Needle Drop: Flex Mathews, Hi, I’m Flex Mathews

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”Ralph Ellison

Hi, I’m Flex Mathews is part elegy, part magical realism, and part tale of survival in Washington, DC. In the city with a rapidly shifting demographic, the local emcee flexes some lyrical muscle countering the new cultural norms in the land of taxation without representation.

On his debut album, Flex assembles his verses like a supply chain worker on caffeine. In the track “We Mean BizNess,” the lyricist volleys some tactical wordplay against those of the rap ensemble FAR EXP. Together like stonemasons, the words stick with mortar, solidified along a myriad of colorful jazz breaks, rambunctious scratching effects, and urban sound effects.

But on the real, there’s no sugarcoating some of the subject matter on this album. “A Place Called Memories” is a downtempo piece where his point of view is not unlike the existential narrator from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. In many respects, the storyline in “Memories” invokes Flex’s lamentations of being a stranger in his own native environment. In one particular bar, this feeling is evident as Flex speaks of his musical compatriots as the “great unknowns,” young griots in DC holding their wicks against an all-powerful market-rate typhoon.

In tandem with the unpredictable social trends of the city, Flex’s album features other notable tracks such as “Free Man” and “Make A Living.” “Free Man,” is a day-in-the-life tale of a nine-to-fiver stuck in the paradoxical world of getting by on a meager salary. “Make A Living” and “Just Gunnen” tell tales of the hustle at-large in Washington, DC.

While there is a degree of poignancy to the album, the overall tone has little emotional residue—Mathews’ machine-gun delivery keeps the spirits up. Some tracks on Flex Mathews are love letters to the archetypal women in his life (such as “Erika” and “Virtuous Woman”). Of course on several tracks and skits, Flex pays tribute to his grandmother which says a lot about the young man himself. Like his playful rhymes, Flex’s boyish charm and personality are elicited from one track to the next.

Hi, I’m Flex Mathews was recorded in a basement apartment in the District. Under the auspices and crafty production of Richard Patterson, aka the UnOwn, Flex Mathews’ natural oratory skills find a match with the former’s catchy samples and short dialogue-driven interludes. These sketches seem inspired by Flex’s zany social media writing, always emphasized with his favorite hashtag, #SaysFlex.

Flex Mathews is vital part of hip-hop culture in the mid-Atlantic—a regular emcee at the Eighteenth Street Lounge, you might see him slinging high-energy freestyle collaborations with the likes of Fort Knox Five, See-I, and the other members of Congo Sanchez (besides himself). Coming from the days of “The Handsome Grandson” maxi-single to an age where he’s a solid brand name attached to Kosha Dillz’s imprint, Rapper Friends, Mathews continues to root himself as a fixture among the players of this rich underground music scene. Ultimately, Hi, I’m Flex Mathews is a solid debut.

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