With the Water Wave collective behind him, Mati rises as a vibrant new voice in Minneapolis hip-hop

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Mati, seen in silhouette against blue-lit background.
Mati. (Beau Brooks, courtesy the artist)

I first met Mati in 17th Avenue Residence Hall on the campus of the University of Minnesota. Although he was a high school senior at the time, he gallivanted through the halls with the confidence and charisma of a star athlete. That night, and many other nights we've spent together, I laughed harder than I ever had before. Mati has natural charisma and a talent for eliciting emotions and reactions out of people. These days, he's combining that talent with his new pursuit of making music.

Mati's music video for "Back to the Basics" shows him cruising confidently through the streets of his hometown: Minneapolis. He shares the story of finding himself with a sense of zeal that might have you thinking he's a veteran, but at 21 years old, Mati says that he's a newcomer to the music scene. "I started about eight months ago as a hobby, almost like therapy," Mati confessed. "I was going through things just like everybody else and I was trying to find a way to cope with it."

Mati cites rappers like Rod Wave and Lil Durk as influences on his melodic, emotional music; music that he believes people will see themselves in and serve as help through the hardships of life. It took time for Mati to find himself musically, but today he says he's all in. "I started really taking this seriously four months ago," Mati said. "When I say seriously, I mean that I'm not really worried about where this is gonna take me. I realized the happiness it was bringing me to make music. It just became like an addiction almost, wanting to get in the studio all the time."

One of the greatest barriers young artists face is finding a decent recording space that is consistently available. Countless nascent careers have been prematurely terminated due to poor sound quality. How many demo tapes have been thrown away because of staticky, unclear sound that obscures the artist's intention? The "lo-fi" label can only take you so far. A clean, cohesive, professional sound that people want to hear is only possible in the right environment and with the right people. Lucky for Mati, he has that and more in Water Wave.

Water Wave is a local collective that seems to have their hands in everything: a buzzing thrift shop and recording studio in Minneapolis's Como neighborhood, gaming, YouTube vlogs, podcasts, and most significantly, music journalism. Founded in 2018 by Eric Geisthardt, Jr., Kelvin Kuria, and Reese Leraux, Water Wave was always meant to be a platform for new and upcoming Minnesota hip-hop artists.

"The idea behind it was mainly to start with our guys and just have a platform where we're doing videos of them making music, interviews, and party life," Geisthardt said. "Basically, just trying to paint the picture of these artists so that they have an actual image. Then we started reaching out to other artists and interviewing them to get their stories out there and help their brand grow."

One of the first few artists that Water Wave interviewed in 2018 was Weegie, a close friend of Mati's. Mati came with Weegie to his interview and got to know Eric and Kelvin, bonding more throughout the summer at a show at UW River Falls and even more when Eric and Kelvin moved to Minneapolis. Mati credits Water Wave with helping him get his start in music.

"I got to see a lot of music behind the scenes," Mati explained. "I would play around with music every now and then because I had somewhere to record available to me. But it was mainly just for fun...I wasn't very good at the time, but I just kept going. I was there from pretty early on to see these guys grow. They've helped me out a lot in my journey."

The relationship between Water Wave and Mati is symbiotic, with co-founder Kelvin Kuria speaking praise upon Mati's role in the collective. "Mati adds a lot," Kuria affirmed. "Away from the music side, he's been a very strong networking connection. He's still a student at the U and a lot of the people that he's made friends with and done classes with have ended up learning about Water Wave and becoming part of our everyday mission to make things better out here."

A lot of things come to mind when thinking of Minneapolis: lakes, a gigantic spoon holding a cherry that has water spraying out of it for some reason, passive-aggressive behaviors, etc. Hip-hop, however, has not been one of the things closely associated with the city in recent years. The "everyday mission" that Kuria referred to is establish Minneapolis as one of the foremost cities in hip-hop today and to serve as a beacon and resource for Minnesota hip-hop artists.

"We want to put that spotlight on Minneapolis that we don't have," Kuria said. "There's places like Chicago, Atlanta, L.A., New York... Those are all huge staples; places in the music scene that everyone knows... But there are also these places like Tennessee and Detroit, whose rap scenes are going crazy right now. Minneapolis can be that next spotlight. That next new rap scene that everyone really likes. I just feel like there's not really a center, a place that is putting that spotlight right on Minnesota. I feel like we can be that with Water Wave."

Geisthardt further explained the intentions behind Water Wave. "We want to be the hub that people can go to and find other Minneapolis rappers," he said. "They can go to this channel and know we've been interviewing Minnesota rappers for years and have it be a domino effect. This guy goes big and then their next recommended video is this rapper's music video or concert recap. As long as people start doing better, it trickles down and everyone grows together."

Mati and the Water Wave collective are doing the work to create a community for hip-hop artists in Minnesota and a platform that can springboard local artists. Without Water Wave, Mati is sure that he wouldn't have begun his music career. "I don't think I would have started making music if I if I wasn't involved with Water Wave," Mati said. "It's kind of like a family vibe, you know? I just don't see anybody else as far as our generation doing what Water Wave is doing. There are obviously other more established things, like The Current and a couple others that I'm probably forgetting, but as far as the youth, I don't see anybody else doing what Water Wave is doing. I'm definitely proud to be a part of it."

With his melodic and emotional tracks, Mati hopes to connect with people through music and create a memorable experience that connects him to his audience. His most recent release, "Good Riddance," does just that. Pensive chords, reflective lyrics, and a killer sample of "Heaven is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle make it easy to see where he's coming from.

"I was just talking about pain I went through at a certain time," Mati said. "I was able to put it into words on the track." The struggle in creating music for music's sake while also releasing it commercially is finding a balance in expectations of how the song performs. Mati feels that pain, but for him it's about more than views.

"I feel like the song is a little slept-on right now," Mati said. "It's not about the views or anything like that. But sometimes as an artist when you put out something that's emotional like that you really want people to hear it. Because you understand that it could help them through something."

Creating anything opens the possibility of facing a creative block: a rut where nothing feels good, and a change is needed. Mati has been there, too. "I have over 150 songs unreleased. Only four songs are up on streaming. As an artist, most of the songs you make are not going to be good songs. I don't care who you are, that's just how life is. That's just how music is. Whether it's writer's block or just your voice, you might just be in a slump where you're not satisfied, and you can make a good song."

The feeling is discouraging for Mati, but he presses on and uses his love for music as a North Star to guide himself through the rough patches. "I love music so much and I respect music so much to the point where I'm gonna give it my all," Mati said. "Some weeks are not going to be good. I need to go to and have real life experiences to make music. Otherwise, I'm just going to be talking about the same things. I don't really like to make music if I have nothing to talk about."

Although I've known Mati personally for some time now, I've gotten to know a new side of him through his music. A more emotional and introspective version of him that deepens my appreciation for all the other facets of his personality. Toward the end of our conversation, I asked Mati what was important to him in life, to which he replied, "Family." Beyond blood family, he noted close friends and partners as those important to him.

"I want everybody to be good and I want to be able to provide for everybody," Mati said firmly. "I'm very protective of the ones I love and who's in my circle. I don't like people steering off in the wrong direction and stuff like that. I'm really quick to put myself in somebody's business because I love them." Mati counts Water Wave in this family as well but knows he won't have to look out for them going in the wrong direction. "Honestly, I don't know anybody more motivated than those guys. And that's helped me become even more motivated."


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