In the booth and in the streets Strange is going to give you his authentic self every time. Leading with his heart first and his head close behind, we discuss growing up in London, navigating a new and evolved internet-age, where his personal music journey started and what the music industry means for a Black, Gay rapper
In 2020, he dropped a historical freestyle with Bl@ckbox, and now in 2022 his new EP Strange Faces is out! For the first time with METAL, Mista Strange lets you in and he wants both new readers and loyal fans to know, if Strange did it; he probably did it first.
Strange, welcome to METAL!  As an artist, you've been on the rise within the last 2 years and during a pandemic. We’ve seen social media like TikTok, and Instagram widen artists’ viewership and boost chart rankings. What’s your relationship with social media and has it helped or hindered your career?
I think inevitably in this day and age social media plays a massive role in an artist's career and that is definitely the case for me. I wouldn't go as far to say that without social media no one would know about me but it has undeniably had a huge impact on my career; from going viral to being able to interact with major recording artists and building a fan base, social media is really at the heart of it  all. However with all that being said it can be a very toxic place but I guess two things can be true at the same time. I wouldn’t say social media has hindered my career although I have had to take breaks from it along the way. I remember going ghost for about a year around the time I came out (deactivated my account and everything) that period was really eye opening for me because it made me realise how plugged into the system we all are and how much we rely on these little devices and apps to actually function in life. I was completely out of the loop for most of that year; not up to date on the latest drama, memes, world issues etc and to be honest it felt great and gave me a lot of perspective as I was almost like an outsider looking in. Whenever I was with my friends being the only one who didn’t know what the fuck was going on I started to see how crazy we all look. Even though of course I made my return to socials, actually to drop my second official single Open The Gates I’m glad I took that time out, I'd definitely recommend everyone to take a year away from it all you’ll be a different person after.
Being from London, there is a rhetoric that surrounds whether being from Ends either makes or breaks a person. You hear “I made it despite being from the Ends” or “London made me who I am.” What is your story with London?
I feel every ‘ends’ or ‘hood story’ follows a similar pattern; it starts with love, which turns to hate and ends somewhere in between which is kind of where I’m at now. Growing up in the hood made me who I am, which I guess represents the ‘love’ part. I learnt so much about life, people, how to navigate sticky situations and a bunch of other valuable life lessons. It’s just unfortunate that the situations that teach you these lessons are usually rooted in crime, drugs and violence etc. which is where the ‘hate’ comes in. Unfortunately to learn anything in the hood you have to go through a lot of shit; I’ve lost friends to the system and family members to knife crime, I’ve done and seen a lot in general and so I guess that statement is true ‘it either makes you or breaks you’ which is why I’m left ‘somewhere in between’. Of course, no one wants to go through what most kids from the hood go through but in the same breath I can say it’s made me who I am so you have this sort of odd juxtaposed feeling of resentment for all the crap but also a feeling of victory for overcoming it all. It’s weird.
All in all, I wouldn't change anything but if I had a choice I probably wouldn’t choose to grow up in ends, but I guess that's life, we make the most out of the cards we are dealt some of us are lucky to find ways out and outlets to express our pain and tell our stories and others don’t. No one said life was easy, but it is whatever you make of it.
The genres of rap, drill and grime are embedded into the cultural fabric of London. There is no doubt you stand out from your persona to your bars but what sparked or started your love for music?
That journey started as far back as I can remember. Music has always been a big part of my life as I’ve always been surrounded by it, my grandma and grandad loved karaoke and were also big reggae fans, as was my mum but it wasn't just reggae, they were fans of music in general and listened to such an eclectic mix of sounds so I can definitely say my musical pallet was well trained from a young age. I think being around such love and passion for music really rubbed off on me, I even still have my mum’s old Sony Ericsson Walkman which has some of the baddest reggae classics on it and I’m talking the good good shit with artists like Tippa Irie, Eek-a-Mouse and Tarrus Riley, I’ve always said I’m going to have to get David Rodigan to make a mix using those songs just for my mum as like a birthday present or something so I definitely need to get famous asap (laughs). But my musical journey didn’t stop there, I then found my own feet, of course taking influence from the grown-ups around me but also from the kids my age but more so my older cousin and this is where I would find some of the early UK Rap and Grime sounds that I fell in love with. Back then it was all limewire and pirate radio. I don’t think anyone actually paid for music (laughs) but this free exposure to a plethora of sounds really fuelled my yearning for new music. After seeing and hearing these Grime tracks I then tried to emulate that by writing my own lyrics in a notebook, I remember being at my grandparents house once and them finding my lyrics on a piece of paper and getting in big trouble because I was saying a whole bunch of crazy shit a 9 year old had no business saying but nonetheless this didn’t stop me and and I continued scouting new music and writing more lyrics (as crazy as those lyrics sometimes were). I think where I really started to see all this come together is in late primary or early secondary school, I remember writing a poem that all the teachers were amazed by, they couldn't believe someone as young as me was able to string together sentences so eloquently and I guess the rest is history, my love for music coupled with a passion for writing and language made the perfect recipe for the creation of Mista Strange.
Let’s dive into some of your music, your project DSTNY that you rap and direct in is a cultural reset. You constantly affirm you are not the first openly gay rapper, but what you’re doing for the culture is pivotal. Do you feel a burden of representation and are you more conscious of your aesthetic?
Yeah man DSTNY is a banger! Produced by my good friend Ara C it was literally destiny. I think anyone who works in the entertainment industry will know video shoots hardly ever go to plan and this isn’t to say DSTNY didn’t come without its hurdles but I can confidently say that shoot went perfectly and what makes it even more of an accomplishment is the fact I funded, casted and directed it myself, a very proud moment for me I won’t lie. When I wrote the treatment for DSTNY (a whole 35 slide presentation) I was very keen on making sure everyone was well represented and paid! Which is something black and gay creatives are too often robbed of when media or whoever else wants to use our stories. From the point of conception I had this idea of bright colours, high energy and great visuals. Words like pink, boujee, sassy, loud, outlandish, bold came to mind. After days of scouting, I found the location and I instantly knew it was going to be the one, it was just so perfect. I then went on to plan my outfit and of course I had to go all out, that shit cost me a pretty penny. Funny side note, my sunglasses didn’t come in time and I was actually devastated because I am such a perfectionist in literally every sense of the word so after arriving on set I took a little trip up Selfridges and bought these limited edition Chrome Hearts shades (which I now cherish) and boy they were not cheap at all but the show must go on right. So, here’s me coming back from Selfridges getting stuck in rush hour traffic on the way which made me late to my own shoot, bearing in mind I had already arrived early to set up the location, so I’m like trying to explain to everyone waiting outside that this isn’t what it looks like I was actually on time (with a Selfridges bag in my hand). Lord it was a mess but one that turned out beautifully and was the catalyst for what I’d call my feminine phase. I had hired a nail tech to come and do nails for people in the video and I remember everyone trying to get me to do my nails on set but I was like “no way, not happening'', little did I know 3 weeks later I’d be in her nail salon getting full set acrylics. I think something happened to me on that day, I saw such freedom in the people I had casted and introspectively had to ask myself, “am I afraid of my own femininity?”. So in order to find out I embarked on a journey that would see me painting my nails, dying my hair, trying different styles of clothing and just having fun really. During this phase I went clubbing for the first time ever, kissed a few frogs, didn’t find a prince but oh well and made some new friends. I mean the real question would be what didn’t I do? I was living my damn best life and I’m so glad I did because although I now know I’m just not a very fem guy that was a time I will always cherish for the rest of my life. So now you can see why I called the track DSTNY (Destiny).
Wow that was long winded but that track was so pivotal for me, it deserves a full explanation. Just to touch on the other part of your question yeah I guess in the past I have backed away from calling myself the first gay rapper but in all honestly I was more forced away from the title by other people. I remember doing interviews after I went viral and I would literally get messages from fans and other gay rappers saying “stop calling yourself the first gay rapper” and it was actual quite hurtful at the time because they said it with such resentment, almost like I was just this masc hood guy that didn’t care about the community, when actually it took heaps of courage to get in front of that mic and rep my community. It was a massive kick in the teeth to hear my own people disregard me I won't lie, especially even after I rejected the title placed on me. But that was then, and this is now and I’ve done a lot since then and have been the first to do it. So, if we're really gonna get into it if I’m not the first then who is? Because I’m the first gay rapper on Bl@ckbox and by doing that inspired two more gay rappers to use the platform. I’m the first gay rapper on GRM Daily, Link Up TV, Goodmorning Britain, Sky News, BBC 1Xtra, Capital Radio, the list goes on. I mean let’s keep it a buck no other gay rapper in history has done what I’ve done from music to television and I’m just getting started. I’ve spent the last two years silent allowing people to belittle my accolades and act like I’m not the first to do pretty much everything I’ve done, just because they’re stuck up on the idea of me being the first ever gay rapper in existence. It’s like what do I have to do to prove myself because I have been humbly pushing my community and culture for two years but still am expected to keep quiet about how I’m the first to do it in the spaces I’m doing it in. There is always going to be someone who says they are the first, but if that were the case everyone would know their name but the go to name that comes to mind when we think about gay rappers in the UK is Mista Strange and even if that could be disputed there is no disputing whatsoever, I am the best.
Your Bl@ckbox freestyle showcases your skill, your play on words and references are up there with rappers who are shifting the dialogue and bringing both style and substance. What does your writing process look like?
Yeah Bl@ckbox definitely set the tone and let them know that I can really rap. It will always go down in history as one of the biggest highlights of my career and arguably UK rap history. When I want to write I always listen to the instrumental first and try to follow the pattern and flow of the beat. I always say it’s the beat that influences me to write, almost like it is speaking to me. I can listen to an instrumental and instantly know how the whole song will pan out and what it’ll be about. Other than that, what helps me to write is just simply living life, you need to live in order to write otherwise what are you even writing about? Sometimes when I write it’s not even really me. I feel like there are certain songs and lyrics that just come to me as if they were sent from God himself and when that happens I always know because it just comes pouring in like the floodgates have been opened. To be honest a lot of my inspiration comes from God. I don't actually like to read much and try to stay away from watching things that will heavily influence my train of thought, which may sound a bit arrogant but it helps me to keep my relationship with God pure and allows me to continue to receive his message without any outside influences. There’s actually a track on my debut EP called Spoken Word Interlude where I speak about religion, blackness and homosexuality. All things that mean a great deal to me. The interlude delves into my experience as a black-gay God loving (not fearing) man. But the most special thing about the track is that I wrote it in my sleep. I was having a vivid dream and I believe God used me as a vessel to let all his children know especially the gay ones that he loves them. A very controversial message for some but there is no doubt in my mind that God loves all. Maybe I’ll go more into depth about that dream and my relationship with God one day but that was definitely a very special moment in my writing journey.
Do you feel more responsible as a role model in comparison to cis heterosexual rappers, and if so, how do you navigate this in and out of the industry?
That one is a question I think I am still trying to work out the answer to. For the most part I think ultimately as someone in the public eye there is always going to be a level of responsibility. The Spider Man quote springs to mind “with great power comes great responsibility”, but  I also want people to know that I am far from perfect and am a normal human being who has bad days and makes mistakes, so do I feel responsible? “Yes, but it’s something of an inevitability in the field that I’m in. I think also because the topics I usually choose to speak on are quite important it adds that extra bit of pressure because I think people always expect me to be this well-spoken nice guy but that’s not necessarily who I am. We are all many things. Articulate Strange is just one version of me, a lot of the time when we see a person in one light it’s hard to see them in another. Somehow, we convince ourselves that the part we relate with most is all of them. Similarly, when they do something bad, we find it hard to see them in the same way again. I feel this a lot because I am so many different things at the same time and it can be difficult trying to be professional and articulate whilst also being a rapper and doing rapper stuff. As well as this I think people need to remember I’m only 23 and still want to have the freedom to do dumb shit and fuck up. I think all young people should have that freedom. The only difference is that my fuck-ups are made public. I mean all in all it’s a blessing and I’m grateful so many people see me as a role model but also remember I’m only human and will make mistakes. So, if you don’t have any expectations and just accept people for who they are, they are more likely to impress you rather than disappoint.
With that environment in mind, how is it navigating collaboration and features in an industry that can be very homophobic?
In all honesty I haven’t really been approached by anyone for features, nor have I really tried to secure any. I feel like I’m really just trying to focus on perfecting my own artistry and making sure my name is heard everywhere. Although there is nothing wrong with doing features and I’ll definitely be doing some in the future, right now I want to establish myself as an artist. However when the time is right I can’t wait to make some great music with some of the people on my bucket list. With regards to the industry being homophobic I actually think when the time comes for me to do features I won’t actually have a hard time finding people willing to do a track, I mean this is the music business so as long as it’s a good business move for them and we actually vibe then I don’t see why they’d turn it down, but this is also even more reason for me to do the groundwork before I start looking for features.
As Black people or any marginalised group with overt identity markers, what we do intrinsically becomes political because our bodies are politicised. Do you worry about politics when you make music?
I mean not really, I speak from my heart and with love so I believe if you do this then you can never go wrong. Not to say people will always like what you’re saying, but at least you know it was from a good place. The thing with politics is that there is so much grey area and what is wrong to someone may be right to another person. I mean being gay is an obvious example, some would argue gay people even fighting for the right to exist freely is political and fighting for things like LGBTQ to be part of the national curriculum is pushing an agenda. So, for me it goes back to what I said earlier, you have to know that what you're saying comes from a good place and if so then it can’t be wrong it might piss some people off but nowadays what doesn’t. Be respectful, be thoughtful but don’t allow others to dictate what you choose to fight for.
Do you have any other creative outlets alongside rapping you like to delve into?
Not many people know but I’m a huge fan of skateboarding and hop in and out of it from time to time. I used to skate a lot more when I was younger and most of the people, I used to skate with still do and are actually really good. It’s definitely something I will be getting back into soon and I’ve always said I’m going to build some skateparks and I definitely want to tap back into the scene as an established recording artist. Skateboarding is such a great sport and teaches you so much about overcoming fear and perseverance which are great life lessons, and the scene is really welcoming as well, regardless of race, sexuality or gender. Without a doubt one of the best sports cultures there is. If not the best.
You partake in the BBC Docuseries We Are Black and British, and you discuss the experiences of being Black in Britain from systemic racism, sexuality to identity. Having your personal story and experiences out there, what do you think is key to progression within our communities?
I think based off the response to the show and just in general a lot of black people didn’t realise how hard it is for other black gay people. In fact, the majority of support I received off the back of the show was from other black cis-het people just really empathising with the black gay experience, which was really nice to see. For me that just proves that sometimes all we need to do is talk and try to understand each other.  Most of the time we can actually get somewhere if we just listen to each other's experiences. I think deep down we all just want to feel heard.
Your new EP Strange Faces dropped last week, tell us more about it.
Strange Faces is like my little baby, I’m so proud of how far I’ve come as an artist and a person and this EP really captures some very pivotal moments in my life, as well as just being bold and outlandish it’s also raw and heartfelt and sees me delve into subjects such as heartbreak, religion and a bunch of other things. The idea behind the EP was to showcase the fluidity of my character and show that I am many things, as we all are. I wanted to make a statement and let the world know that I will not allow anyone to dictate which version of myself I get to be at any given time. For me and I think for many others Strange Faces will represent freedom; freedom of expression, identity and freedom from a world that sometimes feels so caged. Strange Faces is for the rebels, the divergents and for those that don’t fit into what society expects of them. Being honest is such an important factor in my music because people need to see someone who isn’t afraid to fail or lose it all in order to be themselves and that’s who I am, the guy who’s willing to risk it all to show the world it’s possible. Strange Faces is out now on all digital streaming platforms so give it a listen and let me know what you think.
As established, you have many identity markers but what’s most important people know about you?
I’m here to save the world.
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