Getting Under The Mask - A Conversation With Man of Met
Flowers By Force - Man of Met's latest project
“There’s not a whole lot about me," says Man of Met when I ask him what personal details I’m allowed to use in this profile. I know he’s from Massachusetts - he’s okay with me saying Plymouth, Massachusetts - and I know he wears a mask. I’ve been working on an album with him for months: arranging tracks, scouting features, creating a promo plan - but I’m just now realizing that I don’t even know his real name. When I bring it up, he says “Morris." I know Morris isn’t his name.
I suppose I do know something else about him - he can rap. And not just in a “check out this guy I know who raps” way. No, he’s a stronger artist than plenty of underground artists signed to labels right now. Clearly drawing influence from the wordier side of the genre (think Aesop Rock for flow and Oddisee for clarity of vision), he’s released three solo projects since last year, all of which feel vital in their own unique way. His latest, Flowers by Force, is, among other things, a concise and soulful exploration of his role in a failed relationship. It’s the type of tape that could easily crumble if it wasn’t in the hands of a meticulous craftsman. He’s constantly writing, working on a handful of upcoming projects that seem to grow in number every time I ask about them.
I catch him on one of his less hectic days for our interview. I know that the best way to get him talking is to ask about music.
From the time you became a rap fan to now, what has the genre lost?
Variety and regional representation. That's not to say that the landscape was perfect when I grew up, but I feel like there was still some semblance of regional identity in the programming of local stations. The first time I ever heard Akrobatik was on a local FM station, they had him freestyling over Jim Jones' "We Fly High." That had me super hype, knowing that there were guys right around where I was that could get on the air like that and show what they had. That's not something you see any more, at least in my experience.
I feel like the idea of someone freestyling over another artist's song is a foreign concept to a lot of younger listeners today.
Absolutely. I had a project similar to the old mixtapes that Juelz, Wayne, and those guys would do, but [I] scrapped it because it's an outmoded form of content. It also speaks to the change in interests in the audience. I wouldn't say "people don't care about the lyrics anymore," but when 90% of the people who get airplay flow the same, approach a beat the same way, etc., then fans aren't conditioned to consider rapping on that level. They don't think, "oh man I'd love to hear ABC rap on this XYZ song, because his style is so different than what XYZ does.” And that goes back to the variety thing.
You’re reluctant to say that people don’t care about lyrics anymore. What keeps you from subscribing to the oldhead mindset? Are the old heads wrong?
The typical old head stance is a bit of a forest/trees kind of thing, in my view. Of course I'm speaking in sweeping generalizations here, but I think people care about the content of lyrics on an artistic level now more than ever, while caring less about the creative or political angle of it than they may have in prior eras. Western culture is very much dictated by the markets, and once rap proved profitable and marketable for the mainstream arbiters of culture, it was deigned worthy of mainstream accolades. Rap could be celebrated as an art form in the same pantheon as other assimilated art forms, and rap projects and artists and labels could have the same kind of narratives built around their success, or ambitions, that similar art forms receive in order to better commodify them. A fantastic Jay Z record sells on its own, but a fantastic Jay Z record helmed by the “Grammy-nominated, modern-day poet Shawn Carter” can have prestige. It can become a moment for "CULTURE," not just rap culture, that everyone should participate in.
Rap now has its place in “high” culture.
And of course this platforming of rap as real art, and this mythologizing, means academics and snobs and so on have a reason to wax poetic on why certain records have endured, why they connect, etc. The end result is not a bad thing, even if the impetus wasn't entirely pure. So now… people are more accepting of the idea that a rap song can be nuanced, that it can be saying things it isn't directly saying, that the presentation of one statement can actually be a covert acknowledgement of something completely different from the artist's point of view. The kind of interpretations and ambiguity we granted to older or more respected forms of art are now more widely afforded to rap, which in turn has led to a deeper degree of general appreciation of rap lyrics as expression, from a wider audience, than the art form ever enjoyed before.
And this changes the music itself, as well.
[Yes, because] rap is no longer the outsider, a specific kind of response to the monolith of all-encompassing Western "CULTURE," psychology and its effects on material conditions. Once something can be easily marketed and easily commodified, it can be easily homogenized. The market places importance on immediate impact, immediate response, not how something is digested, how something is interpreted or dissected based on structure/approach. The current system encourages people to appreciate the music as art after it's already accepted and normalized, and justify it as unique expression after the consumption has already taken place. As much as old heads can complain that everyone on the radio sounds the same, raps the same, etc. and be correct on a technical level, all these radio artists are still individuals. So in an environment where every piece one of these radio artists make is (rightfully) treated as a unique piece of expression regardless of the circumstances behind it being made or platformed, the lack of "skill" or variety in direct messaging doesn't really matter.
We’ve probably lost over half our audience now, so let’s talk about you. I want to get the obvious out of the way: why the mask in 2021?
It's less specifically about a "mask" as costuming; it's more about not platforming what I look like [and] who I am, because [that’s] not something I feel is really conducive to what I want to achieve. I mean, it's not particularly hard to find out what I look like or who I am - I'm not very secretive about it. I'm just not really looking for a spotlight for myself, as much as I'm looking for the chance to spotlight my craft [and] my ideas as a means [of] achieving my goals. At this point I'm a nobody, so my face is irrelevant to the discussion of what I put out. I'll stop hiding my face once it becomes untenable, or [when] showing it becomes helpful for what I need to get done. But for now, it's irrelevant.
And for my next trick, I will completely disrespect that nuanced answer. Who are you? What aspects of your lived experience inform your art, to the point where they would be worth knowing?
Alright, to backtrack on my previous answer a bit, I'll clarify that I meant more about not spotlighting who I am in a literal sense, like full name, appearance, social security number, etc. I'd honestly have to say there isn't a whole lot of my personal experiences, unique to who I am, that consciously inform my approach to the music. I do try and be as honest as possible in the way I write, and I stand by every sentiment in my lyrics. There isn't a whole lot interesting about me that hasn't been touched on in my music, though it's definitely a work in progress. As confident as I am in my work and my abilities, obviously continuing the process helps refine it. While there are less personal ideas and experiences I hope to speak on through my work, creating this kind of stuff inevitably leads to you being [more] in tune with yourself, and the better you know yourself, the better you're able to express and explore those wrinkles. So it's a work in progress, and you'll all get more of those answers as I find them along the way.
With that being said, what drove you to put out music at all? A while back, you told me that you had been recording for years before you actually released anything.
It was the lockdown. The lockdown and a good friend of mine referring me to an engineer he knew, Jesse Wilkins, with whom I've recorded all of my releases up to this point. It was the combination of not having work as an excuse to procrastinate, and actually having a place where I could record and get stuff down, that made me finally consider getting the ball rolling. I had recorded off and on for years, doing verses and stuff at random friends' houses for projects that never materialized, or one-off events, but [I] never had the time or resources at my disposal to really make a go at it. And of course, as is the case with basically anything in life, it took me starting the endeavor to realize that actually starting was possibly the biggest hurdle to the whole thing. Once you start, the whole thing is a lot less daunting. I always intended to eventually start recording and putting stuff out, but not having the time, money or resources to make it happen made it easy to put it off. The lockdown took a lot of those issues out of the equation.
And since then you’ve been fairly prolific - three releases so far in the last year and a half, unless I’m missing anything. What can you say about the catalog you’re building up and what you hope to do with it going forward? Has releasing at this pace impacted the way you feel towards your work?
Three solo projects with some features here and there, yeah. I've been trying to frontload the less ambitious stuff while I find my footing and audience. Obviously I stand by what I've done, I'm proud of it, but I also like to think I'm improving with each release, and showing a bit more of what I can do. Honestly, I had originally planned to have a major release each month of the year, but there were some medical and financial pitfalls that kept that plan from coming to fruition. I hope to build up enough of a catalog that, if anybody were to hear one song of mine out in the wild, I have enough material out there for them to check out and hopefully see what I'm about and get interested in seeing what I do next. It's a narrow tightrope to navigate, trying to maintain the kind of release schedule that's necessary to build an audience from scratch, while also not burning yourself out creatively. I'm hoping to better strike that balance in the next year.