When much focus is often spent on New Jersey’s neighbour, it’s easy to miss some gems from the ‘Garden State’. However it was difficult for us to ignore Angelo Mota’s upbeat production and intriguing lyrics.
Still in his early twenties, the producer/MC released his debut album House of Diamonds last year, rapping earnestly about his experience with mental health over infectiously catchy beats. This year he has released several singles and last week he dropped ‘Internet’ (below). We caught up with Angelo Mota to talk influences, the Internet and future plans…
MusicMap: Hi Angelo, how are you? What have you been up to lately?
Angelo Mota: Hi! I’m good. I just finished up working on my next album. Took me a while, but I’m glad to finally be done. And I’ve just been making songs and relaxing.
You wrote and produced most of the songs on House of Diamonds. When did you start making your own music?
I started writing music, I would say, around 14 or 15, but I’ve been playing music since I was little in school and stuff. So they had me playing drums. I just liked hittin’ shit at first, so I would hit the drums a lot and then I fucked with it. I got into music theory and probably started producing for myself around age 17 or 18 even, because I started rapping around 14 or 15. It’s a complex answer for me, but I’d say around 18 or 19 I started writing my own shit, producing my own shit, singing my own shit.
On House of Diamonds you openly talk about your struggles with depression. Many artists use their creativity as a therapeutic outlet, did you find it helpful to write about what you were tackling personally?
Ya! I felt like it helped me get a lot out that I needed to, cause I’m not the best at really talking about my shit. So I think that being able to write about it and make a song about it really helped me on a personal level, as well as helping other people to go through whatever they are going through.
I think it’s incredibly brave to speak out, especially within the genre of ‘hip-hop’ where many subjects like mental health are still considered taboo. Have you had many people reaching out to you after hearing your music? I can imagine it being really valuable for young people who might be going through similar things.
Ya and I really like those messages too. You know, those messages come in every once in awhile and it’s a kid, who may be going through something terrible or maybe not something so terrible, but either way he felt a connection with my music that helped him get through it, or helped her get through it, or whoever. That’s probably more rewarding to me than anything because that’s why I do this – to help other people not feel their shit.
There seems to be quite a few different genres on the album with gospel, soul and even dance influences at times. What kinds of music did you listen to while growing up? Is it very different to the music you listen to now?
I listened to everything growing up because my parents weren’t really locked into one genre. Except I have to say I don’t really listen to much folk, country, or bluegrass. But ya, I listen to hip-hop, R&B, classic rock, regular rock (I went through a phase where I was listening to hardcore bands for like probably a year). My dad got me exposed to hip-hop and my mom got me exposed to a bunch of different shit. So she was listening to Thievery Corporation, or she was listening to something like De La Soul – you know, her taste had a wide range. I fell in love with hip-hop on my own more and more as time went on. More recently I’ve been listening to a lot of different shit and a lot of different sounds because I like to incorporate it into whatever I make.
How does being from New Jersey affect your music. Was there much of a local scene when you started making music?
When I started making music, I’m sure there was a scene, but I wasn’t aware of it just because I was younger you know and all I knew was my town and where I was at. Then when I turned 15 or 16 I would go out and there were shows in Montclair and shows in Newark. When I turned 18 I linked up with Wam and he kind of introduced me to the scene, which is super deep here. You can throw shows all the time and there’s a lot of dope artists. I think being from New Jersey makes you want to go harder because everybody rapped really well and it’s kind of a requirement to get any kind of love at your show — you have to go hard. So that’s how Jersey influences me, but soundwise, not really.
I recently watched the video for ‘Eve’. It’s beautiful and there’s something quite striking about it. Obviously the imagery of guns and police is prevalent with what’s happening in the US at the moment. Do you think it’s important for creators to use their platform to discuss these issues? How are you feeling about everything happening in the States?
I think that musicians and artists have played an important role in talking about shit and making it known. Almost, speaking for people when they can’t — speaking for underrepresented communities when they can’t. Obviously what’s going on in the United States right now, I don’t fuck with. But I think musicians talking about this stuff is very important because it helps push the conversation forward and hopefully find a solution for it. Or it could hopefully inspire someone else to find a solution for it, whatever the situation might be.
Over here in Europe we’re waiting patiently for you to come and play some shows! Have you thought much about the live aspect yet and how your songs will work in that kind of environment? Is there anywhere in particular you’d really like to perform?
Ya! If we’re talking about Europe, I want to be over there. I’ve never really been around Europe. So I think it would be cool to perform there. But as far as the live aspect, I make my music so that anyone can enjoy it. I don’t think the environment will affect my show, as long as people are coming out to have fun – like I’m about to give them a good show!
Your new single ‘Internet’ talks about converting online success into ‘real life’ success. How much do you think the Internet has changed the music industry? What are the main challenges for artists nowadays?
As far as the internet changing the music industry, it’s now more a necessity than supplementary. Like you have to have an online presence because it’s become more of a foundation rather than something that’s an added plus. I think it’s changed the landscape for how artists get on and I thinks it’s helpful because a lot of the times, in order for your record to blow up through the regular channels, I think it was a little more sketchier. Because now people can express themselves more freely, you get a lot more raw art too.
I think the benefits of the internet have actually outweighed the cons, but if we are going to talk about the challenges of the internet, one of the biggest cons is that there is just so much now – there’s so much music and there’s no way to possibly weed it all out. The biggest challenge for artists is that there is too much music, so you have to set yourself apart even more, which I think is good. It helps you become an individual – you individualize yourself – and you come up that way. Then you’re known for being you, while before you were known for being your music and your persona. With the internet, people really get a look into who you really are and it helps people connect with you more. So it’s a challenge, but I think it’s a good challenge.
You’ve already got an album and several singles under your belt – not bad for a 22 year old! What do you have planned for 2018?
2018 I’m going to have a new album out, which I’m very excited about. I’m also going to put out some new singles.
In 2018 I want to try and get a better idea of who I am, because last year and this year I kind of got a good feel for who I wanted to be, where I wanted to go with my music, and the sound I wanted to get. But I think now I have to go even deeper than that and figure out on a personal level who I am. I think with releasing this album and these singles, it’s going to help me.
And also I want to turn up, maybe go to Europe, do some shows, you know, I want to have fun! Survive this fucking presidency — that’s a goal lol.
Finally Angelo, what is your favourite album of all time?
That’s a hard question, but I can give you two that I think are sonically very good and I enjoy and I base this on if I’m skipping any songs. So I would say Daniel Caesar’s album Praise Break and Frank Ocean’s album Blonde would probably be my favorites right now and of all time because I remember when I was listening to them it got a reaction out of me, which I don’t usually get from a lot of things.
Good luck with everything & thanks!
Interview by Roxy Shah.