In Conversation with Matty Mateo


James Dring, aka Matty Mateo, is a rapper and reggaeton artist who studies at the University of York. We caught up with him to find out more about this less common genre and his new music.

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Image by James Dring

By Kristina Wemyss and Michael Athey

Kristina: Could you begin by saying a bit about who you are and what your style is for our readers?

James: For now, I’m focusing on Latin American, reggae-influenced, rap-cum-singing. The genre is called reggaeton and it became globalised with ‘Despacito’, which is where I first came across it- I know that’s quite basic. I wish I could say that I was an urban follower of the style before then. It’s a really cool genre though and not something that people tend to come across, and it’s a big contrast to other genres like indie-music for example.

K: When and how did you get into writing and making your own music?

J: It was just before I came to uni when I was 17. I had been thinking about doing it for a while and then I just attempted it over the summer. I was sitting on one song for months but then once you do one, then two, things take off. At first, I’d listen to stuff and sit down trying to write- I had sessions where I couldn’t come up with anything but eventually it just came together.

Michael: What was it about Spanish music in particular that first attracted you?

J: I think it was the difference in the flow of the rap. Spanish as a language is really beautiful in the way that you can roll your ‘Rs’ and fire stuff off so quickly, which I always thought was very impressive. I also really liked how a lot of the songs have that memorable dembow rhythm in the background as a core characteristic but each song is still different. That rhythmic repetition stuck with me and made me realise how much I like the genre.

M: What have been the differences in the writing process between writing in English compared to Spanish?

J: I wrote my first song without a beat and I started writing in Spanish using things like word reference, Google translate and bits of slang that I’d picked up in songs, muddling my way through. Now, as I’m going along listening to Spanish artists I hear something and I Google translate it. Later, when I come to write something I’ll have picked up phrases or little hooks and colloquialisms of the genre. From there it springboards and I’ll look at things like rhyming words. A lot of people think I write the song in English and then try to directly translate it but that would just take so long and I don’t think I have the Spanish skills for that! It’s a bit of a muddled process but I think if I tried to rationalise it, it would probably take away from some of the magic.

M: How do you share your music? Have you found this tougher given the language spoken is one most aren’t familiar with?

J: Yes, it has been more difficult. Talking to some of my housemates, they think it’s really cool that I make music but they don’t understand the language which can take away from their enjoyment of it. In terms of sharing my stuff out there, there are a lot of people who make beats across the world and share them on YouTube where you can buy a lease to them. Sharing that music on Spotify and Instagram with the leased beats has been a strong way for me to get to audiences because of that global appeal. Earlier on, I was just sharing to platforms like YouTube and Soundcloud, where you kind of have to push traffic to those places. If you put it on Spotify more of that traffic comes to you. Looking on the Spotify for Artists app and being able to look at how people reach your music has been interesting too.

I think that shock factor helped because I didn’t tell anyone that I was making music at first, apart from my uni flat. Then I put on my Instagram one day that something big was coming and people started to ask what it was that I was doing. I had a group of ladish mates at home and I wasn’t sure whether they would take the mick or be supportive. Surprisingly, everyone came down on the side of being really supportive, but I don’t know whether some of them were more supportive of the fact that I was making music rather than the actual music itself, so in the future I would like to meet more fans of reggaeton. But I love any support!

K: How has lockdown impacted your music production? Would you say that it's provided you with a creative outlet during the pandemic? Has it given you more time to focus on it? Or now that you are stuck inside are you struggling for inspiration?

J: It’s been kind of 50-50. In one way, the first lockdown was when I was able to really power through and make my first EP, so that gave me a big boost of creativity when there wasn’t much else to do. But then in the second and third lockdowns, I wasn’t able to access my usual studio which is owned by Kritical Powers, a local rapper from York. With the restrictions, you obviously can’t go into a small space with other people so that has been a limit. I’ve had ideas building up for a while so when there have been blips in the restrictions I’ve been rushing over to the studio and doing 2-3 day periods of recording. As I say it’s 50-50, lockdown has definitely had an impact.

K: Who are your main influences and if you could collaborate with another artist who would it be?

J: In terms of artists who have inspired the genre, I would say Danny Yankee who is one of the more household names, he’s known for songs like ‘Gasolina’ and ‘Despacito’ of course. Also, I love Lunay and Raul Alejandro. Collectively, those three cover all the grounds that inspired the genre- one of them sings, one raps, and one makes R&B style music. Lyrically, people like Aitch are big inspirations to me. Also, melodic American rappers like Iann Dior and The Kid Laroi. Even bigger names like Ed Sheeran and Juice World inspire me.

If I had to name one person that I would like to collaborate with I would have to go with Danny Yankee purely because he is such a household reggaeton name. Reggaeton has blown up across the world- the biggest song of last year was ‘Despacito’, which topped the charts and managed to quickly overtake artists like Arianna Grande and Justin Beiber.  In the UK though there’s been a bit of a blind-spot, so I would love to bring Danny Yankee, the king of reggaeton, to the UK.

M: Do you have any advice for other young people/ students who would like to get into making music but aren't sure where to start?

J: People are always more worried about failing than appreciating what they are capable of. You can really overthink things, about what you are going to say or what other people are going to think. If you spend too much time thinking you will just put yourself off it and sometimes you will end up hating your own creative work when it’s actually quite good! You will find your niche if you just keep working at it and really go for it. It’s a bit cliché but just don’t let anything stop you. Especially as a student you are part of a big community and there’s lots of scope for people to make comments, but I’ve had far more good feedback about my music than people taking the mick.

M: What's next for Matty Mateo? Do you have any musical goals for the future or upcoming releases that we should look out for?

J: Keep an eye out for a very home-grown album which is coming soon. It was made without a studio, no professional producer, using beats from online, my microphone taped to an old light stand and a pop filter I got online. I made it using Audacity- the programme I used to record my ICT coursework on so it’s a very ‘DIY’ album. It’s going to be in English as well which completely switches things up but I’m retaining a lot of the Spanish stuff in terms of the essence of the lyrics and the beats. The Spanish influence is definitely here to stay but going forward one of my goals is to be bilingual with the songs. I would love to be able to mix them up and half-way through a quintessential English song suddenly launch into Spanish. I’ve seen a lot of high-profile Spanish artists doing the same thing, trying to switch between Spanish and English so I think that has inspired me.

Matty Mateo has just released part one of his new album, this along with the rest of his music can be found via the links below: