“Like clouds in a sky/ Some men do cry/ Just look in my eyes,” alternative-R&B singer Mateo sings on his self-penned single “Human.” The “urban-mod” singer-songwriter, who happens to be in touch—and rhythmically in tune—with his more sensitive half, is the exotic new face of MySpace Records. Originally discovered by his manager (and former MTV VJ alum) Quddus Philippe, after placing “Human” on his label’s social networking site, Mateo, a former business consultant, has paid his dues and then some over the past three years. From writing music for UPN’s “Eve” sitcom to performing songs off his five-part cinematic mixtape series, Underneath the Sky, in L.A. showrooms, the piano-touting newcomer is at last unveiling an intimate introductory course to the masses with his EP, Get to Know Me: Live at Swing House.
But first the Morehouse College graduate will get to know some of his fans when he touches down at various club gigs across the country. With a palpable nervous energy and the cheery-eyed excitement of someone on the cusp of stardom, Mateo sits down with Rap-Up.com on a steamy New York afternoon to talk about the celebrity that made his heart flutter, persuading Lauryn Hill to come back, and his least favorite trends.
1. You got your first big break on MySpace and now you’re officially signed to MySpace Records. Do you have a Facebook page?
I do have a Facebook page. I go on it all the time. Honestly, the thing about it is, you gotta go where the people are. So I still get mad people on MySpace that I talk to, and that’s one crowd, but then you got your Facebook crowd. So I have to do both.
2. What’s the weirdest thing that happened to you this summer?
I wouldn’t say weird, but it’s kind of cool. It hit me by surprise. I was at the Roxy, which is a venue in L.A., and I was there to see ZoÃ« Kravitz perform. So I’m there with Quddus Philippe, and he’s like I want to introduce you to someone real quick. He said it really casual, so I didn’t think anything of it. He waved me over and I walked over to the booth and you could see the shadow of a woman. But I [didn’t] know who it was and so she reaches her hand out, and she’s shaking my hand and I’m like, “Yeah, wassup.” Then she leans in and it’s Alicia Keys! I don’t get starstruck, but in that moment my heart was beating. I felt like sweat was pouring down my face, and I’m thinking in my mind, “Please don’t mess this up, please don’t mess this up.” I didn’t know how big of a fan I was until that moment. She was cool as hell.
3. Lauryn Hill is listed as one of your biggest influences. If you had 60 seconds to convince her to come back and record another album, what would you say?
“How much? What do you want? What do I need to do? Just come back, yo.” She’s one of my top five inspirations. I miss her so much! I even stole one of her back-up singer’s for my shows. Well, I didn’t steal her. I was like, “Oh, you sang back-up for Lauryn? Hey, come over here!”
4. Name your best and worst trends this year.
I happen not to be a fan of the extremely, extremely skintight jeans for guys. Skinny jeans are cool, but when they are skintight, I just can’t get down with that. I need something comfortable. I think UGGs have already passed, but it makes me think that the girls’ feet probably smell and they are probably sweating like crazy, especially when they wear it in the summertime. I think the best [trend] is everything Marc Jacobs is doing.
5. Where were you when you heard that Michael Jackson had passed?
I was in the studio and it was amazing because as soon as I got the text that he was in the ambulance, the entire session shut down. To this day, I really feel like it was the day that music stood still. The whole world stood still, but specifically music. No one was doing anything. We just sat there. There were some producers that I didn’t really know very well, so usually you’re still trying to do the music thing, but we just stopped and watched CNN. After an hour, we found out that he had passed. We couldn’t even make any music. The producer was just like, “Do you want to do this tomorrow?” And I was like, “Yeah man, I can’t even focus.” It’s the kind of thing where you don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it. He was a true legend that we lost, and we kind of knew it, but we kind of forgot it.
6. What do you find yourself daydreaming about the most?
Packing out an arena like Coldplay. I love Coldplay. I like a whole bunch of artists. I went to the Kanye West “Glow in the Dark” tour, which was amazing, but sometimes when I see a Coldplay show and I see the crowd singing at the top of their lungs, it’s amazing. That’s what I find myself daydreaming about—that feeling where you can be playing a song, and you actually stop singing, and you hear everyone else singing as loud as whatever.
7. What’s the craziest text someone has ever sent you?
It said, “I am now working for an adult toys online company and I want you to know that there are some really good products that you can share with your girlfriend.” This is a random text from a girl I know, who started working for an adult toys company. She was going through the list of items [they sold] in the text message! Some of my homies just had to tell her like, “Yo, you can’t be sending all these graphic texts.” This [interview] is G-rated, so I can’t even talk about it.
8. Since the recession began, many people are now working in industries they would never have worked in before. What’s the one job you’d never consider doing?
I would never consider being an air traffic controller. They look like they’re just too hot or too cold. [They seem] really, really hot out there [on] the pavement. They can’t hear anything because it’s so loud and then in the winter time, it’s just cold. Don’t you just feel bad for them?
9. If you could change a physical attribute about yourself, what would it be?
I would say my ears. I feel like they stick out. [Pulls back his scully to reveal ears] Don’t they stick out? It’s funny because when I was younger, they were even bigger, but I grew into it. But they still kind of stick out.
10. Finish this phrase: 2009 was ______, 2010 will be ______.
2009 was the foundation. 2010 will be the launch pad.
Mateo’s EP Get to Know Me: Live at Swing House featuring the title track is available now on iTunes.