Analogue Music | Matt Muse

Matt Muse

By Matt Conner

Matt Muse's last album was supposed to do the heavy lifting.

Most artists are already disinterested in talking about an album by the time it's ready for release. After all, they've been living with the songs inside for far longer than most fans might realize, since the album release cycle can take quite some time for a band or songwriter or rapper with a long-lead process.

For Matt Muse, however, it's not easy to move on after the sweat poured into a project like 2019's Love & Nappyness. The Chicago rapper insists it's still an extremely underappreciated effort, and like many releases in the last few years, a global pandemic ruined any sort of hoped-for momentum behind such a project.

Armed with a new EP, So Far, So Decent, Muse is moving forward with a new set of songs about which he's also proud but it's taken some effort to let go of the lofty expectations that came with his last release. He's been on a journey to make music for his own reasons, a way of protecting himself against an uncertain industry. It might take longer than he wanted in the first place but we've got a feeling fame will find him all the same.

Analogue: I haven’t caught up with you since Love & Nappyness dropped which was before the pandemic. Now with So Far, So Decent, I’m curious how that whole season of sheltering-in-place messed with the momentum between albums.

Matt Muse: The pandemic was bad. I didn’t release any new music in 2020. It really stifled me. I think that’s a good word. The uncertainty of it all just really threw me off as a creative, and at the same time, there was so much going on with the world specifically being in Chicago and with George Floyd and stuff, I kinda turned my attention to giving back to my community.

I helped to run a summer-long food drive in 2020 that was very successful. Once that work started, I really didn’t think about music since I couldn’t do shows. Live performances are my thing. I’ve been called a great performer and my favorite thing about rapping is performing by far. So once that aspect was taken away…

"I thought that project would make me what I was trying to become or would take me to where I was trying to go."

It’s funny you asked this, too, because I was just going through photos of the pandemic and it was a timeline. At first, it was like ‘Okay, this is funny.’ Then it’s like, ‘Okay what the hell is going on.’ Then it’s like, ‘Damn, this is life.’ Around that summertime, in June or July, was where it became “this is life.” And what I didn’t need in that moment was question marks about my career.

I put out Love & Nappyness right before, and I’ve said this before, but I think it’s one of the most underappreciated projects in the history of music—not just Chicago music but all music. I think I’ve grown a lot as an artist since then, but I think what I did on that project was so creatively fluid. I thought that project would make me what I was trying to become or would take me to where I was trying to go.

So to have that feeling about it, to think I was going to be going on tour with people and getting a record deal—all of these things because I’d put in this work toward this beautiful body of work—and instead of that happening, everything falls off of a cliff… it was like, ‘Why the fuck am I doing this?’ That’s what I felt at the time so I just stopped creating.

I have a college degree. I had a job at the time. I have a really good resume. So I thought, ‘I don’t need to rap.’ I put my everything into it and what I got out of it was the pandemic.

Analogue: Part of the presentation around this album release comes with quotes from you saying you were making music for a general audience before and now you’re not. Is that how you find your way back?

Matt: Yeah. What I just described about thinking Love & Nappyness was gonna change my life, I think I’m curating my story to fit what I think a good Chicago project is. I mean, I’m telling my story truthfully, but the way I’m packaging the songs or the way I’m saying certain things is trying to be all artsy fartsy—that those with the power will think it sounds good.

I think Love & Nappyness is amazing. I did it. Don’t get me wrong. But what I learned is that you can do all of that shit and still not get it. [Laughs] So you may as well do whatever the fuck that you want to do versus what you think they want you to do. I want to continue to say that I think Love & Nappyness is underappreciated, and I think the pandemic had a lot to do with that.

Analogue: If the pandemic is responsible for some of that not happening, then how do you know that it’s good to stop trying to pursue music in the way that you were describing?

Matt: Hmmm, that’s a tough question. That’s a good question. I don’t think it’s just the pandemic. It was multiple factors, but I think that I know where I’m at is the right place because I feel good about what I just did. Whereas when I put out Love & Nappyness, I was looking around to see how all y’all felt about it.

With these songs, I don’t care how you feel about them. I play them and I’m deeply in love with them. At the listening party, I was just in the zone. I sat there and bobbed my head and rapped the words to every song while I was playing them. I didn’t look at nobody. I didn’t care if they were vibin’ with it or not. That’s where I’m at with So Far, So Decent and the music I’m working on.

Analogue: When I’m listening to the mixtape, what I love is this blend of bravado and confidence along with doubt and vulnerability. It’s all offered up in the same package, and what’s interesting to me here is that I feel like I’m getting that straight from you as well. It’s all congruent. Is that purposeful in your presentation, too, on the album?

Matt: Definitely, yes. It was intentional with the way the songs were ordered. “Let It Out” is me saying I felt muzzled. I say “Let me talk my shit” in the first song and then I proceed to talk my shit. Then I proceed to talk my shit even more on “Show Me Love” and even more on “Leap Year.” Then there’s this last song that’s like, ‘Hey, I need to hear something good now.’ There’s clearly a human being painted where if you listen in order, you’re actually getting me. So that makes me really happy to hear that you got that.

Analogue: Several collaborators appear on the EP and it made me curious about your approach there. Is it about who feels right on a track or is it set up beforehand that you just want to work with someone and see what happens?

Matt: I think it’s a combination of both. “Show Me Love” was definitely a feel thing. I already knew I wanted to make a song with OG Steveo and it was the one that felt the most right of the songs that I had. It’s also the oldest since I wrote that hook in the spring of 2020 and the verse in ’21 and then recorded it all sometime in ’22. Then we scrapped the song and then came back and decided to drop it anyway.

When we scrapped it, I went back to the drawing board with everything and I decided, ‘No, I want Stevo on the song. I can’t hear nobody else on it. I love the verse he put on it.’ It was really a feel thing with that one.

With “Something Good,” Senite and I had been talking about working together. We’re good friends in the music industry as well. And we’d been talking about trying to get a song in forever. I was like, ‘Let’s sit down and try to do this.’ We were already planning to do something and I’d written a verse to “Something Good” before any other piece of the song—my verse. We had a session and built it from there.

So it’s a combination. With OG Stevo, he sounded right on “Show Me Love” but I just wanted to work with “Senite” and “Something Good” is where that took place at.

VISIT: Matt Muse

Photo: Akilah Townsed