A year has passed since I first heard Birmingham artist ‘Mist’. I was in a quiet Spanish village and he was being played out of a portable speaker. There was something special about Mist’s Brummy accent over those dark, smooth beats. It fit perfectly with the scene as I looked out the window on a place I didn’t understand. Unlike a lot of new UK rap, it made me want to reflect and ponder on my own path in life.
Whether intentionally or not, Mist’s message to the listener seems to be to focus on one’s goals despite any barrier that may be in one’s way. He does this by telling the story of how he has dealt with major life events like the death of his parents. In one instance he says that his daughter grew up whilst he was in prison. Tears came to his eyes but he never let them shed, he was too busy communicating with the sky. Despite him being physically contained, it couldn’t destroy his dreams of a better life.
These sorts of concepts are simple yet powerful, scattered throughout his music. There is a certain wisdom to Mist’s words, a reflection of his deep meditation whilst in prison. One particular phrase stuck with me, ‘the only thing you’re promised in life is death’. His conclusion, complete your goals before that time comes.
His original producer, Shadow, deserves a lot of credit for creating the electronic world from which Mist raps. Shadow experiments with different synth plugins, bringing visions of an inner city X-files. In most of the tracks, the lack of high-hats pulls it further away from any similarities to trap music. It gives the track more space and air to breath. The basslines come in strong but they are not overpowering. They keep the listener grounded in a thug element in spite of the trippiness of the synths. Out of the darkness of the instrumental we imagine how low Mist’s mind must have once been.
Recently, I went to his sold-out concert with the same friend who first played him to me. We were both curious about how those unique beats would sound on club speakers. We imagined that we’d be spaced out, swaying to the music and picking out the soft recessive sounds that we may not have previously noticed. And what kind of stage persona would such an enigmatic character have?
But as I watched from a balcony at KOKO club in Camden, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something missing from the act. A simplicity was lost. Instead of spitting in his calm voice, Mist shouted his lyrics on the mic like a hard-core rapper. The DJ acted like he was performing for a trap artist and kept stopping the track for effect. In these moments the crowd chanted back the lyrics. The bass was too heavy, the synths too quiet. The depth of the tracks seemed to be lost to an energetic atmosphere.
What was originally so powerful about the combination of Mist and Shadow was that it could make you fall into a trance. Though Mist created vivid concepts that brought his world to ours, the sound and level of his voice made it relaxing to listen to. You could ignore the lyrics and go into your own thoughts. In some way, he seemed to be in our side. Now he appeared like a wealthy, American trap artist.
My friend had an ingenious idea that would have brought some originality to the performance. The DJ could have played the instrumental first, using effects to distort and play with the sounds. He might have even changed the tempo so we could hear how intricate the arrangement was. After he had done this for a while, Mist’s voice could finally enter the scene, as cool and calm as he originally recorded it.
But this is just an idea, maybe the crowd received what they wanted. Maybe bravado is necessary in the UK rap scene. But it’s important for Mist to realise what made him unique in the first place.