Blackbear: an interview

Ahead of his latest album release, I talk to hit-making sensation Blackbear on his first Father’s Day, a future collaboration with Elton John and his feelings behind making “everything means nothing”.

As we’re all aware of now, 2020 has been a year of many grievances, brutal truths and realisations. Amidst this, people are looking everywhere for positivity and light, whether through memes about our current climate, seeing how our favourite celebrities are coping despite living in mansions the size of an island, and so much more. For Matthew Tyler Musto, otherwise known as ‘blackbear’, it’s been about satirising the seemingly shallow aspects of our concerns and educating ourselves on the significant ones, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. As well as this, blackbear has spent 2020 navigating newfound fatherhood and creating new music for his upcoming album “everything means nothing”—all lowercase, exactly like his name.

His summer defining bop ‘hot girl bummer’ has over a billion streams on Spotify alone, and he’s collaborated with Justin Bieber, Machine Gun Kelly, Linkin Park, G-Easy and Ellie Goulding. Yet, blackbear is an individual who still, as the kids say, “slept on”. The self-made music prodigy has a loyal fanbase and is making waves nonetheless, with Elton John even giving him a call as of recent. So with this in mind, I gave Matthew a ring, and we chatted about all things quarantine, changes and our favourite quotes.

How do you like to be referred to as in your day to day name wise?
People call me Matt or Matthew. Sometimes my therapist calls me ‘Bear’, I do not know why. Think he is trying to be all supportive like, “Come on Bear, you got this!” as if he’s cheering me on [laughs]. You can call me Matt, that is totally fine!

So, the story behind the name Blackbear, I heard multiple stories. From gangs being in relation to an addiction to Haribo gummy bears, but I need full confirmation.
Yeah, I had to go to rehab and the whole thing because I could not stop. Now we cannot have them in the house, every time I think about gummy bears or even see a gummy WORM, it is a gateway drug for me. No, I’m just being cheeky [laughs]. I like to see how far I can fucking take things to the point where it’s not even funny anymore [laughs]. When I was a child, I thought that God was this black teddy bear in the sky that you could just cuddle with. I came to find out slowly and later in life that this could both be true and not be true. You cannot tell me whether that is real or not, but it was one of my first true beliefs. So, I just named myself Blackbear because it was one of first creative thoughts.

Father’s Day has just passed, how did you celebrate?
Father’s Day was surreal for me. It was just one of the most beautiful, normal days for a normal guy that anyone can experience. I don’t want to take away the experience from anybody, but you just have to experience it, it’s just unexplainable. Just so amazing. It’s like…I’m someone’s DAD. That is the coolest part, this weird guy that you’re talking to right now is a parent of someone. It’s so strange, like we’ve gotten in the car before and my song was playing on the radio. That’s definitely a lifelong achievement for me, I just think that it’s just such a big flex, like, “Look how hard daddy worked!”, you know? I don’t know whether he’ll remember it, but maybe I’ll have songs in the future that will play on the radio.

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Photo by Sam Dameshek

What was the meaning behind the name Midnight for your son?
It just means new day, 12 o’clock. Fresh start, it’s a new chapter. So that’s what Midnight is for me in my life. He’s already smart in some way, he already has such a personality and is already his own person at 5 months old, it’s just so strange because he’s this little person that we made together.

How has becoming a father affected your creative process?
Oh! Good question. If it’s done anything relatively massive in my life…it’s made me more keen to the idea that I have to provide for someone. I need to make music that people are going to resonate with and really relate to, and really love, and keep me touring. I need to keep working so that I can support my family and I think that overarching idea has set in. I made Hot Girl Bummer as soon as I found out Michele (girlfriend) was pregnant. So, I thought, I need to step this up into high gear. No more fun and games.

How has quarantine changed the way you have seen life given recent events?
That was well put. Amazing. That was amazing. Is this my interview or yours? [laughs]. As soon as the death of George Floyd hit the news and started becoming such a massive thing, I will admit that THAT was the moment for me and a lot of other White people, like, that was our changing moment where we were like, you know what? I am going to post about Black Lives Matter, I’m going to make a pledge, I’m going to bring my child up the correct way, buy the books on Amazon and I’m going to teach him about racism, about these things. All I can say is that we are the teachers of the next generation. When I look at Midnight I see opportunity and I see change.

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Photo by Sam Dameshek

Have you been getting creative this time? Hot Girl Bummer part 2, 2020 edition? Or another summer-defining anthem?
So…you’re asking whether I’d make another satire record that pokes fun at our times? I just see it as this, I have a platform to say what maybe everyone is thinking but nobody is saying, thinking or even feeling. I know that the reason Hot Girl Bummer took off was because people really related to it. I stood in the club before and wandered why I was spending so much on a drink, on a table and why is it so important that I wear my fake diamond necklace when I’m going to be in the dark? It’s just all of these ridiculous little things that we do that I’m guilty of as well and so, the title was definitely more of a satirical take on our culture. We are generally getting into a time where it’s harder to not fuck up and not say something wrong and whatever it is as long as your intentions are right. I’m not worried about making someone angry because yes, I am sensitive to the way people feel today but at the same time it’s kind of my own therapy.

You’ve worked with a lot of accomplished artists- do you prefer the song writing process and working behind the scenes or releasing your own?
I enjoy making music for other people, especially when Justin Bieber or Linkin Park or somebody who is totally different from Blackbear. Like, Blackbear would never come out with a Linkin Park song! Mainly that is what I get out of writing for other people, I like to read the vibe of a room and get something out of them.

Speaking of which, you said in another interview that when you’re not creating Blackbear songs you’re writing songs of your own- is there a particular artist who you really want to write songs for? Dead or alive.
I actually recently spoke to Elton John, I know- it’s so insane. He called me on the phone and said that in the future that we have to work on something. That’s definitely something that we’ve been talking about.

A lot of your fans were heavily anticipating your new Queen of Broken Hearts EP which is now going to be a full-blown album! How come you are splitting the release dates?
So that it will be more digestible. I just want people to spend time with the songs. It’s kind of like eating a sandwich!

Having looked at the track list I noticed your album features LAUV and Trevor Daniel who I actually interviewed this past month. What made you decide that those were the artists to best collaborate with?
It was not the matter of these being the artists that I wanted to collaborate with, as much as it was the case of working on a song and just HEARING Trevor Daniel on this song. With if I were you, I thought that this sounded like the perfect LAUV song. I just had to ask Ari (LAUV) if he will do this. They are also just my good mates, they’re just great friends. It’s just really cool to take the opportunity for my friends to be on. We all sing about the same topics.

Your social media is typically littered in quotes, what would you say is your one mantra in life? A quote you like the most?
The last quote I posted was in my own words, it said “If you don’t learn from the past you will live there”. I love quotes, and in this album, I want people to feel…I think, I want people to feel validated in their individuality. I want people to feel empowered, I really want them to feel like they can be who they really are. Sorry, that is so deep.

Last question. What quote do you swear that you live by?
Live. Laugh. Love. [Laughs]. Okay, I love you.

album cover

STREAM ‘EVERYTHING MEANS NOTHING’ ON ALL PLATFORMS.

The Game: a conversation in lockdown

My 4/20 took a turn for the better when I received a DM from Jayceon Terrell Taylor aka, The Game. With this in mind, I decided to turn it into an interview. He was cool about it.

This feels quite surreal to write out, these words may not properly reflect the reality of how I’m feeling about this particular interview, so apologies in advance if this reads awfully (it will). When I first begun to fully pursue journalism as a career around two years ago, I never thought that I’d come across the people that I have, or been in the rooms that I’ve been in; not a flex, just a real and honest reflection of how far I’ve come throughout the years. So, no matter the popularity of the individual, I’ve always been immensely proud of the work that I have produced despite the amount of times that I’ve been rejected, dismissed or undermined.

Journalism has allowed me to explore all territories of music and speak to artists of any genre, from mainstream American acts like Sabrina Carpenter (pending), Madison Beer; Blackbear; Chantel Jeffries; Charlotte Lawrence to the more urban UK scene with Hardy Caprio, Bru-C and Kojo Funds. I have even spoken to Disney actors that I grew up watching, such as Bailee Madison (Wizards of Waverley Place, Bridge to Terabithia) and Alyson Stoner (Camp Rock, Phineas and Ferb, Suite Life of Zack and Cody) as well as an array of Indie artists too, like Mac Demarco; Girl In Red; Two Door Cinema Club and Charli XCX…you get the gist. What I’m mostly trying to say, is that journalism has taken me far and wide and so for that, I couldn’t be more thankful.

However, for a lack of better words; The Game is different gravy. He’s the Compton-raised, Dr Dre and Jay-Z mentored, raucous voiced, mesomorphic rap icon of the 00’s who embodies NW mother-effing A. Along with a golden discography featuring a long list of legendary collaborations of artists under his belt that are both old school and current; the entire ordeal is beyond comprehension.

Even the approach to this encounter differed from the usual, there were no managers, PR’s, no editors or any publicists- it was just The Game and myself on a sunny 4/20 with nothing but a screen between us. So for that reason, this interview will be as informal as the circumstances in which it stationed. I simply asked whether I could question him on anything that came to my head, to which he responded “Shoot 🙏🏾”. So without further ado, because honestly he needs no formal introduction- here is a painfully simple Q&A with the man himself, by me.

In the entertainment industry or life in general, do you feel it is more important to be liked or respected?

It’s far more important to be respected.

In your honest opinion, what is the meaning of a “good life”?

A life that is lived without fear.

Speaking of fear, we’re living amongst some pretty scary times right now. Has this time of social distancing taught you anything? How have you found it?

This has always been my normal life. I’m usually keeping me to myself and out of the way.

Always?

Ever since I was a child.

Who do you think is changing the landscape of rap music at the moment?

I think Future is responsible for what music has become in current day hip- hop.

What do you think of the way that rap is redefining its genre and shifting sonically?

I appreciate hip-hop in all facets. Whatever it recreates itself as every 5-10 years is appreciated. What I love the most about it, is that it keeps young African-American men with a source of income.

Which feature of yours are you most proud of?

Mary J. Blige on the Love It or Hate It remix! Goes hard.

Which song of yours means the most to you and why?

Like Father Like Son, I wrote it while my son was being born.

If you could only give one piece of crucial advice to your children, what would you tell them?

Don’t trust a soul.

That pretty brutal advice. Not even immediate family?

A soul. Family is sometimes your worst enemy.

Damn. You were famously in a coma for around three days, most people claim that once they got close to death’s doors they saw a bright light. Did you have the same experience?

Naw… it was just like an extended dream and I don’t quite remember what the dream entailed. Random, I guess!

What have you found to be the most fulfilling part of your career as a rapper?

That I’ve gotten to work with everyone that I have ever wanted to, I think.

Just because the people are asking…how’d you get them eyes?

Girl…[laughs]. From my grandmother. All love.

 

STREAM ‘BORN 2 RAP’ ON ALL PLATFORMS.

Hardy Caprio: an interview

I spoke to grime sensation Hardy Caprio ahead of his album release where we discuss exceeding expectations, giving back and taking over the world.

A few years ago, a video was released of a fresh-faced, admittedly “broke” and “dead trim” Hardy Caprio in a car park with friends rapping his first Hollywood H freestyle. A young Hardy spits, “I do grime, do rap, do ends, do uni and when I’m back in Croydon I’m making a movie”. Little did he know that this eventually would lead on to become the catalyst into revealing his full potential. Between studying full-time and grinding towards his dreams, Hardy knew that his route was unconventional compared to his contemporaries, yet the South London didn’t let the naysayers define his future and is continuously looking to push that for himself.

Now, ready more than ever to drop his debut mixtape in the new year, Hardy is coming in with teeth. Having already dropped infectious summer Afrobeat swing of tracks like “Something New” and “Drop Top” with T Mulla, these pre-release collaborations show Hardy as one of the breakout stars of a hyper-fertile period for homegrown, authentic UK grime. Proclaiming the close of 2019 and 2020, as “The years of Hardy”- his vision as to what he wants is as clear as ever. To show our excitement, we spoke to the grime star ahead of his album release about taking over the world, being straightforward, giving back and exceeding expectations.

If there’s one thing you would like people to understand about you, what would that be?
That I’m always going to be myself, unapologetically.

Songs that best describe your life and journey.
Kelis and Andre 300 ‘Millionaire’ and my song ‘Wifey Riddum’.

Most significant lesson you have learnt since entering the music industry?
It’s best to make your own mistakes because no one is going to earn the ramifications for you.

Unsigned was basically your breakthrough record- did you know that as you were creating it?
Yeah! It was either going to be my breakthrough or not, we thought that if this one wouldn’t work then we have no idea what will. We tried our best to make it the perfect three-minute song; from the beat to the lyrics and how they’re being said. We put all our bets on it.

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What’s your usual thought process when creating new music?
It depends what we’re trying to get out of it. For now, it’s more about how it feels, but in general moments where there are moments as an artist where you have to prove yourself and take it further. I’ve consciously said to myself, “Yeah, you need to take it to the brim with this song”.

You recently stated that there is no such thing as the perfect rapper. Do you set the same standard for yourself or are you your own worst critic?
I am my own worst critic but at the same time I am also my own biggest fan. I say stuff that I want to hear from rappers. As a rap fan, I’ve heard a lot of things being said and overtime it all sounds the same. So when it was time for me to rap, I wanted to say and hear something different. I want new stuff, new imagery, new slang, everything! I mean, I like my stuff [laughs] you just need to be the best version of yourself, I know it sounds cliché but that’s all it is.

Have you ever had a moment of major doubt within yourself? You’ve spoken a lot about people not believing in you- how do you usually work to get over it?
It’s more THEM, it’s a ‘them’ problem and not a ‘me’ problem. If I had a problem, then I would crumble much earlier, I believe in myself. I believe I can do it, so there’s nothing that anyone can tell me, to be honest. If I can’t do something, I’m going to learn how to do it, and do you know what? I’ve done that time and time again, so I feel like I just need to make music for me at this point. Every criticism I’ve heard is so silent right now, but I just want to say to them, “Thank you very much”.

Going to university and graduating with a degree in accountancy is quite contrasting to being a rapper, and having such an unconventional route to success compared to other rappers must be quite isolating. Do you ever find it to be a challenge?
Within myself, I know that it is not a hindrance. The people that see it as a problem don’t even matter, I don’t care about them. If you have an issue with it, then you’re not even in the real world. I think people attribute rap music to struggle, violence and other negative stuff, and so to think that I haven’t seen any of that because I’ve been to university then you’re one of the dumbest people in the world. It can be seen as a challenge but I don’t see it as that- it’s just my story. If you want to hear the same story over and over, then I’m probably not the guy for you.

What was it like generally balancing both university and your side rap hustle?
When I look back on it, I didn’t think it was the hardest thing in the world. I’m a workaholic though, so now I look at it and I realise that it wasn’t very healthy. I would be staying up in the studio then I would go to uni without any sleep at all. At that moment, I knew that it was all what I wanted so I didn’t actively see it as an obstacle, at that time I didn’t see it as challenging.

You’re only in your early 20’s- what do you hope to achieve by the time you hit your 30’s? Is there any defining moment that will have you think, “Yeah, I’ve made it”?
I just want to take over the world [laughs]. There is not a lot to ask for, I’ve done a lot of things that I didn’t ever expect to do like doing things for my family. And now, I want to change the lives of those around me and help other people, too. Not even when I “get there”, but now I just want to be helping people because the more of us there are too lift up, the better. I want everybody to feel like they can chase what they want because some people might think that because they don’t come from a certain background that they can’t take part and it alienates them. If you know your characteristics, you can find your way.