in a band that he says made it onto Top of The Pops. Meanwhile his brother rented sound systems for events, often acting as a hype man. Inspired by the rest of his family, Mist dabbled in music from a young age and started to buy equipment – “beat makers and programs – things I would use in my own room to start making beats and writing bars”.
Like most MCs his age, Mist initially started out making grime. But as his sound has evolved, his music has become more in tune with the sound of UK artists like Skrapz or Nines. Except there’s also a stark difference. Just as Nines has become synonymous with, say, Church Road in north west London, Mist’s music is hyper-local. But, since he’s from Birmingham, his bars are littered with references to his home city’s particular blend of multiculturalism.
“I involve Punjabi in my bars – no one had done that before,” he says proudly. Take, for example, the track “Aint The Same” from his debut EP M I S to the T. Over a beat made by his favoured producer Steel Banglez, Mist raps “hold tight all my Apnars, Karlas, Goras yeah” – all Punjabi terms that translate to mean people of Asian, Black and White ethnicity. “I grew up with Asian mates and that sort of lingo. I think that helped me a lot,” Mist says, leaning forward. “I get Asian fans thanking me for embracing their culture in a way has never been embraced like that before in the UK rap scene.”
Unlike a lot of British rappers, he’s also incredibly candid about the tougher chapters of his life, most strikingly perhaps when he opens up about the devastating deaths of both his parents. On the Not3s featuring track “Order It In” from Diamond in the Dirt, he ruminates on the past with his mother, rapping “Watched my mum wash my clothes in the sink, release pain on the track but I still got pain within.” Though the track is relatively upbeat, its production a swirling, vibe-y bounce from Steel Banglez, the pain in Mist’s voice is evident as he gets straight to the point.
“I’m not the type of guy to go see a counsellor so music is really my release from all stress,” he says with a wry smile before switching to a more pensive tone. “I’ve received some really touching messages from fans in the past that let me know I’m doing the right thing, because when you’ve lost someone, it doesn’t matter who it is: people can relate to your story. I wasn’t always confident enough to talk about certain things but this is my story, and to hear that it's helping other people get through tough times, that’s what drives me.” Overall, Mist’s persona doesn’t change; whether he’s writing bars or speaking in the flesh, his story is one with it’s fair share of heartbreak and real life struggles.
Now, to those notoriously lavish music videos. As with past releases, Mist continues to push visuals to the forefront on Diamond in the Dirt. This latest project’s lead single “Game Changer” follows a similar jet-setting route to last year’s “Hot Property”, which took place in Iceland. Shot in Kenya, the video shows Mist living luxuriously in the plains of the savannah surrounded by wild animals and expensive cars. For good measure, you see him flying in a hot air balloon too. “I don’t like doing things people have already done, I like setting trends. I see people using elements from my videos and stuff but I’ve won MOBOs for it you know, really it just lets me know I’m inspirational, forget just within Birmingham, in the whole game.”
And that last part – about being inspirational in the whole game – is a fair point. Whether it’s the 8 million plus views on “Hot Property”, his stand-out appearance on “Fisherman” from J Hus’ Brit nominated album Common Sense or the strong who’s-who of features on this latest project (Not3s, Nines, MoStack, Fekky, Jessie Ware, Mr Eazi), it’s clear Mist stands at the peak of Britain’s rap mountain, surrounded by so many of his talented peers. It’s also worth noting he has his own independent record label Sickmade Records – no small feat for a man who just a few years earlier was in jail, and first built his name while unsigned. As he says on the appropriately named “Game Changer” – “I'm getting hot like Nelly / Legend in the game, Makaveli / Glastonbury, yeah, yeah, you see me on the telly/ I'm a very calculated nigga, never miss a penny.”
Ultimately – between the stunning visuals, his organic work ethic and the lane he has carved for himself by producing a consistent sound – Mist is playing this with longevity in mind. So where does he want to go next? “I want Sickmade Records to be an established name in the music industry. I’m looking to open up a door that wasn’t there when I was growing up, I think it would be a very positive thing.” He continues, “the sky's the limit! I don’t want to be one of those guys that made a couple hits and disappeared. I chase the vision not the money, I can’t just be living in the present. I’m trying to build an empire so I’ve just gotta play the right moves to get there.”