On his new EP “Love and Nappyness,” Chicago rapper Matt Muse examines the various ways love appears in his life.
The project is a series of meditations on God, friendship, family, romance, and self-love — with their Greek names accompanying the title of each track.
Muse spoke with Vocalo’s Jill Hopkins about the EP, how it flips the format of the “love song” on its head, and how to deconstruct traditional notions of black masculinity.
Jill Hopkins: The overarching theme of this EP is love. Why did you want to focus on love?
Matt Muse: Okay, I think love songs are super, super corny. [Laughs]. But sometime in late 2018 I did an Instagram poll asking what people want to see from me musically in the next year. And all these people kept saying “Shea Butter Baby,” more love songs, blah, blah, blah. And I was like: “No, there’s no way!” But then I thought, hmm what if I actually do what they asked me to do? But instead, flip what they asked me to do on its head and keep with this love theme. My last EP Nappy Talk was all about self-love, and I always wanted to make part two to it but just didn’t know how. And then, kind of like a light bulb went off: actually you can make a project full of love songs, just don’t make them corny. I think that love songs are corny because they seem super generic. I don’t want to make a cookie cutter song that you can play at both the bowling alley and the family reunion. I want to make a song that your divorced parents get uncomfortable when they hear it. To me, that’s love. Or a song that makes an older couple stop arguing and love on each other. That to me is what a love song is supposed to do. It’s not supposed to make you comfortable. It’s supposed to make you think and feel.
Jill: There are seven songs on this EP: Agape is the love of God, Eros is romantic love, and so on. Where did the idea of using Ancient Greek definitions of love come from?
Matt: I remember from going to church there being more than one type of love. So I googled the rest of them. There are way more than the ones that I chose. There are like 14 of them. But I was like, Okay, what are the ones that you can relate to? Familiar love has been a theme in my life, God and church has been a theme my entire life, friendship and struggles with that has been a theme as well. So for me, and my experience with the word love, I was like, yo, keep it true to you. And so that’s what I tried to do.
Jill: “St. Matthew” opens the EP and you’re talking about your relationship with God as someone who does not maybe have as strong or as everyday a relationship with God as you once did. Talk about the inspiration for this track.
Matt: Yeah, so I don’t really have a quote – unquote relationship with God. I was raised a Christian but I’m a starkly different person now when it comes to that than I was when I was 17 or so. When I was 17, I legit thought I was going to be a preacher. But then a dear friend of mine died in a car accident and it was super traumatic. She was like 16, I think, when she crashed, and the way it all happened, I was super, super shaken. And I was just like, man, like being taught a whole lot of stuff about God and a lot of this stuff is happening… like this person who’s super cool and whom I low-key had a crush on… like this not supposed to happen. This doesn’t feel right. But then also, when you feel empty or you feel like there’s a lack of love, you go searching for it. So I was like if God is real, where can I get some of this a godly love?
Because the idea of a godly love is that it’s unconditional; it has no attachments. And so the song touches on my battle with believing in God but even more so, I’m saying, yo, look, if you are real, I need some of that Agape love. Let me get some of that. And that’s really what I’m trying to get across in the second verse. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I do a lot of things, you know, wrong, and I don’t even show love the best way I can. And none of it is intentional but I’m like, man, is a person like that worthy of love? Is a person who cheated on his girl worthy of love, you know? Is a person who doesn’t believe they’re worthy of love, worthy of love? And the answer God would say is yes, because it’s unconditional. And so I’m just trying to tap into that unconditional love.
Jill: It’s a nice lead into the second track – “Love Wrong.” What does the right way to love look like? Because I think maybe it’s different for everyone. But you had someone in your life that you said “loved the same wrong way.”
How do so many of us manage to love wrong? And are you closer to being able to answer that question after having written this song?
Matt: I think that we manage to love wrong because we are not taught the proper way to love. I know in relationships I had early on, I had a lot of unhealthy habits. It’s more like these very strict Biblical “don’t do this, don’t do that.” But it’s never “do this, do that.” And so, as far as like, how do you get to a place where we start loving right, I don’t really know. I think it’s just about both people making the commitment to figuring out what works best between the two. And I think that maybe the reason we’re never taught “the right way” is because there is no “right way.” But I think that communication, negotiation, trust, thing like that are the very basic things that you must practice in order to get there. And I think that if both parties are actively trying to practice those things, the right will come out of there naturally. It has to be a commitment from both.
Jill: Let’s talk about how the EP addresses and deconstructs Black masculinity. Why was that such an important through-line of this project?
Matt: In a lot of ways people automatically put that stipulation on me because I’m a dark skinned Black male with nappy hair. They automatically put a whole lot of things on me when they see me. But also, when I started out as a rapper, I was presenting myself as this very like “Oh, I’m aggressive with these bars.” I was also disrespectful to women. And I think a lot of that came from an inability to express other parts of myself or to find other words to express the feelings that I want to say.And so, I think, I’m choosing to address these things because it’s a personal journey, and because I think a lot of young folks need to think about it. We can be ourselves without being hyper masculine. We don’t have to hurt other people or put anybody down in order to big up ourselves.
Alyssa Edes produced this story for broadcast. Follow her on Twitter @alyssaedes.