Rapper Matt M scores on and off the Field
When 26-year old Coach Montalvo puts down the football in San Benito, Texas, and picks up the mic, he transforms into rapper and hip-hop artist, Matt M, and his words stream through the bullhorn of iTunes and Spotify.
“The first step’s to listen / that’s what we missin’,” he declares at the start of the song “Listen,” unveiling the running theme of his first full-length album, Looking Up, released in July 2017. The sonic support reinforces the feeling of waking up, with a dream-like synth base opening like a mother’s goodnight kiss before life pops that bubble and piles layers of hard-hitting snares and kick drums. After consciousness, comes action: “I’m taking off my Nikes / I don’t Just Do It, boy, I kill it.”
The mantra is also a great emblem of Matt M’s career thus far. The album comes after a series of five mix tapes that were previously posted on hotnewhiphop.com: Ready for the Fame, Just Take It It’s Free, No Stress I, No Stress II, and Soulful Mixtape.
In Ready for the Fame, Matt M focused more on experimenting with different sounds and creating his own DJ-style than doing original work. “I was in the process of finding out what kind of sound I was going for. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to rhyme, so I did.”
With Just Take It It’s Free and No Stress I, he finally broke from mimicking what was heard on the radio and spun something altogether new. “My raps and sound went from wanting to write metaphors and hooks on catchy beats to mellow, soulful music with no sort of structure, just however it came out.” The response was the best yet, with more than 1,000 downloads. It also earned him support and collaboration from a fellow San Benito rapper, Billy Young, who motivated him to seek more out of the music industry, a rarity for someone from South Texas.
“The city I come from is not famous for its historic landmarks; it does not spit out world-class athletes or A-list celebrities,” says Matt M. “We are as South as Texas gets. I could literally see the fence that separates US and Mexico from my house.
“The city I come from is not famous for its historic landmarks; it does not spit out world-class athletes or A-list celebrities,” says Matt M. “We are as South as Texas gets. I could literally see the fence that separates US and Mexico from my house. To be a man for the people of my city is all I aspire to be. If I make it, my city makes it.”
These aspirations find ample voice on Looking Up. There are bare-bone tracks like, “Wrong,” which features a simple melancholy acoustic guitar beneath Matt M’s raps, and then the hard, thrumming basslines and the angry, technological squeals and swirls of “DeJaVu.” Then there’s “Freedom,” with wistful chimes and piano to underline Matt M’s desire for the future: “But on these beats we speak our peace / We off the leash, we almost free / But will we ever be, will we ever be.”
Despite the variations from track to track, Looking Up captures a childlike innocence throughout. The lyrics of each song reflect Matt M’s unwavering hope—that is, if only people would listen. Whether it’s a wholesome dream expressed or a harsher impatience for better times to come, it all circles back to hope, conveyed best in “Better Days”—“So enjoy the show or pick your part, play your role / Cuz either way man life goes on and on and on / … / Step up to the edge take a leap of faith / Fuck it! Eat a little cake—who cares what people say.”
Success surprises Matt M—including winning the “Bridgie Award” in 2016 for Solo Artist of the Year—even though he comes from a family of talented musicians. His uncle David was the lead singer and guitarist in the alt-rock/blues band Crash 281; his older brother, Robert Gil, switched between drums and bass in the indie band FIRE! FIRE! DANGER! DANGER!; and his grandfather owned Gil Records, which managed a popular Tejano band called Fito Olivares Y Su Grupo. Nevertheless, Matt M never dreamed that he would end up doing music, instead focusing on his football prospects. “I was like every other kid who thought, ‘I want to be in the NFL.’ I got to high school and had really good years playing, but my confidence didn’t allow me to go to the next level. I graduated and football ended; it was just me and I was lost.”
It was music that brought the confidence. As he listened to artists such as 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, and Nelly on his local B104 radio station, he began putting pen to paper to create his rhymes about his life and experiences in South Texas: his younger years in school, his little brother coming out to him, and his views on the issues that divide America today.
“Everyone in rap that I was listening to came from really rough places and experiences that I couldn’t relate to. I really thought you had to be a gangster to rap,” Matt M explains. “From Ready for the Fame to Looking Up, I really learned to just be myself and talk about what I think is important as opposed to what’s trending. I thought I had to rap like Lil Wayne or Drake and have a catchy hook and clever metaphors, but once I got comfortable and really committed myself to who I wanted to be as an artist it became almost effortless...sometimes [laughs].”
But even such effortlessness comes with hard work and the help of others. He works from a studio he created when he and his wife built their house, collaborating on certain songs with friends and fellow rappers such as Billy Young and Hizzoh. Once completed, Matt M turned the tracks over to his good friend Fabian Rodriguez, a sound engineer, to do the mastering. At the moment, Matt M and Hizzoh are working together on a five-track EP called Cinco, during Matt M’s time off from being Coach Montalvo.
Matt’s hustle and positivity had led to success here, too. In his first year as coach of the middle school, he led the team to the championship after an undefeated season. The following year, he was made coach of the high school team and made it to the state championship. His coaching inspires his players, and in turn, his players inspire his music career.
“Being coach has allowed me to be a mentor to a lot of kids and even some of my co-workers, which is what I try to be in my music. I want to say music and coaching influence each other in their own way.” He adds, “Kids are very blunt. If they think a song sucks they will tell you.”