Mateo: The Breakout Kid
interview by: iman n. milner
The first time I heard Coldplay’s “The Scientist”, I felt that somehow they’d reached into my heart and read every fear I’d had of love out loud. When the beauty of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You” filled my ears, my soul shifted. And the perfection of the Isley Brothers’ “Voyage to Atlantis” brings a tear to my eye regularly. Music has always talked to me, for me and through me. Many people argue that music is not the same as it once was. They say that it has lost its ability to transform us. I say those people must be looking in the wrong places. I challenge them to give new artist Mateo’s Love and Stadiums a listen and tell me, then, if music has lost its way. The raw sensitivity of his lyrics coupled with the swelling piano crescendos and the familiarity of some of today’s biggest hits makes his mixtape simply one of the best works of art available.
But upon meeting him you’d have no idea that he was capable of such a feat. A self-proclaimed “nerdy, regular person”, Mateo, born Iman Mateo Jordan, is as unassuming as ever. No entourage, no ego—the boy even ate my food straight from my plate during our interview—he lets his talent shine through and one listen to his music will make you see him as the bright star he is destined to be. I sat down with the budding star to cover love; opportunity and his authentic take on R&B.
Get to know Mateo.
Edge: Who is Mateo?
Mateo: A man just trying to live out his dreams. I’m a man trying to fulfill his purpose and I get confused and lost like everybody else in this world but I always find my way back.
Edge: Tell me a little bit about your style of music.
Mateo: I think the best type of song is a good love song. So I do love songs—that’s my music. It’s a mixture of all the stuff I love. It has an alternative sound to it but it also has the soulful melodies and is piano based. It’s really organic; it has an authentic feel to it. I used to try to sing over hip hop beats like other R&B artist do but it just didn’t fit.
Edge: How would you describe your career trajectory?
Mateo: I’ve been really blessed on my path. I’ve been doing this for a few years and I’ve gone through the start up grind to the live performance scene out here (in Los Angeles) to being signed to MySpace Records. Going to a label situation and working within that, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to experience that. I understand what it’s like to really start from scratch and climb to the top. A lot of people will tell you that this isn’t something that you should be doing, you know? You’ll hear 1000 no’s before you hear that 1 yes. I know that I am blessed because I’ve maintained forward motion. I have consistently progressed. Even if I fall back a couple of steps, I walk forward four more steps. It’s been great. When I linked up with Krucial Keys, I knew it was right. I loved the way he was able to do really authentic dope music that didn’t sound like anything else on the radio and still go mainstream with Alicia Keys.
Edge: Let’s talk a little about Love and Stadiums.
Mateo: Of course. I mean I started doing mixtapes before all of the R&B guys started doing them and what I always wanted to do on a mixtape is make it my own interpretation of the songs. Everyone has already heard the original, so if I just take the beat and sing over it that’s not enough. The person who did it the best probably already killed it so I always try to break it down to scratch and rebuild it by borrowing from the original to create something special. We called it Love and Stadiums because we wanted to make love songs but we wanted them to have that big sound, big drums and vocals—like music that could be played in stadiums. It’s been cool because the mixtape has been really well received. We were lucky to get some big features like Goapele and Pusha T. It was a fun experience. A lot of the tape was figuring out what my sound is.
Edge: What’s at the forefront of your mind during the rougher times in your career?
Mateo: The main person that has to believe in my artistry the most is me. That should be the focus for anybody trying to break in to this industry in any way. It’s hard on any level as an artist whether it’s as a musician, actress, etc…whatever it is that you’re doing is going to take an undying faith in yourself. You’ve got to believe and trust that the universe is working in your favor and you are not alone in it and more importantly you do have the skills and gifts to make it. That’s the hardest part at times and once you master that, you just stay true to yourself. I could change up my style to try to be more radio but then in the end—I think Kanye (West) said it best, “I’d rather be hated for who I am than be loved for who I’m not”, that’s the key.
Edge: Your focus is love songs. So tell me who Mateo is in love.
Mateo: I’m a hopeless romantic. I like the feeling of it. I like being excited about a woman I’m in love with. I love the idea of being head over heels mostly because I’m a person who over thinks everything. I like to be in control and I am very analytical but love is the one thing that you can’t predict. No one has control over love. I find freedom in that and I love doing the things that lovers do.
Edge: What’s next for you?
Mateo: I’m signing a major deal with a big label in the next couple of weeks; I am very excited about that. We have the single “Say It So” out, we’ve been pushing it independently but now it’ll have some big backing behind it. It’s a pretty great single. Krucial produced it and Alicia Keys is singing the background vocals.
Photos by Ashley B Nguyen
MUA: Sydney Milan