The messages in the songs we love are just as important as the beats that make us dance. Chicago rap artist Matt Muse delivers positivity and vibe-worthy hits that have landed him features with FOX 32 Chicago, Complex, Lyrical Lemonade, and much more. TrueStar.Life chatted with the South Side native and NIU graduate to learn more about his life, love of music, and proudest moments as an artist.
TrueStar.Life: What neighborhood are you from?
Matt Muse: I am from the Chatham/Avalon Park area.
TSL: Where did you go to high school?
MM: Morgan Park
TSL: You attended Northern Illinois University and was a musical sensation on campus. Describe your journey from college star to a household name in the industry.
MM: For me, college was just dope. You know what I’m saying? While I was at NIU, I was a part of a program called Donda’s House. I think it’s called Art of Culture now, but it was formally Kanye’s non-profit organization. Named after his mother. They had a program called Got Large. So in 2015, I became a part of that program and started journeying back and forth from NIU to Chicago to attend the weekly workshops. The workshops helped us get better at songwriting, studio etiquette, and a lot of other dope things. It was run by RhymeFest. That was my first introduction to Chicago. After I graduated in May 2016, I moved back to the city and just started trying to perform as much as I could. Going to open mics as much as I could. I went to work and played with the Young Chicago Authors open mic a lot. I became a teaching artist at Young Chicago Authors in the fall of 2016. I’ve been working there since. The transition just came from being tapped in to the city while I was in school, through Donda’s House. Having those connections and friends and then leveraging them when I got back to the city. And just continuing to build when I moved here.
TSL: From your experience, what are the biggest mistakes that rising artists make on their way to the top? How can they avoid these pitfalls?
MM: I was very focused on “getting on” per se. Like, what’s the next opportunity that’s going to get me discovered by somebody? I think that may be a mistake that others make. ‘If I do it this way, this will happen.’ But really, what I’ve learned over time, is you just need to be making music. Do the shit that you’re actually trying to do and that’s when you’ll see success. Don’t get caught up in what’s the right or wrong thing to do. Just be in the studio. Be in the booth as much as you can. Be writing as much as you can. Always be putting shit out. I think that’s actually how you get that opportunity. You build your fanbase with consistency. Inconsistency definitely has been an issue with me. So. I would just say, be consistent.
This wasn’t a mistake that I made, but performance etiquette is a big deal. Like, learn how to perform. That actually might be better than being consistent. You have to know how to perform, especially in Chicago. There’s no industry here. So, you need to take advantage of all the opportunities to be seen. You need to crush your performances. Learn how to hold the microphone. Don’t cuff the mic, hold it at the base so your voice comes through clearly. Get your breath together so you don’t run out of breath during your performance. Those are the two things for me. Make sure you’re a good performer. Make sure you are always creating.
TSL: You recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of your EP Love & Nappyness. You’ve called this your “proudest and most vulnerable project.” Tell us why dropping this project was so big for you and the hard work that went into creating it. Give us the good, bad, and the ugly.
MM: Creating it was a big deal for me and it’s my proudest project just because it was unlike anything that I’ve ever put out. A lot of the critiques from my old music was for me to tell my story more. Like, ‘Get your story in there. Let us get to know who you are.’ I always struggled to do that and I don’t really know why. With Love & Nappyness, I was finally able to make songs that were about me and who I am. Every song is about me and I think that’s really cool. It gives folks the opportunity to glance into my history and who I am as a person. That’s why it’s my proudest project.
As far as the good, bad, and ugly, honestly man, creating Love & Nappyness was really smooth. That’s also why I like it a lot. There really was no ugly. It was just really chill. I started making the project in November 2018 on and off in the studio. Writing and shit. I recorded the majority of it at my dad’s house. My dad has a nice studio at his crib. I recorded like 80 percent there, and the other 20 percent at Classic Studios. Then I went down to Jacksonville, FL., to mix and master the whole project with Brok Mende who’s a phenomenal engineer. He used to be Chicago based, and I was trying to get him to do it here. He’s like, ‘Nah, I’m not going to be in the city anytime soon. But if you want to come down here, what’s up?’ I was like, ‘Okay!’ So, I went down there and I had never created music outside of Chicago before. That was really cool.
We would have three, 12-hour sessions where we just mixed and mastered and just sat together and talked through everything. Then we had a follow-up session when he came back to the city. That was super smooth. The music video process was really smooth. I put out more videos for this project than any other project. I directed or co-directed all of them. It was so cool to be in my art. It had a long life too. We just released the First, I Gotta Love Myself hoodie in December, but the project came out over a year before that. And those hoodies sold out really fast. All of that is a testament of how much positive and genuinely good energy went into the project.
TSL: We love to see your work as a philanthropist. You teamed up with many community programs during the summer of 2020 and hosted the 2nd annual Love & Nappyness Hair Care Drive. What pushes you to give back to the city’s youth and all Chicagoans?
MM: I just love people. You know what I’m saying? I think what pushes me to do the work that I’ve done is just a love for people. Every job I’ve worked since I got back to Chicago has been around some type of service. I worked at the Park District the summer of 2016 after I graduated from NIU. I was working in the mobile studio that they have that goes to two different parks a day and teaches young kids how to
make music on iPads. I’m like, ‘Yo, this is a service because even though I’m getting paid, I’m showing kids how to bring the music that they love out of them.’ My schools are all on the South Side, and I’m from the South Side. To be able to walk in these schools, try to give these students hope, and work with people who are just like me when I was in high school, is really fire. If I had a teacher like me when I was in high school, I probably would’ve been rapping way sooner.
As far as the stuff during the summer, the people’s grab-n-go was the result of there being a lot going on. I’m not a huge volunteer person. I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t get up and hand people stuff. That’s never been my way of wanting to serve. But, the circumstances that took place: The George Floyd killing and what’s been going on in Chicago, you gotta do it. It’s the right thing to do. That’s really the other main reason why I serve. It’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to make the world better for folks who don’t have the same privilege or opportunities as you. I think I’ve been allotted with a lot of things. So, my goal is to give back because something was given to me on a lot of different levels.
With the hair care drive, it’s the same vein. I make these projects about my hair, I talk about my hair all the time, and hair is super important to me. But these products that we put in our hair are very hard to understand how and when to use them. Black professionals have a privilege to be able to use these products and be like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to buy the shampoo with the paraben in it.’ A homeless person, or a person who’s not as well off, that Suave shampoo or travel-sized shampoo that costs a dollar is all they may be able to get. That’s not good for their hair, but they don’t get to choose. With the hair care drive, it’s like, let’s give these people access to the same stuff that we have access to that’s good for us; and better for Black folks’ skin and hair.
It’s about taking the things that you’ve been privileged with and then giving them to those who have not had the same fortune.
TSL: What can your fans expect from you in 2021? Any new projects on the rise?
MM: Yeah I’m dropping some new music [in February]. Finally. I haven’t released a new song since Love & Nappyness came out. Fresh music that’s not tied to Love & Nappyness. This is going to be the first song since August 2019. We’re going to try to keep dropping stuff consistently throughout the year. I’m excited to be back.
TSL: Many rappers master their craft by studying the greats. Which greats do you admire and why?
MM: I love Jay-Z. When I was studying Jay-Z, it was about the intellect that he put behind the lines he would say. Double and triple entendres are so hard to make. But, there’s so much intention behind it. I think this is a reality for a lot of the artists that I look up to. I love intention. I think that when people say that something is genius, it’s because there’s intention behind it. And you’re like, ‘Yo, I would have never thought about that.’ But this person intentionally did this shit in this song, and that’s amazing. So yeah, Jay-Z for his intention with his pen.
I would say Drake for his intention with his releases. He’s just genius when it comes to marketing. [Laughs]. Drake could be a fucking marketing executive with the way his career has gone. He knows exactly when to drop, what do to, what not to do. He knows what lane to be in. He’s capitalized on his
lane. If you think about when he first came out, he was getting clowned left and right for the lane that he was in. And that nigga said, ‘Nah, I’m going to say right here. And now I’m not just the biggest rapper, but the biggest artist in the world. Because I stayed in my lane and perfected my craft.’ He also is a really good rapper and I love that.
I’m a huge Kanye fan. Once again, the genius and intention with his production. He’s just such a phenomenal producer. If you go back to the beginning up until now, the production has always stayed strong. No matter what folks say about his lyrics. The one thing that’s always going to be good with him is his beats. When I was studying him a lot, it was just about how much confidence he brought to a song. He was just so confident and powerful on the microphone. To see a person from the same part of Chicago that I’m from get on the microphone, who’s also dark-skinned, there are similarities, you feel me? Just to see a person speak with so much confidence and intention and create with so much intention is just really beautiful.
TSL: When concerts make a comeback, what is your dream Chicago venue to hold a performance?
MM: Lincoln Hall is number one. The Metro is two. Lincoln Hall has a 500 cap. I sold out Schubas Tavern in 2019. That was 241 tickets. The next step up would be Lincoln Hall. Metro is like 1,300. If you can sell out the Metro, you’re doing something right.
TSL: Finish this sentence. “No matter what, Chicago will always be….”
Relentless and resilient. Chicago always makes a way when there is no way. Everybody here has a story like that. Chicago is so dope that you don’t even think about the fact that it’s actually in the Midwest. And the Midwest is not known for any of the things that Chicago and maybe Detroit have been able to accomplish.
When folks tell you no, we find a way to knock down a door and create our own yes.
By Marilyn Koonce, Northern Illinois University Alumna