When Lakewood, CA rapper A$ton Matthews takes a breather from playing basketball at the park to speak with me on a Monday afternoon, he details two incredibly fortuitous occasions in his short 23 years on Earth. First, he narrowly escaped death after getting shot in the heart during a gang-related slip-up. Then he decided to dabble in rap and swiftly evolved into dexterous lyricist with a flow that switches fluently from swank languidness to menacing rapid-fire and sounds like he’s been spitting since birth. He’s one of a handful of Hispanic rappers on the come up, has earned props from Danny Brown, Schoolboy Q and the A$AP Mob via his debut NOFVCKSGIVEN and last summer’s Versace Ragz, and managed to make “bathing in the waters of Minnetonka” inspire fear in my heart on “Mack 11” from his upcoming Aston 3:16 mixtape, so I was itching to hear A$ton’s story. Here it is.
Noisey: You currently reside in Lakewood. Is that where you grew up?
A$ton Matthews: I'm originally from LA. I was raised there, then I moved out this way in middle school. I stayed with my cousins for a little bit when I was little, and that's when I saw a lot of crazy shit. I just learned from that as I got older. Seen a lot of hustling, crackheads, shit like that. As I got older I started to understand that shit and use it to my advantage. I learned how to hustle at an early age, so that's what I was doing all through high school.
What kind of music would you listen to?
Growing up I was listening to a lot of Ice Cube. My dad listened to Ice Cube and my cousins put me on Biggie and Jay-Z. I became a fan of Eminem and the whole Dipset movement, that's really what I got into.
How did you get into rapping?
I got shot when I was 18 and then I became a rapper, you know, that weird cliché shit, but that's just how it happened. I was just doing all the bad shit that you do when you're a kid, gang banging, all kinds of crazy shit like that. I got caught slipping at a party in my neighborhood and, shit, they got me. I got shot in the heart one time. They said if it had hit like a half inch higher I would have died on the scene.
So you got shot, then you decided to start rapping, and you dropped the NOFVCKSGIVEN tape, which is a super impressive debut.
I was really just fucking around. One of my homeboys was a rapper from the area and he was like, Man, you should do something better with your life other than just wasting your time here. So I just started writing down my thoughts and rapping a little bit. The NOFVCKSGIVEN shit came about and I was like man, I'm just gonna go in on a bunch of beats, make some random crazy shit and see what the fuck happens.
You talk about some scary shit in your songs. Do you feel like you're removed from gang life now?
It's not one of those things that you're ever gonna leave behind, but I definitely make smarter decisions now. I learned from my mistakes and I'm just focused on getting this money and trying to make something out of life. I just take all my stories, all my pain and shit and talk about it through my raps.
You also rap about wrestling a lot.
As a kid I was a really big wrestling fanatic. I loved Mankind, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair. I’d go to my cousin's house and one of his neighbors had a wrestling ring in his front yard, like a real one. We’d just go across the street and beat the shit out of each other, slap each other with chairs and shit. One day I was thinking, Man, I love wrestling so much, why don't I just try to flip wrestling lines, wrestling characters into rap shit? I didn't really see anybody doing it at the time. I just wanted to do some creative shit that people weren’t really hip to yet.
You’re a member of Cutthroat Boyz with Joey Fatts and Vince Staples. How did you all get together?
I’ve known Vince since he was like 16 years old, that's like my little brother. Him and Joey are from the same neighborhood and one day he was like, “You should listen to my homie Joey Fatts.” I listened to one of his songs, started following him on Twitter and was like Yo, that shit is dope. We just started talking about my life, his life, and I was like, “Damn, we're low key the same dude, just from different sides of the game.”
It's interesting that you formed a black and Hispanic crew because you don't see a lot of that today, especially on the West Coast.
We're just trying to bridge the gap. It's just a color, man. You just look past that and realize most everybody's the same. We're just trying to do something different for the area, because there's a lot of hatred in the streets.
I can't think of many of Hispanic rappers on the West Coast that are as visible as you are these days. Do you think you have to work harder than most rappers?
It does make me work harder, actually. I know there are a lot of other kids like me out here that don't have a voice yet. When you think of a Hispanic on the West Coast, you think about a cholo, like crazy-ass cholo, bald headed, tatted up. I’ve got a lot of homies that are like that and I salute all of them, but I just wanna speak for the ones that are voiceless right now. Every time I think about quitting, I just think about all the people that are depending on me to pave that way for them. I think I'm doing alright so far, but I’ve got plenty of work to do.
What does your family think about your music?
They love it. My mom loves it. She's been listening to it a lot lately. She's trying to get a little lingo up. She thinks she's a rap mom now. She think's I'm about to be famous, she thinks she's gonna get her own TV show and all that. They support me to the max. I’ve got a lot of family from Guatemala. I'm just doing it for them, and they're proud of it.
What's your writing process?
I do some of my writing outside of the studio. I just walk around, some random shit will pop into my head and I'll just run with it. Normally, I just walk in, play the beat, start smoking and just really put my life on the line, I think. I've been putting a lot more of my real life shit into my raps. That's what A$ton 3:16 is gonna be about. Everything I represent is gonna be on that tape.
What can you tell me about the tape?
I’ve got some crazy shit up my sleeve. I'm just gonna say producers because if I mention artists, I don't wanna ruin the surprise. I’ve got Alchemist, Evidence, Joey Fatts on there producing, and Cardo. There’s the homie Jay Curry. He's a dope young producer from the East side of Long Beach. My features are gonna kill it, I put all the homies on there. Mid June or July, I'm gonna drop that. I dropped the “Mack 11” video produced by Evidence, and I directed the video, too.
It seems like a lot of people in the industry are some of your biggest fans.
I'm just amazed at it. I really didn't think I was that good, to be honest with you. I just thought I was alright, and then I started getting props from Alchemist, Evidence, OG's like that, Bronson. Royce Da 5’9” just hit me up the other day. Shit like that, I feel like it's crazy. A$AP Yams flew out here to fuck with me and Joey. We just linked up like that and we've been boys ever since. Yams is family. I'm just lucky is what it is. I didn't think I was that good of a rapper, but if they say so.
You released song called “Free Wavy Crockett” and you’ve got “Free Wavy Crockett Pt. 2” on your next tape. Let’s talk about Max B.
He's the fucking wave. Younger dudes like French Montana, that's how I really got put on to Max B. My homies were Max B fans and they were like, “Man, you should listen to Max, this nigga’s tight.” So I got the Wavie Crockett tapes, Quarantine. Motherfucker's just crazy, he's wavy as fuck. I just picked up off that wave and ran with it for the song. I just wanted to pay homage to Max B one time because I feel like he's one of the realest to ever do it. Hopefully they approve and fuck with it, because that would be an honor.
Since I ask every rapper this question, I’m gonna ask you too. What kind of girls do you like?
I like any girl. I like mixed girls the most—any type of mixture. If you're mixed with something else, I'll love you. I love girls with accents who don't speak proper English that well because they don't know what I'm saying to them, I don't know what they're telling me, so we don't argue.
Frances Capell has never been camping in her life. That's probably a lie, but she's on Twitter regardless - @ffffrances