At the age of 18, Lakewood rapper Aston Matthews was barely a legal adult. Yet, it was at this age that his life was forcibly set on the course he is now on.
An otherwise normal night out partying, the kind of evening that for Matthews at worst usually ended in him passing out from too much liquor, resulted instead with a bullet wound only half an inch away from the main valves of his heart.
At the time, Aston (real name Matt Lopez) was living a life largely influenced by his work in the streets. An active gang member when he was shot, Matthews was literally less than an inch away from having his life taken from him. The moment he was shot though, everything began to change for the better.
"One of my friends was a rapper, and I was cool with him," Matthews says. "After I got shot, he just basically came to me and said I should change my life around from gang-banging and doing dumb shit to making music about stories that I've been through. That's basically how the rap shit started."
Before the shooting and before he began his career as a rapper, Aston had a life he describes as normal. He was raised primarily in Lakewood, but spent time in Los Angeles, Carson, and Hawaiian Gardens. Alhough his affiliation as a Blood might have had others cast him as a criminal, he spent much of his formative years playing sports. While he was also involved in less than legal activity, he was always competing in some way.
The sports he played included varsity football, which helped structure his life. But the attraction and temptation of street life remained, and that lure resulted in him getting shot. Ultimately, this may have been one of the best things to happen to Matthews, as it led to his rap career. He profile is rising steadily and he has received respect and co-signs from some of the best in the business including TDE/Black Hippy member Schoolboy Q, Detroit rapper Danny Brown and Harlem superstar A$AP Rocky.
"After being shot, I just started rapping," he says. "I just started practicing day in, day out, every single day for like two years straight, not doing anything else but learning how to rap."
Even before he began rapping, hip-hop was the only art form Aston connected to. In school he sold burned copies of albums by 50 Cent and Dipset. He spent hours sifting through file-sharing service Kazaa and BET Uncut searching for sounds, and through his cousin -- who he describes as a "real Hip-Hop head" -- was exposed to less mainstream styles of hip-hop. From Jay-Z and Eminem to Lil Wayne and G-Unit, he absorbed it all.
"Everyone's connected in the hip-hop world, so one thing led to another and pretty soon I was listening to everybody."
When he began to rap himself, he studied the flow and musical patterns of Eminem, ultimately combining all of his influences and his own personality to come up with an individual style. At first, things were rough.
"It was really difficult. To be honest, I really sucked bad. It was really just like anything else, you practice so much you're going to eventually get good at it. That comes with anything, I feel It really took two full years of nonstop rapping, writing and recording. Every day I was writing at least one song, but not putting anything out. It was really hard at first though."
In time, Aston and his friends started to notice his growing talent, and soon enough he was completing Versace Ragz and NOFVCKSGIVEN, the first two mixtapes that caught the attention of a wider listener base. Besides just the usual internet-hype, industry folks including L.A.'s Evidence and Alchemist and New York's Action Bronson and the A$AP mob took notice.
Now, with two successful mixtapes under his belt, a spot on A$AP Ferg's massive debut Trap Lord, and several upcoming shows, Aston Matthews is planning the release of his biggest work to date, the Aston 3:16 mixtape.
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"Aston 3:16 is me in a tape. It's my most complete work, and my best work. The next one will be a real album because I'll probably sell it. I feel like this one's going to set me up to be able to do so. I'm just going to go in and make a statement, and whatever happens from that happens."
At this point, Aston Matthews appears to be on the verge of real hip hop success, and might just become the first Lakewood rapper at the forefront of the genre. For now though, his mind is focused on making music. His work ethic is militant.
"I just don't want to fuck up," he laughs. "Nobody really puts pressure on me, I just put it on myself because there's a lot of people out there depending on me. I just feel the need to provide for people out there that are like me and connect to me, that have been through what I've been through, or just like what I do."