From shy kid to confident artist, Matt Muse reflects on growth in his personal life and his music. The introspective rapper is embracing who he is and what he’s all about with his latest album, “Nappy Talk,” which is an audible representation of him coming into his own both lyrically and in the messages expressed within those words.
We recently sat down with Muse to discuss talking about what he feels, if he was ever in creative conflict with himself in the studio, and why those he grew up with would be surprised by the path he has taken.
TrunkSpace: “Nappy Talk” feels very personal. Was it meant to inspire others through your own experiences?
Muse: Yeah, definitely. I wanted to have the feel where, when you hear what I’m talking about and my confidence in myself, that it makes you feel that same self confidence, or repeating those words that I’m saying will subconsciously make you feel great.
TrunkSpace: We read that the album as a whole was inspired by your decision to grow out your hair, and through that, be the person that you wanted to be and not the person that other people wanted you to be. Was that pressure to be someone you were not an experience of life in general or was it specifically the music industry, where it seems everyone has an opinion on how artists should present their art?
Muse: I think naturally it was more so a life thing, especially when I was not a full-time artist, when I was in school. I was rapping when I was in school, but I wasn’t taking it as seriously as I am now. I was kind of doing it, and I’m like, “Yo, I really want to do this,” without saying it a lot, and not doing it. Then there was this pressure, this social pressure almost, where I could just tell that there was… I wasn’t being taken as serious because of the way that my hair looked. Then the combination of that, and me being a dark skinned black male in a world that does see color, regardless of what people say… I think that was the strongest influence.
Then I think when it comes to the sound and what it is sonically, it is the most me project that I have done. It is the project where I let go of anything… kind of what you were saying about influences and people’s opinions. I didn’t really take that into account when I made this. I had an idea of how I wanted it to sound, and I just did it. I think in the past, there’s been a lot of raps that I’ve written where I’m like, “Yo, how can I appeal to this person?” Or somebody wants me to be more conscious, or be more like this, and be more like that. It’s like, “No, I’m just going to talk about what I feel. I want this song to feel this type of way, and that’s what it’s going to be.”
TrunkSpace: And that’s a great way to be as an artist… to put your point of view forward. We worry that for the next generation, the one that is growing up in the social media age, they might care more about what other people think instead of what they themselves think, and that will be reflected in the art. As a teacher of young creative people, have you seen any of that?
Muse: Yeah, and I think you just have to be able to weed out the negative influence of social media, and find all the positives that it does have to offer. I didn’t grow up in the social media age. I was already maybe 18 or 19 when Twitter and Instagram really became a thing. When I was in high school and I was a kid, there was none of that. There were no iPhones. It was right before the wave started, so I can’t relate to a lot of the ways that my students move. But what I can relate to… I use social media, so I can relate in that way, but also there’s this sense of, I see so many different lives being changed through social media in so many different ways. It can make your voice bigger. It can keep you connected to people. I think that it does something, even in my travels that… I went to Toronto last year during my tour, came back a year later and the only reason why it didn’t feel like I left, was because I was able to stay connected with all those people on social media.
TrunkSpace: Yeah, as an artist, it can become a tool in your toolbox.
Muse: Yeah. So it’s really just letting them know, don’t pay attention to any of the garbage that may distort your idea of self image and self love. Just focus on the fun you can have using social media, and things like that.
TrunkSpace: In the studio you were both creator and producer. How did you balance the two, and were they ever in conflict? Did writer Matt Muse want something different than producer Matt Muse did at times?
Muse: That’s a great question. Wow, nobody has ever asked me that.
No, there was no conflicts because the first step of the whole thing was telling all the producers that I worked with exactly what I wanted. I literally refused any sound or beat that didn’t match that sound. Then if there was a beat that I enjoyed but it needed a little tweak or a little change, we just made that happen. But because I put word out from day one to the producers that I worked with like, “Yo, no samples. I want it upbeat. I want heavy bass. I want this. I want it knocking.” That’s all they sent me. We worked from there, and that made it way easier to sit down and write to the beat, because I was able to clearly tell them what I was looking for when going in to releasing this project.
TrunkSpace: With wearing all those different hats throughout the process, personally what are you the most proud of with the album?
Muse: I love the way it feels. That’s what I’m the most proud of. I can rap, and I really am proud of my rap skills. That’s something I’ve been proud of for a very long time, so I think the easy answer would be, “Oh, I wrote a good rap, and I have bars.” That’s really not how I feel, because I always feel that way. (Laughter) There are few rappers who will say that they don’t think they can rap, so that really means nothing.
What I’m really proud of is the way the project builds, and that it ended up being exactly what I wanted from day one. From start to finish, it gives a feeling of energy, and confidence, and just like, “This is heavy,” in a good way. I’ve never released a project that had all upbeat songs. Now I have a project with seven of them. I was doing another interview, and I was telling them how much I love “Dirty Sprite 2” by Future. I’m a huge Future fan, but I’m also a huge Common fan, and so how do I blend… they both have influences on me, so how do I blend those influences where lyrically I’m still being true to myself and who I am, while having sound and feelings that when you play this, automatically the energy is going to flow through you before a word even comes out of my mouth? I think I accomplished that with every single song, and so that’s what I’m the most proud of.
TrunkSpace: What you accomplished too with the album is that there really is just a great flow from track to track. It’s got a front to back feel to it.
Muse: Thank you. That’s so important. Thank you.
TrunkSpace: Are you somebody creatively who can shut off that part of your brain, or is it always sort of working? Are you always finding new stuff for future songs?
Muse: No, I be chilling. I am very… I’m changing now, but I’m a very… I don’t know what the right word is. Let’s just think about the last year, 2017. It was 2018 when I was working on the project, maybe, let’s see, March? I dropped the EP March 2017, and then March, April, May, June, didn’t write a single song in that whole time span. I went on tour, did some other cool stuff, was enjoying my life, and I’m very happy that I didn’t write. I didn’t feel bad that I wasn’t writing.
I wrote a song in July, dropped a song in July. That was cool. Then a month after that, I still just relaxed. Then in September, the idea came to me to do this project, started writing, getting to it. Then from September to pretty much when it got done in about May-ish, I was working on that project. I’m probably not going to write no more songs until maybe September of this year, because I want to focus on video.
I’m okay with compartmentalizing my time like that, because I’m not just a rapper. I am a rapper, but I’m not just a rapper. The visuals, the production, I have a hand in all of it. I want to give focus to all of those things, so I’m not letting one lack. With music videos for example, I would never, and this is just me, I would never say to a videographer, “Yo, come up with a video idea for me,” and just leave it in their hands, never. I would work with them. I would love to co-direct something, but I always want to have a hand in everything that is associated with me as an artist, and as a brand.
To answer your question, yeah I don’t struggle with that at all, because I have no problem not working on art, because I think artists need breaks, and I know I need breaks.
TrunkSpace: From a lyrical standpoint, it’s important to live life in order to say more on the next album anyway, right?
Muse: Exactly! Yes! Wow! Yes, literally somebody said that to me last year after I played them my EP. They hated the EP. (Laughter) That was their advice, live life, and so yeah, definitely!
TrunkSpace: If we sat down with some of the friends you grew up with, would they be surprised that this is where you ended up today in 2018?
Muse: Yeah, definitely. 100 percent.
That’s a great freaking question. Wow! This is a side note. I have been doing some amazing interviews. This was great. I really love that question.
So they’d definitely be surprised. It’s funny you asked that, because I had just did one of our local news stations here in Chicago and it blew a lot of people’s minds. Not in a negative way, but there was so much positivity and love from a lot of people from back in the day when I posted it to my Facebook and things like that. Yeah, they would be surprised. I think the reason being is that I was a very, very shy person growing up. I didn’t become my fullest and truest self, and I didn’t really find self love and the ability to really hone my powers until I got to college. I loved who I was at that time, but I’m just not the same person, in a very good way. So I think yeah, people who grew up with me would be like, “Wow, look at how he’s blossomed.” Or, “Look at the growth. Look at the ability.” I’ve always been smart. I’ve always been intelligent, but, “Look at the ability to influence, and to open your mouth and let the world hear you.” I think that would be where the surprise would really be… the confidence. I’m a confident person, and I think that energy always rubs off positively, I hope, on others.
“Nappy Talk” is available today.