Bells & Whistles, Vol. 15: An interview with Matt Ox’s mom

Last weekend, I visited Walden Pond. It is a fairly unremarkable body of water in Concord, MA, made famous by Henry David Thoreau, who was so enamored by the beauty he saw in it that he wrote a whole book about it. Kind of the original influencer if you think about it. This week we’ve got an interview with Matt Ox’s mom, an extended look into Millan’s Bookshelf and some good ol’ song picks. Hit the Patreon if you’re rocking with it. Good time to join, we’re taking patron submissions for the Raw Thoughts column next week. – Mano

Art by Srikar Poruri.

Mano: Last week, I posted a grainy clip of Matt Ox dancing before the fame that went viral. This was before he touched a mic, when he was DB Matt, part of the Philly dance crew Dollar Boyz, best known for popularizing a style called tangin. In early interviews after “Overwhelming,” Matt would talk about this side of himself. I always held onto this lore, but it seems to have been scrubbed from the internet’s collective memory—until now.

The reaction to this clip suggests some deep fascination with Matt Ox. For one, how many lives has this guy led? Has he been some level of famous his entire life? How the hell did this happen? Is he really our generation’s Paul Wall? To get the inside scoop, I went straight to the source: Matt Ox’s mom, Laurel.

Mano: How did Matt join Dollar Boyz?

Matt Ox’s Mom: He just joined it from his friends in the neighborhood, really. I used to work at the rec center. He used to hang at the rec, hang on the block, stuff like that. Dollar Boyz was like, really heavy in my neighborhood, because some of the dads that ran it, their kids lived in Lawncrest where we lived. So it was just a part of our culture in our neighborhood. So he joined it. I want to say he was, like, nine years old. 

Wow. Can you talk more about the impact of Dollar Boyz on your city during that time?

So Dollar Boyz was a group—I want to say it was more for pre-adolescent kids. Basically, they would just get together and do those dances, but there was so much more behind it. They’d remix songs, there’s that element to it, and then they’d get the kids together and dance. They’re also getting the footage of it. 

[Matt] was looking at what they were doing everywhere, and then he would start making his own videos. The videos that you posted, they were [filmed] out front of my house on the block, probably with someone’s phone or a little recorder. 

Dollar Boyz is what planted Matt’s seed into rapping. A lot of the Dollar Boyz started to transition to rapping. They were just a group of creative kids. I used to drive them down to whatever rooms they would rent out and they would have Dollar Boyz parties.

As a parent, how did it feel seeing Matt and his friends blowing up at such a young age?

It was cool! For Matt, he was always creative growing up, but the programs that were around him, the means of socialization, were all athletic based. So to find something that was more creative…and also, they were literally on the streets—Matt needs that little bit of grunge, he hates a polished team. So I was so excited to see Matt find this specific culture in our city, literally outside of our door, and really thrive in it.

I was wondering if you could explain what’s going on in this photo right here:

This was his 10th birthday party, and this was at the rec center that I worked at. These guys were Matt’s friends. They would hang on the block together, hang at the rec together, hang at the park. We took one room in the building and had Matt’s birthday party there. He wanted a Dollar Boy birthday. We just got food and cake, and then literally had a Dollar Boy party—played the music, they danced.

How does Matt feel about this part of his life nowadays?

He feels proud of it. That’s who he is. He knows it’s part of the culture. Now all that club music’s coming back. He’s never embarrassed of anything he used to do because Matt’s always genuine. He don’t ever try to be someone he’s not. 

One last question: Who’s your favorite rapper you’ve interacted with besides your son?

Can I tell you who makes me laugh the most?

Perfect.

Tony Shhnow.

Thank you Mama Ox! Matt Ox’s new album Oxygen with Surf Gang is out now.


A new challenger approaching: Psychi

Millan: If you’re on this right now, you are extremely early. Psychi, who I can find no information on, is the next iteration of that throat-croaking King Krule/Corbin-pioneered grunge-fusion. All I know about this guy is that he’s white, produces his own songs, and writes with a detached despondency that likely stems from Kurt Cobain idolization. Oh, and he loves LSD, which, aesthetically at least, remains cool in my mind. 

He has three short EPs out right now, and the bones are there. Sometimes the drums don’t hit, other times the lyrics are empty, but the foundation is clearly a good one. I’m excited to see what he builds on it.

Mano: Definitely early. I do not enjoy a lot of this, he wears his influences on his sleeve way too much. I’m most intrigued by “SHRETTR,” where he folds Sosa-isms into grunge. Can hear the beginnings of some good/funny songwriting too: “I love LSD more than I love my bitches.” I need to know what TikTok this dude in his comments was talking about:

ITGIRL – “HelmutLang”

Millan: ITGIRL is self-assuredly goofy: she may weightlift baby goats and flaunt her bold green hair, but the rapping ability is all serious. Her flow is exciting, versatile, technically sound and creative–just listen to that alliteration in the first verse. Lots of times music video antics take away from a song, or are more interesting than the music itself, but her visuals and personality just add to the already good sounds. 

Mano: The GOATS! This almost feels like Lancey Foux, especially with how peppery and precise that first verse is, but I don’t really like Lancey Foux and I like this a lot? Maybe it’s because she’s having fun and not taking herself too seriously.

xaviersobased & AyooLii – “Pop Trunk”

Mano: Here’s your weekly dose of handclaps and dance moves. Xaviersobased and AyooLii have been tinkering at the fringes of the Milwaukee sound for a minute, occasionally joining forces. AyooLii does insane shit like this, and Xavier conjures a cool, digital murkiness informed by his New York/internet scene.

This collab is all fog, a heavenly drift of sighs and smiles. It’s still got the form and flavor of Milwaukee music, but the punch-ins don’t punch, they percolate, and Evilgiane’s drums feel like a meditation exercise. Shoutout to Noah Busalacchi for matching the vibe with slick and shadowy visuals.

Millan’s Bookshelf: 

Alec Niedenthal – “Sex in Venice” [2023]

Here is a story that gives me genuine hope for literature. Nowadays when I look into the current “cool kid” lit-world, I mainly find self-absorbed telltales from Ivory Tower mags or Dimes Square aristocrats. And maybe this is still that: but it’s good. Alec’s writing feels direct and grounded, delicate, too. There seems to be a clear purpose, an underlying reason for writing this that surpasses a mere urge to “make art.” 

“Sex in Venice” shares a similar theme as his story “The Patriotic Hat,” which appeared in Drift. He writes of a detached middle-aged couple trying to hide from their incessant pains. Though the setting is Venice, Italy, accents of Trumpian gloom are clearly present. My favorite segments are how he paints the politics of hand holding, how the cobra within man does not merely bite, and that universal longing to just be seen and heard. 

Nik Cohn Triksta: Life and Death and New Orleans Rap [2005]

Nik Cohn, who helped pioneer music journalism as literature, who covered the rock and roll explosion from its early aughts in London, who wrote the New York Mag story that would later help birth the disco aesthetic by becoming the premise of hit-film Saturday Night Fever, is an old, racist, Irish man who has Hepatitis C. He is aware of this, and in Triksta, makes it known from the start. He begins the novel by walking through the Iberville projects in downtown New Orleans (same housing project that Rob49 grew up in), detailing how innately terrified he is of Black people. Yet he moves to New Orleans, an almost entirely Black city, and inserts himself in its booming Bounce scene as “the writer from New York who has industry connections.” 

Cohn is a great writer. And while at first I was extremely skeptical of this whole thing, because it seemed like exploitive opportunism on his end, by the end I was thoroughly moved. His love for New Orleans and this music is real. He dedicated years to the city and lost thousands of dollars in the process. This is a book centered on music and it wrestles with ego and legacy and oncoming death and the purpose of it all. His imagery buttons up nothing, especially when describing himself–he knows exactly how sickly and preposterous he is. Just imagine Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys with an Irish accent sitting in the studio with Choppa, the city’s hottest rising rapper at the time, trying to give him notes on his verses. It goes how you think it would. 

Triksta also doubles as a living artifact on New Orleans rap. Cohn details the impact that the death of Soulja Slim had on the city, the rise and fall of Take Fo’ Records, dives into Master P’s burnished reputation, and much more. If you can get past how outdated and not-PC it is, I’d recommend it. 

Meaghan Garvey’s Amtrak Expedition

Keep tabs on this. She’s ridin that midnight train and writing like the wind. 

Discuss: