White rappers may have started out as a gimmick – between Vanilla Ice and Marky Mark there’s enough jokes for a lifetime. But now, artists like Yelawolf, Lady Sovereign and Eminem have used their talents to switch the mindsets of hip hop heads everywhere. The list is ever-growing and there is one artist that is climbing his way to the top of that list and his name is Mista Mista. As a Rhode Island native, Mista Mista is obviously big in his hometown [he said himself that it’s easy to be big there because RI’s the smallest state] and is making waves outside of RI. He’s got a sound that mirrors N.E.R.D., but there’s a special twist. In case you haven’t heard, Mista Mista has recently released an album–No Greater Love and has been well received. He took some time out of his grind to chat with us about everything from the bad decisions that catapulted his career to Kanye West being a musical genius.
Let’s start from the beginning. How did your interest in music begin and how did you start to pursue it?
It started in high school. I’ve always been into music [and hip hop culture]. I used to do graffiti and I thought I was a break dancer at one point. [laughs] That was pretty short lived. I was okay. I had the basic moves down. I could do a couple windmills and a back spin, but I wasn’t really doing power moves – flares and stuff. I was into music. Every time something new came out, I would have it before the kids in the my school. One of my friends that was rapping at the time was like, “Why don’t you just rap? You know the lyrics to every song that’s out. You’ve got music before everybody else–start writing!” I was like, “Nah, man. It’s not for me.” That summer went by and when the fall started, I was in the 11th grade and I came back with two verses.
When did the dots connect? There’s a difference between being interested in music and having the actual talent to pull it off or to even get t a certain level.
It wasn’t really something I was taking seriously. It was more of a hobby that myself and my friends would do -freestyling in the park on Wu-Tang instrumentals. At the time, I was in college. I did a couple of open mics. In 2003, I was arrested. After I got arrested, I realized there were better things I could be doing with my life.
What got you arrested?
I don’t talk about it too much because it’s not something I want out there like that. I don’t talk about it in my records, but it did trigger me to go in a different direction as far as taking music a little bit more serious. Around that same time, I knew a producer – Tactics – he’s super young. I was friends with his older brother and we were friends in high school. When I met him, I was 15 or 16 and he was only 8. He was a better rapper than me at 8 years old. He didn’t really pursue rapping, he was a producer. He’s an extraordinary talent in all types of music. We didn’t start working until after I got arrested. I knew who he was and I was friends with his brother, but we never made music together.
From that point, what happened to get you out there more?
I started doing open mics and I put out a mixtape. This was about five years ago. It was successful locally, but I wasn’t really content with the whole local thing. Rhode Island is the smallest state. [I was born and raised in Providence, RI.] It’s easy to get yourself known here if you’re decent. I started doing these showcases in New York. Every time I went to New York, I met someone new who inspired me to push harder and go further. I did Faces in the Crowd in 2005. Ever since then, I stretched a lot further. I’ve done tours and shows on the West Coast. They’re paid gigs, so I’m not spending my money to fly out there. Shows are one of the most important things for establishing your fanbase because people are kind of forced to listen to you. For the average listener, you hear a million new songs a day. There’s tons of things online and you don’t really listen to stuff unless you get the cosign. The average listener isn’t going to just click on the no name person. At a show, they have to listen and you’re there in their face. They get to see what you’re about, how your live show is, how your music translates on stage–it’s a whole different feeling.
Very true. Where have you been able to see yourself go from the young guy that was influenced into doing music to now?
There’s been growth as a person and artist. When I first started, it was more of a hobby, now I think it’s transformed. Before I was a rapper, I didn’t know how to write choruses; it was strictly about writing a 16 bar verse and throwing out mixtapes. Just growing within music and life in general has made me a better person because the music I make now has a message. My whole message is love and perseverance–we all go through struggles, but we can persevere.
It’s refreshing to see that you know the importance of a message behind the music. With your album No Greater Love, you can feel the journey. How did you come up with concept?
No Greater Love started with me and the producer and singer LJC. I came up with the title and it took a year to craft that. We work well in the studio. We’re both creative individuals. There’s a song on there called, “No More” and the concept is a child that’s been bullied in school. In the whole song I’m speaking for him and he doesn’t want to take it anymore. The flip–to keep it tied in with the concept of the album–at the end, he says that he’s bigger than this. “I know I’m young and he’s been picking on me, but I don’t have to get my revenge. Everything will be ok.” The whole time we made the album, we wanted to make sure by the end of the album, you got the experience that no matter what you’re going through, there’s a way to overcome it. Whether it’s relationship, money, an artist trying to make it in the industry–no matter what, just be persistent and dedicate yourself. In the end, you’ll benefit.
Tell me about how you feel you fit in the music industry? Do people think of you as a gimmick because you’re not black?