CHANDLER, The Unexpected Rapper

by | Jun 22, 2023 | HIP HOP & RAP, MUSIC

Chandler Matkins? He’s a laid-back dude, funny as hell, but you look at him with that fiery red beard and bald head, and you’re like, “A rising rap star? Nah!” Him being a comedian? Absolutely, no doubt about it. Him playing drums for a Southern roots rock band? Yeah, that totally fits. But a rapper? I mean, really? But maybe that is what’s so entertaining about it — his unexpected rise in Richmond’s rap scene is genuinely fun to watch. His rap clips mix banging beats, smart lyrics with a bit of comedic flair — and apparently, it’s a winning combo for today’s music fans, with a TikTok sitting pretty at 350K+ followers worldwide.

In our chat, Chandler spills the beans on his twisty-turny career path — from Hampton to Richmond, out to Brooklyn, and back to Richmond and how, the same folks who made him a hit online are turning up to see him rock the stage at his live gigs.

Chandler Matkins RVA Mag interview, photo by Emma Matkins
Photo by Emma Matkins @emmamatkins

I’m here with Chandler Matkins, and we’re gonna do an interview for the mag. So Chandler needs a question. Who are you and what do you do?

I am a rapper mostly these days. But at the end of the day, it all stems from acting and comedy. I was a show choir kid, that’s where it all started from the performing side of things,

But I grew up in an area where music was very prevalent, in the 757. There’s a wealth of musicians from there, and it’s just ingrained in that place, I guess. So, growing up down there, music played a big role in my life. And then my Avenue to the stage was being made to go to a magnet school in the fourth grade for literary arts. Then I had to be in show choir. 

You’re like a theater kid that loved hip-hop. Like, secretly rapping in your room. 

Yeah, I mean, that’s really what it was. I just started reciting other people’s raps. My family, especially when I was a little kid, listened to a lot of country music, and there was a group called Big & Rich. And Big & Rich had this guy that ran with them, his name was Cowboy Troy. He did what he called hick-hop and I learned all of the words to every part of his shit in their songs, and then in his own music. I started reciting that, and that turned into a pipeline of going outside of that genre and actually starting to listen to rap music that wasn’t the subgenre of something else.

And coming from that area, I mean The Neptunes were blowing up, you know, Missy had her day, and Timbaland– there’s a whole lineage of rappers from the 757. 

Yeah, I mean, that’s just what people listened to on the bus. Those were the people that my parents talked about, that’s who were talked about on the news. Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Pharrell, Pusha T, Clipse, all these people. It was just always there. And I guess I latched on to that from a very early age.

Then you were in Holy Roller, no?

I was never in Holy Roller, I was in Big Mama Shakes.

That’s what it is, Big Mama Shakes, I’m sorry. Did you play an instrument in that?

Yeah, I played drums. That band goes back and then back again, it’s gone through many variations. But yes, I rapped all throughout my childhood and then stopped publicly around 18 years old.

Did something happen?

Big Mama Shakes. 

Okay. I didn’t know if you got into a big rap battle and had to step away.

<Laughs> Yeah, I got dunked on. No, I wanted to put all my eggs in that basket because I really believed in the music that we were making. So probably six months into being in that band, I stopped doing my solo music publicly and then I focused on that for five years.

And comedy was somewhere in there too, right?

Yeah, I went to school for theater, which is actually part of what brought the band to Richmond in a more real way, it was me being here and having a direct line to VCU and the students. And that, of course, really helped to build a foundation for a fan base, because when students play in bands and house shows and all that, especially pre-COVID, that was such a huge scene. 

But, like I said, I was a show choir kid. I went from show choir to band, band to theater– I did a little bit of everything until eventually in high school, I really started doing theater as my main extracurricular. So, I decided to go to school for that, because I didn’t really have any actual technical musical abilities. I can’t read sheet music or anything like that. I don’t know any terminology. 

So you were just drumming off feel?

Yeah, I just learned to play by ear. And it worked for that kind of music because it was jam-bandy. They would hate to hear me say that, but it was, at first at least. I ended up going to school for theater and I had always looked older than everybody else. I’m a big guy, so they see the fat, bearded, 20-year-old and they say, “Oh, he’s gonna play the 50-year-old comic relief.” 

Gotcha, I haven’t had that experience. But you’ve had a beard since you were four.

I mean, it was early. <Laughs> If you look at my prom pictures, where I’m barely 17, I have a chin strap. But, yeah, that turned into really honing in on comedy. I started a sketch group with two friends in 2016, and then I did sketch comedy for years, through when I went to New York.

It’s interesting, you touch on a couple of points there. Understanding how to grow a fan base is one. And then through your experiences in theater and comedy and being in a band, I guess that’s where you learn stage presence. Then theater teaches you how to put together a media cohesive show. At what point while you’re doing comedy did you decide to come back to rapping and take that seriously?

It was really the pandemic, honestly. Whenever I would do a bunch of things at one time, I’d always feel stretched too thin. I felt like my returns were very diminished. Ever since I left high school, I always would try to hone in on one thing more than everything else. Though I never stopped rapping, it was always the most prevalent type of music that I listened to in my playlists. I never stopped writing, which was why I was so easily able to come back to it.

But the pandemic gave you time?

Yeah. And when I went to New York, I honed in on theater. I left Big Mama Shakes, and they turned into Holy Roller and I focused on my acting career because I wanted to give that the college try. Then when the pandemic happened and theater went under, I was like, “Well, this is the perfect opportunity.” I went back to rapping and it was funny because tons of people that met me in my adult life were like, “You rap?” And I was like, “Do I rap? That was the first thing I did.” To me, rapping always felt like the most true version of me as an artist.

Chandler Matkins RVA Mag interview, photo by Emma Matkins
Photo by Emma Matkins @emmamatkins

I think that people judge superficially. You being in Big Mama Shakes, you know, you’re the guy on the drums, you got a red beard– that all makes sense. So then, when people find out you rap, it’s like, “Do you really rap?

It’s funny because people always ask me, “Well, how did you end up in Big Mama Shakes?” The people in that band, they were just friends of mine at the time. I didn’t listen to Americana music, I just played drums, you know? When people saw me in a Stetson hat and a jean jacket, they think, “Oh, that’s who he is.” No, I just played drums in an Americana band. That was not who I was as a person. 

@chandlermatkins

PUT THIS IN YOUR PLAYLIST 😈⁉️

♬ BAD COMPANY – Chandler

That’s interesting. During the pandemic, a lot of artists or musicians went into video, and for you, Tik Tok has been very successful. Did you just start putting out snippets and bars through Tik Tok? 

As soon as the pandemic hit, I bought a new mic, a stand, and all this stuff. And I was like, “Alright, perfect opportunity. Let me go back to this.” I didn’t put out my first song as Chandler until January 2021. And then I went probably 10 months, where I felt like I was just throwing these songs out into the ether. I was on Tik Tok, but I was not promoting my music. I wasn’t even really tuned in to the fact that that’s what people were using it for yet.

It wasn’t really common knowledge that people had that goal with it. It felt very similar to Vine, where people were just throwing shit at the wall and seeing what stuck. I had gone viral for dancing, political commentary, and some other random videos that I was making really more for fun. And then came October ‘21, so I’m around 10 months into putting music out again publicly and the duet feature on Tik Tok had become very popular. My entire For You Page was these producers that started just putting up beats and saying, “Duet this!” or “Rap Challenge, best one gets 100 bucks.” Blah, blah, blah, all these things. But I started doing them all the time. 

One night, I saw one around midnight, and I looked through my notepad and found some rhymes that fit, filmed it in 10 minutes, went to sleep, woke up, and it had a million hits. Then over the next couple of days, it had millions more hits, it landed somewhere between four and five. That’s when everything changed. People started reaching out to me trying to give me so much unsolicited advice. It was like. “You have no idea what you’ve just fallen into, and you have to maximize this moment and take advantage of it.” So that’s when I combined the two worlds and I have, on average, put out at least one piece of content, if not two, on Tik Tok every day for almost three years now.

It’s interesting to find a fan base out of nowhere, and then it takes you on this unexpected career path that’s become a big part of your daily life. You recently had a show, which I thought was great, at the Camel. Did you feel like your numbers on Tik Tok and social media translated? It felt like people knew some of your songs at the show.

The way I think about it is if one person at every show comes up to me and says, “I found you on Tik Tok and I came out,” that’s crazy. That’s mind-blowing to me that it works that way. At that show in particular, over the course of the night, I had probably 10 people that I didn’t know introduce themselves to me and say that they were from Tik Tok.

Yeah, I heard them rapping with you, it was cool because you don’t have an EP out or anything, right?

No, and it’s all very strategic. A lot of people are very confused by the way I promote my music, but everything that I do is very calculated. I figured out the things that work for me, and I don’t think that they’re necessarily universal, but if anybody, especially rappers, asks me, “What’s the best rollout strategy if I want to maximize Tik Tok?” I’m gonna tell them to put the song out before they ever start promoting it.

Make sure that the song is out and that you have somewhere to send people to. The biggest mistake I made was doing that duet video and having 4 million views in a week and it taking me two weeks to put that song on streaming. It had completely lost its momentum by the time it was up on streaming. So it didn’t transfer, it wasn’t super lucrative or anything. But as far as turning an online fan base into an in-person one, it’s extremely difficult and taxing because everything is “discovery-based.” It’s not location-based. My For You Page will show me artists that I’ll get obsessed with in Australia that I’ll probably never see live because they’ll never come over here. 

So yeah, there are 300,000 people here liking all this stuff, but they’re spread out all over the world. It’s amazing, I mean, I wouldn’t change it for anything, it’s so cool to have that big digital footprint. A lot of people with a following are like, “Well, I’m not even gonna perform live.” But that’s why I do this, that’s why I got into all of it. I love to be on stage. If I can get 100 people to come out to a show, of those hundreds of thousands, it’s more than worth it to me.

It’s not the way that it’s done in Richmond very often. The Richmond paradigm in terms of working bands and artists, they just grind and they build up their Instagram or their Tik Tok slowly. I’m not aware of anybody having any kind of viral music in the city, and the city doesn’t have a real professional pipeline for someone to get signed. The way it worked was you played shows, you had the A&R people come to see the shows, and they would take you through the label system. 

I think your story is interesting, it’s a new way. Hopefully, more people will read this and check your stuff out, and then also possibly think about marketing a little harder. Now that you’re here, where are you going with it? 

I am going to try to turn this online fan base into a real in-person one. That obviously starts with where I live, which is here. I miss the experience that you’re talking about, the grind, and all of that. I feel like a lot of people look at this as a shortcut or a loophole, but at the same time, I did that– I did the grinding for years and years and years. I did it and there are other people that are still out there working in that band, reaping the benefits of all of that work that we did. 

Chandler Matkins RVA Mag interview, photo by Emma Matkins
Photo by Emma Matkins @emmamatkins

It does happen every so often here in Richmond, like with Lucy Dacus, Natalie Prass, and Matthew White, but a lot of artists just grind, and then kind of hope that these other parts fall into place. The way you’re talking about it seems more proactive.

I commend everybody out there that’s doing it the other way, and I am so appreciative that I did that method as well because it taught me discipline. Those are the most disciplined artists, the ones that are out there sleeping in vans on the road, working day in and day out. Their life is consumed by it. And I feel like I’m doing a similar thing as far as time commitment goes, it’s not that we’re both not working just as hard as the other one, right? It’s extremely taxing to make content every single day of your life. 

Absolutely.

But, as far as where I’m going, I just want to start seeing it turn into real people standing in front of me. I want to see where I can take it, what I can turn it into, and I’m just gonna keep doing what I’ve been doing to a certain degree. I don’t necessarily think that I’m gonna cut an album anytime soon. 

I personally always get concerned over like, “Well, if I made 10 songs that I think are great, and I put them on a record and people are listening to it as an album, it looks like less content on the streaming platforms. And what if they get three songs in and then they skip all the other ones?” If I put out a song every month, I spend that month having a brand new song to push and make new content for. I could always continue to make content for every song on the album, but I prefer to break it up.

I think that’s really smart. And just at the show, I saw you had enough songs for an album there, you know?

Yeah. I think I have 27 songs on streaming.

So it doesn’t seem like you really need an album.

Yeah, and I don’t that my style of storytelling and rapping necessarily lends itself to an album. I think that I’m a product of doing ciphers and showcases in Hampton and the 757 when I was a kid, and it was bars for bars, which I say in songs all the time. So I think that I’m doing what works for the kind of music that I’m making, and that is showing in the traction. I’m gonna trust that and be appreciative of that and keep working in that direction until I get a big slap in the face to do otherwise.

Chandler Matkins RVA Mag interview, photo by Emma Matkins
Lunch $pecial and Chandler, photo by Emma Matkins @emmamatkins

I thought you had a really good rapport with Lunch $pecial. You guys are killing it, are there any more future collabs with you guys? ed. note: We did a short writeup on Lunch $pecial a few weeks back HERE.

Yeah, he’s one of my best friends. 

He was kind of a wild dude. He could be the lead rapper, but then he could also be Flavor Flav. 

He’s very dynamic. 

Yeah, that’s the word for it. 

Lunch $pecial is a dynamic performer, and he’s dynamic in the studio. We have two songs out together right now and we do have a clip full of songs in the works. He’s one of my best friends and I have all intentions of, you know, taking him with me on this journey.

Do you have any shoutouts or want to say anything else? Or did I forget something?

I put out music every month. I’m on everything @ChandlerMatkins, and I have shows planned for the summer in Virginia, DC, and New York. So yeah, just follow me and keep your eyes on the ticket.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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