Frank C. Matthews knows all about turning negatives into positives.
After landing in jail in the early 90s, the Brooklyn, New York, native, began to make the best of time behind bars, launching a premature writing career that later saw him release his highly-acclaimed first fiction book, Respect the Jux (2006) and, most recently, prepare the launch of his second offering, Below the Radar, to be available on July 3rd via Simon & Schuster.
Matthews, whose mastered the art of meshing his previous grim reality and the product of his imagination, chatted with XXL’s Good Life about BTR, how he plans to incorporate hip-hop music into the roll-out of his sophomore project and what rappers he thinks could play characters in his anticipated Respect the Jux film.—Gina Montana
Good Life: Tell us about your latest book, Below the Radar. What is it about?
Frank C. Matthews: Below the Radar will be on shelves July 3rd. It’s available on Amazon for pre-order. I wanted to do something different—everyone wanted me to do Respect the Jux part two, but I wanted to get away from that and maybe come back to that later. This book is based on.. the concept is that in a New York minute there is something happenng in every borough. At a particular time, five individuals that commit separate crimes and have nothing to do with one another go on run, all head to Port Authority, and get on a bus to Atlanta. In the process, they get familiar with one another, and by the time they get down there they become cool. They need a means to survive, so, they collectively decide to, once again, turn to crimes, creating a ring. But, intertwined is jealousy, sex, crime—everything.
How does this book compare to the previous in terms of the process and in terms of the story you’re telling?
The difference between Below the Radar and Respect the Jux, first off, is that I wrote Respect in it’s entirety while encarecated. This is different. While I was in jail, I had time to sit and write and rewrite. But for Below the Radar, I had to find the time to write and do interviews all while I run the streets and live my life. But, I learned to take an hour out the day for it.
Tell us about that writing process.
An hour a day—that really worked for me. Out here was totally different for me—there’s so much to do, things to hit up, people to meet. I’m like, damn, how am I going to make this thing happen? Mind you, Respect the Jux was so highly praised that I also had the pressure of doing something to match that or superceed that. Finding time was difficult but one hour per day, it worked perfect for me. There was no certain part of day that was better—sometimes I’d be up at three in the morning. If I couldn’t sleep, I’d start writing. Sometimes I’d be in car and someone else was driving and I’d start writing. I don’t need quiet to write, I actually acquired that skill from being incarcerate because there’s so much going on all the time that I learned to block noise outI. Even if I wrote one page in that hour, I was one step closer.
How long did it take you to put this book together?
Approximately 90 days and then two months of editing. About six months total.
You’ve gotten a lot of attention, respect and love from rappers for your work. How has that support aided you so far?
I mean, for one, let’s say, 50 cent—when he and Lloyd banks did “Hands Up” and rapped, ‘if you wanna party with crooks you have to learn how to respect the jux.’ After that song I took off like a rocket. Overnight. Sales were crazy, I could barely keep up with it. That’s one of the reasons I ended up on a major [publishing house]. Rappers helped catapult me to success.
And speaking of rappers, with Respect the Jux you got Vado and Jae Millz involved with the title song and the video. Do you have anything in the works for this release in the same vein?
Oh, definitely. I’m trying to do something even bigger with this one. I want to get somebody huge! I met Rick Ross the other day and handed him the book. He read Respect the Jux and liked it. He’s suppose to be reading this book and hopefully we can do something together and have some known artists do a soundrack.
I know F. Gary Gray has the TV and film rights to Respect the Jux. When can we expect to see the outcome of that deal?
Oh, TV is another animal. We’re trying every day. I wanted to have something done by this summer, but things haven’t been as smooth. HBO has ups and downs with writers getting hired and writers getting fired. I can’t say when exactly but hopefully by winter or next summer. To get a series on it takes approximately two years. It’s not a fast process, is what I’ve come to learn. But I’m working every day, trying to push it through.
If the book is turned into a film, can you tell me which rappers you think could play some of the characters in the book and why?
Oh, let me see. I would definitely like to have 50. He’s doing his acting thing and was one of the first ones to put Respect the Jux on the map like that so I would love to have him in it. Eminem— I gotta write him into it. And another rapper I would love to see in it, I’d say, T.I., he would be great. T.I. could actually play the Cat role. He has that charisma, that swagger and, you know, he has that character, that confidence about him. And, he’ll be more beileveable. I write from a true-fixed perspective. You want someone believeable. He’ll understand the language and feel. Cat is not a downgraded character—he’s upscale and can’t have that rough look. In order to infiltrate you need to walk all walks and fit all roles. That’s who Cat is and that’s exactly who T.I. is, too.
What’s next for you in terms of books or any side ventures?
Well, basically, every six months I plan to release a book now that I have my own imprint. I plan on every holiday, dropping one. The next one is ready to fly right now, it’s in the hands of the editor and is called The American Dream. I’m also obviously trying to cut into the film industry and start making movies.
Dope. One last thing: tell me about your imprint.
I was granted FCM publishing. That is under Book Master and Atlas books. I have the power to sign other authors and give them the opportunity to have their books published—people that naturally wont have the opportunity or chance to sign to a major publisher.
Anything else you want to add that we might’ve missed?
Just go out there and support these books. It’ll be worth your time, trust me.