Photo Credit: Brock

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By any measure, 2015 has been a strange year for Aston Matthews. The L.A.-based MC, still just 20 years old, had been on a tear since 2013 building his buzz and picking up a loyal fan base who dug his combination of tough street rhymes and witty wrestling references combined with his Latino background. His 2014 mixtape Aston 3:16, which boasted features from the likes of Ab-Soul, Action Bronson, Bodega Bamz, A$AP Ferg and his Cutthroat Records cohorts Vince Staples and Joey Fatts, cemented him as an MC with plenty to offer and broke him onto a wider spectrum outside of his Cali home base.

But the death of A$AP Yams, the spiritual leader of the A$AP Mob and one of Matthews' closest mentors, spun him into a period of depression that he's only just emerging from. Only in the past few months has the rapper gotten back into the studio with a more personal outlook and a dedication to self-exploration that has seen him ditch the wrestling punch lines of his younger days to explore his own religiousness and his inner conflicts, emerging as a more thoughtful MC. As he makes his transition from the Aston Matthews of Aston 3:16 to the new version, prepping his next mixtape Chapoveli and dropping off two new songs (which you can stream below), XXL caught up with the L.A. rhymer to talk about the ups and downs of his past year, his new projects in the works and why he's opening himself up to new and fresh collaborations. It's time. —Dan Rys

A$AP Yams

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XXL: What are you working on?
Aston Matthews: Right now, Chapoveli. My birthday's on Oct. 30, so I think I'm gonna drop it then. I'm about 80 percent done, I'm just being picky at this point with a couple more songs. I got about seven, eight solid joints that I could put it out now, but I want a couple more to give it that full 10 songs, maybe a skit or two in the middle.

How long have you been working on it?
Just the last year alone. It's starting to pick up now because I've been coming out here now and working with more people. This kid Velous, that's my bro. Last time I was here a month ago I locked in with him for like three days straight and knocked out three songs that were all so much better than what I was doing. So I had to weed out a lot of the music that I had, because I probably had 15, 17 joints and I had to chop that down 'cause it's at a new level. A level I feel like I need to maintain now. I have high expectations for my shit and I'm real picky. That's one thing. I'll hold on to music forever; I've held onto most of these songs for the past year. People are like, "Drop it, drop it," but I'm straight.

How do you know when you're done?
It's just a feeling; you just know. I just know it's not done, you know? It's like, boom boom boom, but then how do I fuse that gap in the middle? The substance, the storyline, the skits, all that. And that's the point that I'm at, just bridging the little gaps. 'Cause I have something for the outro, I have the intro and I have bangers in between. [Laughs] So I just gotta string it all together and make it make sense. 'Cause Chapoveli, I feel like it's my offering to rap. You know what I mean? The game, per se. It's more like questioning religion, where I'm at in life, different things like that. And I feel like I'm almost sacrificing myself for the music, in a sense.

Like getting deeper into your own mind?
Deeper into my own mind and deeper into myself as a person at this point in life. With all the shit that's been going on in the last year with Yams and all the shit in between it, I'm at a different stage in life. And this music is gonna reflect that.

I wanted to ask you about your past year, because it's been a little while since we've heard from you. What have been some of your highs and lows of the past 12 months?
I mean the low points, losing Yams, being out here for that. When I came out here to pitch myself for the XXL Freshman, that was when it happened. I was out here for that and the next day he was gone. I was here for that and all that and it was... It was just all weird. Being that's the homie, being that's the reason people even know who the fuck I am, he built me. And for me to be out here to see somebody get taken away like that I was like, "Fuck this shit." For a minute it just slowed down everything. After that shit I was like, "Fuck this shit, I don't even care." Like, why the fuck was I here to see this shit? The day before we was with him, turnt up like we always do. We're homies, that's what we do; smoke, drink, have a good time. And the next day it was like, What the fuck just happened? And being that he brought me into this shit I was like, I'm straight on this rap shit for a minute. I'm good.

It knocked you back a little bit?
It knocked me back a whole lot. I just stopped working. Got real depressed on that. But then I shook the cobwebs off, got that shit out the way.

How do you get yourself back up after something like that?
You just have to realize that that's what he would want. Before he passed we were chopping it up about music, like he wanted me to come back and really lock in with him and really get moving. I was like, "Man, whatever you want me to do, I'll do it." 'Cause me and him, we had a good relationship like that. I would do anything that dude asked me to do whenever, wherever, anytime he'd call me I'd go. I'd move fast. I'd do whatever. So just losing him after that, I just locked back in with a couple of my older friends that made music with me and started getting that feeling back. I was like, I can't hold onto this forever. I just made peace with it and that's what it was. Just gotta keep it pushing and keep the legacy going, 'cause that's what he would want. If he was here he would just want me to make the illest music possible. We'd just be working. Building, doing some whole other shit. So I just had to realize that.

He wouldn't have wanted you to just stop.
He wouldn't have wanted me to just let it go. He done brought me this far. 'Cause I feel like I'm at that point where it's just like, Okay, what are you gonna do now? 'Cause people know, You can rap. That's not a problem anymore, I feel like. People know you're a good rapper, but what's the next trick up your sleeve? How many more do you got? It can't just be one trick, you can rap, and that's it, 'cause that ain't good enough no more, especially with where rap's at right now. It's so wide open. The older generation is falling off, almost like, "Okay, what can you guys do?" It's like a wide open game with Drake and Kendrick at the forefront. They're all still young, and we can all connect to it in a way. Even Future, he's just killin' it. And we come from that so it's easy to connect to. But older artists, even the 50 Cent's and all that shit, it's like I can't connect to you no more. I respect it and I love the music, and I love to hear some dope shit; that new single was dope, I fuck with it. But at the same time I'm at a point where I want to connect with an artist and all the younger kids under us want to do the same thing and they're looking at us to provide that for them. It's the young generation's time to do their thing. You're gonna start seeing everybody just go for it.

Photo via Facebook

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What's the concept for Chapoveli?
Well you know, 'Pac did Makaveli, I'm a big Max B fan and he had the Biggaveli shit. And then my homie put me on to this book, that Machiavelli shit [The Prince] so I started dabbling in that. And everything was connecting to religion, and I was questioning my own faith throughout the year with everything that was going on with Yams and all these other things that was happening in my personal life. So then it just made sense. The wave and then 'Pac, that rough shit, fuse the two, I feel like that's me: the wave and the aggression. And then religion, that's my beliefs, and then questioning it is just my life. So that's why I say it's almost like my offering; in a religious sense it's almost like, "Here, this is what I have, it's all on the line, take my artistry for what it is." 'Cause I'm at a different place; it's not the same rap shit no more. It's aggressive but it's also progression at the same time. It's not the same Aston Matthews no more.

I mean, that's what you look for when you listen to music, for it to hit home. Not the sad story all the time, but to be able to relate to it, whether it's selling drugs or working at a supermarket and everything in between that. They just want to connect to something real. Something that they go through on the daily. And that was the main point for me.

In 2015 already you've had some great features on albums from Bodega Bamz and Vince Staples.
Yeah. I mean Vince, that's my bro, I've known him since he was a little kid, 14 years old. He was a youngster. And just to see him grow into the artist that he is now is fucking crazy. It motivated me, though. That's another thing that made me step back and be like, play time is over. It's over, it's o-v-a. 'Cause for him to come to me and he was a youngster and I watched him come up, then for him to pull me to the cut and be like, "Yo, you need to take your shit this way, too," you know? He came into the studio and played me his shit and I was just blown away. Blown away. I couldn't believe it, like, damn, where'd this come from? But he's definitely been an influence on me musically, just to step it up and move forward. But that was one of my highlights for the year. That's my bro, he's in the store, he's everywhere. And just to be a part of that, to have a verse on that song and have it be a dope joint like that, that was good enough for me. Just to be a part of something like that for the homie, with the homie, that was dope.

I went back to London, too. I did a show with Dash and Milk from Piff Gang. That was dope to just go back on my own, 'cause last time I was there I was with Rocky and them. So it was dope to go on my own shit. And for the crowd to be turnt up and the show to be how it was, it was still lit. It was still lit. That was another high point for the year; Vince's album and then going back to London.



Are you, Vince and Joey Fatts gonna put together a Cutthroat compilation at some point?
Maybe. Maybe, you know, we talk about it but right now Vince is gettin' it, super tough, he's really busy. Joey's doin' his thing and I'm just working. We're all in our own separate lanes and just working super hard. Vince set the fuckin' bar high, you know what I'm sayin'? He set that shit dumb high. So we're all just working to get there. When we all get there, for sure, that's not even a question. But we all gotta get there first.

So what are you looking at for the rest of the year?
Well, Chapoveli, definitely in October. Working on a couple things with Dash show-wise, me and Dash are trying to do a few things. And visually I'm trying to be there a lot more. I gotta be a lot more consistent. That's my main focus right now: stacking up good music so I can be consistent throughout the whole year. Not just at one time, 'cause that's what I do. I have a bad habit about doing that. I don't know why. This last year was rough, so I was away for that for a good couple months, focusing on getting over that shit. I wasn't out on the road or nothin' else; I couldn't escape it, I had to deal with it and think about it and accept it at the end of the day. And that took a long time. You know, you try to be strong and all that other shit, but at the end of the day when you're alone and you ain't got nobody else to depend on, you gotta think about that shit and you gotta deal with it yourself. But it makes you stronger as a person and better as a person. So that's what kind of held me up this year.

But moving forward, ain't no more inconsistency. Not anymore. I'm working with a lot more people that I wasn't working with before. I'm gonna step out of my comfort zone and start working with other people I haven't worked with yet. Like Mac Miller, I'm trying to really lock in with that dude. We've talked about it but he's so busy, but I fuck with him, he's dope as fuck. And he's cool, he's super cool. And me, I feel like I'm breaking out of my shell a little bit. 'Cause I felt like I was kinda like, "I'm not tryna get to know no one in rap, really." I'd met a lot of people and I deal with a lot of people but I wasn't tryna make relationships with a lot of them. The ones I did, like Rocky and them, I was cool with that. But I'm not really that type of person; I don't really care too much about making new friends. But now I'm actually listening to other people's music and want to meet with them and work. I don't really like emailing shit over.

There's a lack of chemistry that comes from those types of records.
Yeah. And it's not cool. What if you send something to somebody and they end up being a weirdo in real life? Like you totally don't fuck with them, they're a dick or something, you know what I mean? Nah, I'm good on that. I'll be damned if some bullshit was on my name because of somebody else. I would never let that happen, ever. But I'm at that point where I'm like, fuck it, I'll work with a few people. Vince, me and Vince is gonna do some more shit for sure. This year is just gonna be grinding, consistency, that's all I'm focusing on. This tape is just gonna be a warm up. I gotta do a little EP for the top of the year, too, maybe lock in with a producer, maybe even Velous. Me and him have real good chemistry. Like I said, we locked in for three days and it was just, boom boom boom, and it just popped. You don't get that too often, and we both knew it. We just fed off each other. We were there 'til 8 am every day. We slept in that studio, didn't end each day until 8 am.

FatBluhd

So a dedication to consistency and more and more music.
I definitely wanna be out in New York working and just being consistent all year long. 'Cause that's what I'm lacking, and I know that. I'ma be alright. The new music is definitely way better than anything I did. I'm more personal, so more people are gonna feel what I'm saying. The wrestling thing was cool, and as a kid I loved it. But just the fact that everybody's kinda doin' it turns me off of it, like on to the next thing. I feel like I was doing that five, seven years, even from practicing when I wasn't shit to my first tapes, I've been on that shit. So I just felt some type of way about that. I'll still, here and there, hit 'em with a few, because I know they love that shit. And they love when I do it. I know how to make that wrestling shit wavy. And that's one thing that Yams always told me, too, like, "You're weird as fuck even thinking about doing shit like that." [Laughs] I'm like, bro, don't lie to me, tell me you didn't love wrestling!

But I've grown up a lot and now it's time for everybody to see what's up and get that, "Okay, you're a real rapper." Not a gimmick, not a character; there's more than that. And I've been doing that, but all the wrestling shit kinda blurred everybody's vision a little bit. And now it's gonna be clear what I'm saying. I just feel like my lane is so wide open, as far as me being from the West Coast... There hasn't been anything like this since Cypress Hill. Cypress Hill took it one way, I feel like I'm the newer version taking it my way, establishing something new out there. And they need it, they want it. The shows I've been doing out in L.A. have been intense. I did a show with Bodega [Bamz] out there, probably like 500 damn people in this little-ass space, like some raw hip-hop shit. It was intense, bro. I was out of breath, I had to walk outside and put water on my face. Bro, it was insane. And just to see how the culture is looking now, this shit is crazy.

It does seem like it's ready for a new Latino wave.
It's ready, man, it's time, that time is coming. Kap G's doing his thing, Bodega doing his thing, I'ma do my thing on my side. Fuse the gap. And we all fuck with each other, so it's cool. It's like, damn. That's it. We'll probably all do a song together at some point. [Laughs] We might as well. We all homies, too. And I've met both of them and they're cool as fuck. So that's what I'm saying, just building relationships with these type of people, just good people in general, it's dope. And it's cool to see some other cool niggas doin' their thing in this game. 'Cause that's what it's about right now: having fun, who gives a fuck? That's where hip-hop is at right now. Who cares? Just have fun. Everybody's doing their thing; Vince, OG Maco, Vic, Lil Durk. I wanna do something so bad with Lil Durk, he's so dope. Super raw. But we just gotta go all out, be consistent and have fun this year.