Some people rise to the top overnight. All it can take in 2022 is one viral TikTok, one undeniable banger, or even one controversy to be catapulted into the stratosphere of stardom. Others, not so much. In fact, some of the best artists in the country have experienced a journey more likeable to a turbulent, multi legged trip on Easyjet. Incidentally, it’s often these artists who take more complex routes whose music stands the test of time. Some of the biggest and most celebrated names in UK rap history are prime examples – Youngs Teflon, Young Adz, and even Skepta particularly come to mind. Taking that into consideration, it felt right to sit down and catch up with one of the most celebrated underground legends right now, Mowgs.
Mowgs has been making a name for himself as one of the most naturally talented rappers to come out of the country. With a laidback, charismatic style which directly juxtaposes the the jagged realities of life that he raps about, Mowgs is finally poised to seize the scene in the way his talent deserves. To get to this point has not been easy; pressures from both the industry and his personal world have threatened to derail his hunger to prove himself in the music game.
However, the theme of the last few years for Mowgs appears to be one of personal development; and with the release of his outstanding project The Bare Neccesities, it seemed more than apt to sit down with the man behind the music. Catching up over Zoom, Mowgs and I talked all things music, his journey as both an artist and person, and what to expect for his future.
Congratulations on the new album The Bare Necessities. It’s your second tape following from “roll the dice”. What would you say is different about this project?
“Man’s grown up now innit. You can hear it in the music, I’m not a kid now. I’m just trying to show people man’s real-life experiences. The difference between Roll the Dice and this tape…it’s like when I listen to Roll the Dice it’s the kid version of me. When I listen to this, it’s the more mature version of me. I think if you listen to the tape, and even just heard a few songs you will get that.”
One thing I noticed is that this feels like a real body of work. Even down to the intros and outros, there is a real structure to it, and it feels like a look into your own mind. Talk to me about the thought process behind that.
“The craziest thing is that I didn’t think I needed to do a certain layout. I just wanted to make sure people had real insight into my life. Usually, when I listen to other artists’ mixtapes, a lot of them just sound like 15 singles put together. See me, I understand the concept of a mixtape, and that fans really want to get to know me. When you hear a tape you want to get to know the artist – you don’t just want to hear the artist talking about how much money they have for 15 songs straight. You want to understand what this guy actually goes through.
“If you’re out here, obviously you’ll relate to certain parts of my music, but you don’t even have to be out here anymore to relate to what I’m saying now.”
That’s what I’m saying – I’m obviously not outside like that, I’m just a journalist! But at the same time, I can relate to your music, particularly because of how vulnerable you are. On the outro to this tape, you talk about how you see music as therapy. Why is it that music plays such an important part in your mental health?
“Because you see me, I’m not the type of person who wants to burden other people with my problems. There are certain things I’m just not going to talk about with other people. So when I’m doing music, I just feel like I can get everything off my chest. When I go studio and I have a good session, I leave the studio and feel like there’s a burden off me.
“Some of the stuff I say in my songs, I’d never say in actual conversation with people.”
Isn’t that interesting though, because more people actually hear your problems when you put them in a song?
“It’s different though, you get it. I don’t know if you’ve seen my interview with Amarudon TV but my bredrins watched it the other day and half of the stuff I talked about they hadn’t ever heard themselves.”
You talked on that interview about how before you signed you expected everything to change. Looking back, how much did your day-to-day actually change?
“I didn’t change my lifestyle, that’s what it was. I was young with no guidance, that’s all it boils down to. If I could see myself now from when I was younger, the younger me would be proud for sure. Even at my meet and greet, there was one kid who was like 14, and the way he’s talking, it’s making me think “rah I used to think like that when I was his age”.
“I had to tell the yute, you don’t even need to do that anymore. Times have changed. The kid said to me “I want to be like you”. I’m saying to him, look I did what I had to do back then, but that was ten years ago. That was a different time to now. You don’t need to go down those roads. It’s 2022 now, there are legal ways you can get your money. Not everyone needs to be on the road ting anymore.”
It’s all about the opportunity, isn’t it?
“Yeah, and there wasn’t opportunity when I was growing up. The only way to make money was on the roads, but now times have changed.”
And times have really changed for you. I think everyone’s starting to respect you on a real musical level. When you talk about your mindset changing, was there a particular moment, or was it a period?
“Man’s been through too much to be the same person. A big thing as well is having no yes men around me. My day-to-day manager now, do you think he’s ever letting me make a song like that (“Merry Go Round”) again? Are you brazy? There are no yes men around me now bro and that’s so important.”
You rap “Take me back to the block where they were showing love” – do you sometimes long for simpler days? Is that part of success?
“When you start off, everyone’s happy, but when you start to outgrow people…you know how it gets.”
“A Girl from Erdz” is a very real look at how the actions of others (loved ones particularly) can set people down a path. To what extent was that song inspired by real-life experiences and people you know?
“That’s 100% a true story, that’s really about a girl from Erdz. That’s the shit I see on a daily basis, and I feel like a lot of the core reasons why girls are the way are is that it stems from the parents. “Do you know how hard it is to build a house from a broken home” – do you get me?
“I said that because man’s basically come from that myself, so I know how difficult it gets, especially for women.”
How did growing up in Erdington shape you? You’re unapologetically yourself and an Erdz Boy as you would say, but it seems like you’ve had to deal with both positives and negatives there.
“You know what it is though, I lived in Erdz for a long time, but I was never there. Everyone knew me in the hood but I was always just doing my own ting, I was never that guy who was just trying to beg it. Man’s dawgs went to jail when I started rapping, so that’s when I started fucking with bare people from the ends. Erdington never made me, I was made before I came Erdington.”
If that’s the case, where does the foundations of Mo come from?
“Purely from my own experiences. Purely from my life experiences. Don’t get it twisted though, Erdington is like growing up anywhere. It has its ups and downs. It’s really just that crabs in a bucket world.”
You rap about moving around a lot as a kid. Talk to me about being that kid growing up all over the country and how it shaped you.
“That’s the shit that made me bro. What I went through there made me more, instead of the stuff in Erdz. That stuff there made me who I am today because if I never went through that I’d never be the person I am today.”
I imagine it teaches you a lot about life, particularly friendships. You might have certain friends at school, then you move and suddenly it’s gone.
“Yeah exactly, and that’s why friendship has always been temporary with me. That’s something I realised from young. You can be cool for long, then you need to go or they need to go and that’s it. So I got used to losing communication with people from young. My sister said to me the other day “Mo, the way you cut people off is scary”. But I had to tell her that’s just the way I grew up. When I was growing up, I’d be best friends with someone one day then my mum’s moving me across the country the next, so I just got used to that.”
To take it back to the project, one thing I wanted to ask was if it is an album or a tape.
“Bro…that’s what I’m saying. Obviously, it sounds like an album but it is just a tape. Do you know what the craziest thing is, half of the songs on there are old songs. I was having this conversation with my manager the other day – you see the music I’m making right now, moving forward, oh my god. It gives me goosebumps.
“As an artist, I’ve just grown. People always say that as an artist you don’t really hit your peak until you’re 24/25, but I remember chatting to someone when I was 23 saying “yeah I’m gonna quit”. But now I’m way better than I was back then. I feel like I’ve found my sound.”
When I listen to you now it feels like you’re sitting in the same room as me, just talking.
“Yeah (laughing). My fanbase is mixed. Talking about money is cool, but there are more people out there who can relate to more bad stuff than good stuff, you know? When I first started rapping, I first started rapping for the people who could relate to me, because we went through the same stuff.
“I’ve clocked my fanbase, they love when I make music that they can relate to. And that’s the easiest thing for me, because I can just explain my day-to-day life, and someone will relate to it, which is crazy.”
I think in that sense you stand out from the UK scene in that sense. I think a lot of UK rappers are scared to be vulnerable to their fans – why do you think that is?
“Yeah man. You see me, I’ve studied the game. Most people with real cult followings, they’re vulnerable to their fans. You see what I’m saying? Where I’m trying to go, I’m here for the long run, so I need to think about my fanbase in the next five years and what they’re going to be like then. The more you show the fans a side that they’ve never seen before, the more they clock how they’ve actually gone through something similar themselves.
“You know how many messages I get now since I dropped the tape? One was exactly like you said, someone just said “bro it feels like you’re speaking to me” and that’s crazy. I get messages all day telling me how I got people through hard times. Music’s music innit, but before I dropped this tape, I wasn’t sure about the support, but after I dropped it and saw the response, I knew this was me.”
That reception, the impact it has on your fans, how does that feel?
“I couldn’t believe it fam. I’ll be real with you bro, even the pop-up shops that I was doing. I’m there just seeing all these kids and I couldn’t believe it. Even though man’s been rapping for time, I’ve never done anything like this in my life, so to see fans actually come out, wearing my merch, it’s just motivating. They don’t know how they made my day.”
Isn’t that a crazy thought – these people who don’t know me, are taking time out of their day to come and tell me how much my music changed their lives.
“Yeah! I couldn’t believe it, bro. As humans, we tend to look at another person and think ‘rah we’re not doing enough’. But it just reminded me, really we should be very grateful for what we’ve got because there are a lot of people who don’t have what you’ve got. So instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do, and then your mindset will change.”
I wanted to ask you about “Erdz Boy”, a song which I think will go down in UK rap history and which was your real entrance to the scene. How do you look back on that time?
“I’ll be real bro, I can’t even watch that video anymore. Trust me, I’ve outgrown that. I’ve outgrown those people. The music I make now is way better than the music I made then. Obviously, that was my breaking song, so I understand it will always be a pinnacle moment in my career, but I don’t listen to it anymore, I don’t watch it.”
That’s interesting, particularly because I feel that song was bigger than just you – it was a real moment for the Brum scene.
“Listen, people were doing music, but I made everyone want to rap after that. Whether people want to admit it or not its facts though. But I know when I started rapping no one was rapping, but when yutes started seeing man, they started rapping.”
On this topic, “Neighborhood Hero” was one of my favourites off the tape. The music video was particularly interesting, seeing you show another side to life in Dubai. I was curious what your thinking was behind this – most people when they think of Dubai it’s all just about cars, money, and women.
“You see what type of brudda I am, I’m not going to lie to you. My sister, she’s got a makeup business out there, so I flew her and my little brother out there with me. So we’re out there chilling, with cars, doing up lifestyle. Then we’re like six days in and I’m like to my sister “where else is there to visit here?”. I know wherever there is rich there is poverty. So I’m trying to find the poor places in Dubai. She tells me it’s in Deira. So I drove there in my Lamborghini, you should have seen the way people were looking at me.
“I jump out of the car, I’ve got prostitutes coming up to me saying mad things, there’s a man laying on the road, rats running around, people looking smoked out. I just knew I had to show that side of Dubai so I flew a cameraman out, and just shot it there.”
On this note, It feels like religion is playing an increasing role in your art and humanity. Has that been a journey you’ve embarked on over the last few years or was it something that was always with you?
“I believe in Allah and I’ve always been Muslim. My daughter’s Muslim, my wife’s Muslim, everyone around me is Muslim. I ain’t gonna lie, sometimes I’ll be thinking “rah…” but it’s one of them ones, I’ll be going through something but then God will give me a sign and just switch the whole day up. It’s moments like that which just show me I have to believe in God because there is no other way. It puts the reassurance back in your heart.”
There are some crazy collaborations on the tape – shoutout Rimzee and Country Dons. Who was your favourite collab?
“Haze da Martian. You know what the maddest thing is, so me and Haze have the same management, so we’re chilling. My manager is playing me part of his new song, and that “tell me your side of the story” part, that wasn’t even a hook, it was just part of one of his songs. But when I heard that bit I knew I needed it as the chorus for one of my songs. Bro I went to the studio and smashed it out, and that’s one of my favourite songs out now.
“You see me, I’m one of those artists who really care about the music. You see Haze da Martian, no one’s heard of him in their life. He’s got a fanbase, but none of my fans know him. If you’re good, that’s what I care about. I care more about the art than the business. Don’t get it twisted, I’m on it with the business side as well, but I care about the music more.”
You’ve stayed true to your sound since you blew. A lot of other rappers have jumped on trendy sounds to try and stay relevant. Were you ever tempted to change your sound?
“Nah, fuck that man. Me bro, I’m not going to lie to you, I’m not ever changing my sound. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll experiment, I’ll try new sounds. But don’t get it twisted I just like my sound and it works for me. When I tried to do different sounds before, it didn’t work. Man’s fans like me for who I am and what I do, you get it? They don’t like me for autotune, or drill, even though I haven’t even heard myself on drill.”
I don’t know if you’re aware, but when you search your name on youtube one of the first things which comes up is you and Nines – someone has made a mashup of both of you rapping on the “Churchill Downs” beat off Jack Harlow’s project. I think a lot of people would love to see that in reality – could it ever happen?
“Bro, I’m doing a song to that beat, that beat is so hard. Yeah Nines is a busy man obviously so when he gets the time it’ll happen. I’ve hit him up before and he’s said he’s down to make a track but I’m not gonna run him down on that, I know how it gets.
If I had a pound for every person who asked me for that song I’d be a millionaire, trust me.”
The future is looking very bright – what’s next on your mind with this tape out?
“I’m going to have a month’s break, get my head right, then I’m going to come back with another song. I wanted to drop another tape but my manager thinks that’s dead, so I think we’re going to wait until next year. I’ve got shows, I need to announce my headline still, I’ve got Wireless. I haven’t done a festival since 0’19 so I’m going to be nervous. I can’t lie I’ll probably cry on stage, I’ll probably shed a tear on some gangster shit like ‘damn, I finally done it!’.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
“I see myself a big CEO of BBR – Birch Boy Records. I see the label going far, I see myself having a full team of A&R’s, producers, marketing, and artists. It’s good shining on yourself, but it’s better to do it for other people. I don’t want Birch Boy Records to just be Mowgs. I want it to be carried by other artists who are as, if not more successful than me. I’m excited for the next five years because these five years will set up my next fifteen. I’m 25 now, 30 in five years, two little daughters, it’s a lot going on.”