FLINT, Michigan — The warm Arizona sun shines on Matthew Wiley as he sits in his car with a smile and long dreadlocks that drip past his shoulders. The 24-year-old radiates energy that speaks of his readiness to talk about his life--one that has led to a greater understanding of self and is the inspiration of his forthcoming project, Azure.
24-year-old Flint native and Arizona born Matthew Wiley, sitting, reflecting, and playing his Nintendo DS.But chances are you've heard his song, Versus, off his first album, Channel 42, played during a Milwaukee Bucks NBA Playoff Halftime show last year. The native Flintstone but Arizona raised artist isn't making waves with hardcore rap lyrics and flashy materialism. He's making it by offering a different message to today's generation. Much of his life's narrative and the lessons learned—both physically and spiritually—are infused in Wiley's music. That's because he hopes to give voice and build a platform for kids "who grow up and are not like everybody else."
That's a story he knows all too well. Growing up with divorced parents and a sister, Wiley remembers telling his grandmother he always wanted to be on TV. However, his life on Flint's northside was anything but regular compared to his peers at Coolidge Elementary School. He opted out of sports and instead found solace in Japanese anime and culture, video games, film, poetry, comedy shows, and music. Those influences allowed Wiley to question things and go against the norm. In choosing to let those conversations and experiences guide and influence his life, he faced alienation from a community that seemed to represent everything he wasn't.
"A lot of my friends that I have, we all were bullied [because] we didn't do the same s*** that people who looked like us did. When you grow up in communities like that, you grow up quicker," he says, recalling his years in Flint. "I saw dudes grow to be super thugged out. It was so prevalent that it became survival. It was in my walk, the way I saw people, and I always wondered why?"
Wiley's life turned when his mother decided to move from Michigan to Arizona. Angry and sad to leave home and friends, a creative shift happened. He went from choir singing and poetry to making R&B and Hip Hop music. His music's message became incredibly vital as he didn't want to "rap about money, girls, and all that other stuff." Wiley's first single, Jaded, released in 2015, became a hit after an acquaintance at school shared it on Reddit.
The after-effects spurred record companies to seek him out, but Wiley declined, stating that "at the time it was not the move for me." Nonetheless, family support kept him going before Steve Rhythm, founder of BULLiSh Recordings, emerged to teach Wiley the basics of making records and how to move within a dynamically changing industry. That sense of connectedness and support inspired his 2019 album, Channel 42—titled after Flint's home of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. The album sees Wiley channeling childhood memories and ones of a new kid in a new city.
"When creating this album, I thought about how alone I felt going to school at Coolidge," he says with a sad look. "We all got beat up and bullied. I thought of how we all connected [through] cartoons and anime. That's what got us close."
Living in Arizona and being exposed to Hispanic, Asian, and Native American cultures offered Wiley a unique view of himself and life—one he wouldn't have found in Flint. Able to travel to places like California inspired him to create his particular style. The more he experienced, the greater his need to reflect on his parents, friends, and society's ideas and beliefs. In this space, a burgeoning sense of spiritual self gave him the idea that "there needs to be a shift in my music. Something that I feel can capture people." That thought became the starting point of Azure. All this gave him the urgency to tap into himself, and understand the world's rhythms.
Channel 42, Wiley's first album, named after Cartoon Network and Adult Swim's channel in Flint, Michigan."I hear colors. I can feel the different shades of colors," he says with eyes closed. "As you get older, you see how everything is connected and from within. These components come together that create a feeling, and then I can turn it into physical form. I have the power to do that."
In taking the sounds in his head, creating them, in addition to a newfound spiritual center, Wiley's plans for Azure are broad and deep. The album isn't just musical but personal. Azure shapes up to be an experience, one where listeners become drawn into a world, come together, share stories, and leave better than they arrived. The desire to create this space and spread love reflects how he, as a kid, did not feel that. In this, he hopes Azure can affect people enough so that they find places of no fear because "I felt like I couldn't create my world. Like no, don't do that. Just stay right here and be the same." It is one of many purposes Wiley hopes to achieve through music.
"I want people to come to [Azure] and get your brush and paint on anything. It's getting unplugged and recognizing the real world," he says passionately. "I want people to come to my shows and feel like they can meditate. I want people to feel free for the first time."
You can find Matthew Wiley on Facebook, and Instagram. You can listen to his latest album, Channel 42 on all media platforms. His forthcoming project, Azure, is set to release soon.