There are a handful of residents in the D.C. metro area who claim that the hip-hop scene here is rather hard to find, or that it hardly even exists. While scores of rap and hip-hop artists travel into D.C. every month, playing shows at venues such as the 9:30 Club and the Black Cat, the local, “underground” artists are often left in the shadow of the mainstream touring acts.
So, how does one tap into this so-called “underground” culture to hear local talent? As I learned one afternoon in September, discovering new music in the District can be as easy as saying “What’s up?” to the dude sitting across from you on public transportation.
This is how I happened to meet the local emcee known as Flex Mathews, a 25-year-old rapper originally from South Dakota who moved to D.C. three years ago to pursue his music. On a crowded city bus in Silver Spring, Md., a friend and I were talking about hip-hop as I, being the annoying drummer that I am, began lightly pounding a beat on the back of the empty seat next to me. Some guy playing a Gameboy across from us took notice as he looked up from his game, made eye contact and said, “What’s up?” Before I could respond, he asked us, “Y’all like hip-hop?”
“Yeah, man,” I replied.
“Here, listen to this,” he said as he slipped me a thin CD case, “This is me.” On the cover it read, Flex Mathews – The Outta Work Super Hero a.k.a. The Handsome Grandson.
Back in Foggy Bottom, I popped the CD into my computer, not expecting much from a demo some guy gave me on a Metro bus. But I soon found myself nodding my head to the lyrical flows of Mathews and the homemade beats, aided by Flex’s producer Damu the Fudge Monk. It was surprisingly good.
Earlier this year, Flex was named in URB Magazine’s next 100 artists to look for; toured the East Coast with other local rappers on the “Clash of The Titans Tour”; and was recently signed to Man Bites Dog records from Springfield, Va.
“A lot of things happened to me this year that I didn’t expect to happen,” said Flex in an interview with The Hatchet. “I guess it was God looking out for me. I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.”
Last summer, Flex crossed musical genres to perform at the famous Vans Warped Tour for the second time in his career.
“The warped tour is dope, man,” he said. “It’s a different scene than what I’m used to, but I’m definitely embracing the punk and the rock scene a lot more.”
On Thursday night, Flex will once again cross musical boundaries as he tries to tackle the electronica scene at The Nation (1015 Half St. S.E.). For the show, he will freestyle over the beats of the DJ duo Common Knowledge.
When Flex isn’t rapping, he is stuck working at a 9-to-5 job as a telephone operator, since the underground rap scene does not do a very good job of paying the bills.
“When it’s all said and done, I just wanna rock and have a blast, perform and push my music,” he explained. “To quit my 9-to-5 would be fabulous. That stuff takes away from my art time. Eight hours a day, no matter how you look at it, is horrible.”
Commenting on the underground hip-hop scene in D.C., Flex said, “It fluctuates, actually. There’s times where, to me, it’s jumpin’, you know? It’s bangin’. And other times I’m like, ‘where’s everybody gone?'” n
Check out Flex Mathew’s Web site to hear his music at www.flexmathews.com, as well as www.funkdc.com, which has links to other local hip-hop acts. Flex will perform at The Nation (1015 Half St. S.E.) Thursday night – show starts at 9 p.m., and Flex goes on at 1:30 a.m.