Matre is a hip-hop artist and community and youth advocate. His current mission is to inform the public about the message on his latest tune titled “Listen”. We had the chance to personally meet Matre along with other organizations sharing the same passion to advocate for the youth. They are all working together to share this message with the public (listen below):
Our interview with Matre
If you had to choose one work of literature to keep with you forever, which would it be?
[Matre] Ooh, that’s a tough one. Maybe the “Bhagavad Gita”, that’s been a really inspiring book for me. Also, a collection of poems by the Persian poet, Hafiz, called “The Gift.”
If you could work with any political figure, musician, or philosopher on your next big project, who would it be?
[Matre] There are a lot of folks I feel inspired to work with, so it’s hard to choose one. I’d love to do something with Rakim, for one because he’s one of my favorite MCs and also because he’s deeply connected to the spirit of hip hop culture. I’d like to build with him about that, and about the power of the culture and it’s potential both socially, and spiritually.
Now let’s get into the needy greedy. I learned you work with a for-the-youth organization by the name Street Poets Inc.; who founded it?
[Matre] Street Poets was founded by Chris Henrikson, who is currently the executive director of the organization. I work with Street Poets as a teaching-artist. I help facilitate poetry and drumming workshops at LA area schools and juvenile detention facilities.
What has been the most impactful lesson you’ve learned from working with the youth?
[Matre] I’ve worked with SP for about seven years. I’m constantly learning from the young people I work with. We all have our own unique genius, and one of the things I’m always learning is how to listen in a way that invites the youth I work with to voice theirs, to trust what they know and speak it.
How do you feel poetry and hip-hop help the youth you work with? What type of skills does it help them develop?
[Matre] Writing our stories is empowering. It helps us take ownership of our experiences, to be in the position to say, “I’m going to decide how my story is told, and what meaning I give it.” This gives us a practice of defining who we are, independent of outer influences that try and tell us who we should be. Young people in our culture have to deal with a lot of these influences, so it’s helpful for them to be able to re-claim the power of defining and exploring themselves and their own lives. It’s also a healing process. It gives us a chance to be heard by others so we know we’re not alone, and to acknowledge and honor what we’ve been through, how it’s changed us, and the new growth we’re ready to step into.
You are a conscious and talented MC; when did you know you wanted to venture into the hop-hop community?
[Matre] When I was about eleven years old or so, I was listening to a lot of rap music. I got to a point that I got so inspired by what I was hearing that I felt like it just listening wasn’t enough… I felt like I had to do it myself to get closer to what it was that was lighting me up.
Your parents were LAUSD teachers and seem supportive of your current message by your track “Listen”. What was it like being raised by these two individuals?
[Matre] It was cool. Both my parents are teachers that were really dedicated to their students and to helping them be more aware and free as thinkers and people. They definitely influenced me a lot. They helped to teach me how important it is to honor and respect young people, and to not just feed them information, but take interest in who they are and what they know.
Do you come across many hip-hop artists or poets who share the same passion to help the youth in similar ways as you do? How have you collaborated with these individuals?
[Matre] Yeah, for sure. A lot of folks in the hip hop communities I’m a part of feel connected to young people, and want to support them. Hip hop was born out of youthful energy, and I think a lot of us feel the importance of supporting that energy and supporting young people being free, creative, and empowered to bring forward their ideas and inspirations.
What is your message behind your track “Listen”?
[Matre] A lot of the message is in the title. We need to listen to young people. We need to take interest in who they are – honor their gifts and also their struggles, and invite them to share both. In a lot of school environments this isn’t the case, and school police receiving military weapons is an extreme example of this. Instead of viewing students with respect and dignity, they’re often seen as potential problems, or even as criminals, especially youth of color who regularly have to deal with heavy police presence and the profiling and mistreatment that often comes along with it. I see the way it effects the youth I work with when they’re viewed with distrust and suspicion instead of respect and interest. If we’re interested in creating safer school environments we need to listen to students and work to create environments of trust and respect, not increased police and military presence.
What are some responses you typically get when sharing that artillery weapons were shipped to LAUSD?
[Matre] Shock. Most people don’t know that this has been going on, and they can’t believe it. And a lot of people feel outraged about it.
How did you learn about this? Who is directly involved with the message in your song?
[Matre] I learned about it through one of my colleagues at Street Poets, Art Quiros. The song was also influenced by Vitaly, one of the teachers I work with who does an amazing job of listening to students and creating a trusting environment in his classroom. Instead of being viewed as a model for the rest of LAUSD, he’s currently being threatened with disciplining by his administration because he refuses to conduct metal detector searches on his students. The current LAUSD policy requires random metal detector searches every day in every high school and middle school. Vitaly knows this kind of procedure damages the trust that he and his students have worked together to create, so he refuses to do it. I’ve worked in his classroom with his students for several years and when I heard about all of this, it was another push to write the song. Vitaly recently wrote an article about this for the United Teacher Newsletter. CLICK HERE for the article! (His article starts on p.9)
Tell us a bit about your kick-starter for this cause. What will this funding provide and whom will it help?
[Matre] The Kickstarter is called Students Not Suspects. It will fund a music video for the song, as well as a publicity campaign so that this message can get out to the public and help create some dialogue to change things. So the Kickstarter will make this video and PR campaign possible. We’re inviting people to contribute. (HELP SUPPORT THIS CAUSE BY CONTRIBUTING HERE)
When you picture the public’s reaction to your message, what is the ideal response?
[Matre] I think an ideal response is for people to feel a personal connection to the issue, to feel that if young people are being criminalized and mistreated that it’s all of our issue, and that we have to make sure that we support them and demand that they’re treated with dignity and respect. I also hope for people to start reconsidering the way we view education. That instead of seeing it as a way to train young people to be a certain way, that we can start to understand it as a space to support them being who they are. They’re bringing new ideas and possibilities into the world beyond what we know. Schools should be about supporting youth to bring forward these ideas and have the tools they need to make them a reality. If not, we’ll keep repeating a lot of the same cultural patterns we’re in, because we’re training the next generation to fit into what already exists instead of creating something new.
Who have been your main supporters?
[Matre] There are a lot of folks who have supported this project, and I’ve been really grateful for the support and collaborations. The other musicians who are making it possible: Johan Lönnberg & Rick Ellis who produced the track and the whole Embassy Live team. Walter Martinez and Ryan Firpo who are producing and directing the video. As well as a number of organizations: Street Poets Inc, ShadeTree Multicultural Foundation, Youth Mentoring Connection, the Community Rights Campaign / Labor Community Strategy Center, Youth Justice Coalition, the ACLU of Southern California, Public Council and several others.
Is there anyone you wish listened to your message?
[Matre] The LAUSD school board, and the school police, as well as other educators and the general public.
Get the word out y’all! What are the most current updates to this issue? How can others help best?
[Matre] Several organizations are working to make sure LAUSD and LASPD cut ties with the 1033 program, the federal program where the military weapons came from, and also that the school police send back the 61 M-16 rifles that they’re still holding onto. One of the organizations leading this effort is the Community Rights Campaign. They are currently circulating a petition that folks can sign @ https://www.change.org/p/los-angeles-unified-school-district-board-of-education-lausd-demilitarize-our-schools-and-communities
FUN FACTS ABOUT MATRE
Matre’s shout out!: We are using the hashtag #StudentsNotSuspects to spread the word about these issues of school safety and youth justice. We welcome folks to spread the word to your communities and to help us demand dignified treatment for all young people.
Matre’s favorite things about L.A.: Taco trucks, palm trees, the view of the mountains around the city, all the different neighborhoods with their own flavor and feel, the people…
Matre’s pet peeves: How much we’re in our cars.
Musically:John Coltrane, James Brown, Paul Simon, Juan Luis Guerra, Thomas Mapfumo, Outkast, Freestyle Fellowship, KRS-One, Slick Rick, The Roots, The Coup, Brother Ali, Killer Mike…
Spiritually: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a big inspiration for me, as are the lives and work of many other social and cultural leaders.
Matre’s avorite J-Dilla beat: I’m a big fan of “The Red” from the Jaylib project. That’s a banger.