Love wins in Zalando’s “Here to Stay” campaign – championing queer love and diversity in all of its many forms.

Mista Strange Zalando
Mista Strange Zalando

In a time where hostility and outright discrimination to our fellow humans is at an all-time high, Zalando wants to honour those who rise above it all. As Europe’s leading online platform for fashion and style, the brand’s outlook for the twenties involves platforming stories that reflect their core values and inspire and encourage people across the globe to broaden their horizons.

Whether it be it on topics like gender fluidity and body positivity, or even sexuality and female empowerment, their brand new ‘Here to Stay’ attempts to bridge those gaps that seemed to have widened astronomically in recent years. Shot by Berlin-based fashion photographer Dan Beleiu, the campaign uses still-life photography to spotlight folks like you and I, telling their stories and signalling lasting progress, enter Mista Strange…

The native West Londoner is one of UK rap’s most prominent gay figures, and a voice behind Zalando’s new initiative. Having shot to fame off the back of his [email protected] freestyle a little over a year ago, Strange has accrued his own unique fanbase as a voice for gay black men. Pairing buttery vocals and cold flows with even colder beats, Strange raps about life and all it’s strange occurrences, no matter how shitty or bleak.

We caught up with Strange himself ahead of the campaign’s release, talking all things life as a rapper and his plans for life after lockdown. Check it out below…

Mista Strange Zalando Here to Stay
Mista Strange Zalando Here to Stay

Hey Mista Strange! How’s this past year been for you? Has it affected your creativity as an artist?
I think 2020 was a rollercoaster of a year, to say the least. It kick-started with my viral freestyle which shot me to “fame” so to speak, and my life just went crazy and then only a month or two later we were hit with Covid, which kinda put a hold on a lot of my plans. All in all I can’t complain one bit, it’s a blessing to be in the position I am now and I can’t wait to make history again this year.

Why the name Mista Strange?
I mean essentially it is what it says – I’m ‘strange’ – well, to the world I guess. To me, I’m normal, but put it this way I’m a gay black guy from the hood that’s trying to break the rap scene, but on top of that my views aren’t at all parallel with the views of the people I grew up around. I am an individual and have my own ideologies and morals and sometimes they don’t correlate with what the rest of the crowd think and I guess to them that would make me ‘strange’, but fuck ’em. I love who I am so I embrace my strangeness, we all should.

When you came out during your [email protected] session there was a huge reaction on social media, how did this make you feel?
It’s a common misconception that I came out in the [email protected] I was actually out at the time and had gone through a lot to get where I was, I came out on social media some time prior and then took a break from music and actually thought I was going to quit but something just wouldn’t let me. I then came back and dropped a music video called “Open the Gates” that spoke about me being gay, this was after going through a lot of pain and trauma, losing a lot of friends and having to fight for who I am, when I did the [email protected] I wasn’t coming out just speaking about what had already happened and living my truth. But to be honest the response was crazy so much love and so much hate but I focus on the love as that’s all the really matters in life and anyway I love pissing off the homophobes with my gayness and if the [email protected] had them mad, then my Debut EP will have them outraged so I can’t wait to create another storm.

Theres a lot of homophobia in the rap scene, how do you feel about it in terms of your own sexuality?
I mean I’m from a place where it’s normal to hate gay people so I can’t say it’s surprising to me, maybe it’s a bit sad that people feel they have to be homophobic. I mean I can’t understand why, the gays are lit, but you know what I take it in my stride and if I’m totally honest it doesn’t really bother me too much. I’ve been called every name there is under the sun, I’ve lost friends I’ve had to fight against the world and myself just to be myself. I’ve been through it all already so where I’m at now nothing fazes me – I’m here to make change and change is what I’ll make, if they want to stop me they’ll have to do a bit more than call me names and go silent when I walk into the room. But in all seriousness it’s all love, people take time to get to a place of acceptance and I’m not gonna wait for them to be ready I’ll still be as audacious as ever, but I understand it’s a process for them too.

What changes do you think need to be made for the rap scene to be more inclusive and accepting?
More people living their truth, more people like me, and to be quite frank, more people from the hood. There’s a large DL community in the hood and a black gay scene, and as much as I understand why there are also so many gay kids that would think twice about doing something crazy to themselves, if there were more guys coming out that looked and spoke like them… So if you’re gay, black, and from the ends – or just gay in general – come out! It’s lit over here.

You’ve also teamed up with Zalando’s new campaign which is all about acceptance and inclusion, what does this campaign mean to you and how did you get involved?
I gotta take the time to big up Zalando I mean they are actually doing the work you know, not just the gimmicky pride campaigns that everyone’s started doing. They are actually giving real gay and minority people a voice, I mean, they even have plus size selections on their website. It’s just great to see and I’m here for it, so I am honoured to have been able to work with such an amazing and inspirational brand and I hope other brands follow after this precedent they have set, and I want to thank them personally for giving me a voice.

You even wrote an exclusive track for the film, talk to us about the production process and your mindset going into it?
Yeah that was sick! To be able to actually showcase my art through their platform was great, it’s just cool that they are actually interested in hearing what the real people have to say and even better that they chose me to say it. The track is called “Be Yourself” and is produced by my good friend Harry Powell who I make music with. We already have a great working and personal relationship so I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t just another day in the office, we make magic and it’s so effortless.

Zalando brings together some of the world’s biggest brands and names, who would you say is your fashion go-to and inspiration?
I love putting together an outfit stereotypically gay I guess but I can’t say I lean towards brands it’s more so colours for me – and textures – rather than just brands. I love Nicce, Neil Barrett, Paul Smith, Nike, Calvin Klein and many more, but I can’t turn down a wavy fit just because it’s not a known brand –– if the outfit bangs then it bangs.

Aside from the campaign what’s next for you/ What are you most excited for?
As I mentioned earlier I’ve got my Debut EP on the way which will be out this year. I can’t say when just yet but get yourselves ready because if my [email protected] created such an uproar then I don’t think they’re even ready for this. Some of my best music to date –– and that’s on period!

Check out “Here To Stay” in Zalando’s latest ad below…


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