Yesterday, many of us learned of the sudden and tragic passing of Matthew Africa. Matthew was, amongst other accomplishments, a great DJ, a revered music connoisseur, and a terrific, insightful writer. And, as anyone who was fortunate enough to have spent any amount of time with him will tell you, an even better person – funny, beyond generous with his knowledge and support, and above everything really, truly the humblest dude around. Which is why making sense of this terrible news has been so tough for so many of us – especially folks out in the Bay Area, where Matthew was so beloved within the hip-hop, DJ-ing, and record collecting communities.
It was via the latter that I met Matthew some years back (via the Soulstrut message board, though I’d previously known of him through our mutual friend, Oliver Wang, his colleague from Cal-Berkeley KALX days). Our paths would cross electronically over the years – a record swap here, a message board post there. When he began doing his blog, “I Wish You Would” (the title from a Jocelyn Brown R&B classic) it was revelatory – a chance to regularly glean knowledge, and great music, from one of the deepest guys in the game. His words were always thoughtful and studied, yet totally laid back – a lot like the guy himself, I learned, when we finally met in person. Matthew didn’t just share what he knew, he shared props (a show of civility frankly rare within the world of dysfunctional record people). He understood that his knowledge wasn’t some kind of cache of credibility chips you kept in your corner. You learned from others. They learned from you. We all learned together. Once in a while I’d be super geeked to read some unsolicited positive feedback from him on his blog about a mix I’d done, and think, damn, I must be doing something right – Matt Africa likes this.
Matthew was basically a de facto contributor to this site before he even did us the honor of hosting a “Blogz” page under his name. He was always crazy prolific, churning out so many great mixes and podcasts (entitled “2 Busy Sayin Yeah” from an old N.W.A line) from such a wide swathe of genres that we’d have been foolish not to post as many of them as we could. Yeah, sure, he knew all the purist stuff – hip-hop, soul, funk etc. But the great thing was he wasn’t so jaded that he confined himself to that. He was, in a lot of ways, exactly the kind of person we were trying to reach – smart, informed, funny, weaned on a classic hip-hop foundation, but still open-minded and intrigued by what sounds lay ahead tomorrow. Which is why it was always so encouraging whenever he dropped a line saying he liked what we were up to. His other podcast with pal and verbal sparring partner Serge Dun, “Stay Hatin’,” became a favorite around here not only for the chance to check out new regional raps we were too disconnected from to track down ourselves, but to be privy to the enthusiasm he embodied. For someone like myself who loved the endless, crazed debates of sports-talk radio, “Stay Hatin’” was great. The passion in the chatter was palpable, and it was funny as hell – Serge the opinionated loose cannon, Matthew the veteran radio guy sneakily hilarious with his dry quips, deftly integrating fellow host, Soft Money, and guests like Noz.
I’d always looked forward to Matthew contributing more to ETL in the future. A few weeks ago he emailed me saying he wanted to write something for us on the closing of Big City Records (being an OG employee of SF’s famed Groove Merchant, he was feeling the loss of the shop even 3000 miles away). Crap. I told him I’d actually beaten him to the punch and written something up that morning, but the more the merrier – he should still do it. Hell, I wanted to read that piece from him. Like so many things it just sort of fell by the way side. Now, crazily, instead of him eulogizing the shop, I am writing this.
In 2009, I had the pleasure of DJ-ing with Matthew at my steady gig in NYC. As expected, he rocked it. And I listened and learned as he played a set encompassing everything from Crash Crew’s “High Powered Rap” to Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Taste of Bitter Love” to, of course, Kells. The last song of his set was the Trinikas’ mournful soul gem, “Remember Me.” We do, and will. Thank you, Matthew Africa, for all the positive energy you brought to so many.
Here are a few links where you can read and learn more about Matthew.
For Matthew Africa.
Stories and memories of Matthew Africa by Oliver Wang.
Rest In Peace, Matthew Africa.
Michael Barnes remembers Matthew and some of the great music he put him up on.
Soulstrut Remembers Matthew Africa.
Members of the Soulstrut community pay their respects.
I Wish You Would.
Matthew's essential music blog.
2 Busy Sayin Yeah / Matthew Africa.
Matthew's Podomatic page, which features too many classic mixes to name off individually. All with accompanying words from the man himself.