Pressures, Perceptions and Praise
Photo courtesy of Matt Andujo
Bass thuds from the walls of the arena as the crowd anticipates the next performer.
In a clean-pressed T-shirt, fitted jeans and sneakers the performer takes on his persona, hidden behind a tall bass speaker. Tattooed arms stretch, embracing the hype of the concert that tingles through his body as he bounces up and down.
He’s made it to the stage, butterflies bumble in his stomach, he thinks of all the things that could go wrong.
The announcer turns to the performer, “What’s your name?”
“Matt Andujo,” the performer responds.
The crowd gets a glimpse of the next performer and raises their hands to the sky. “Andujo, Andujo, Andujo,” they chant until it reverberates through his sense of anticipation.
The performance takes off.
Matt Andujo, an ASU history senior, went from battle rapping in front of the local liquor store in Whittier, Calif. to performing in Hollywood and Phoenix for big-name notables in the underground hip-hop scene.
Andujo’s hyper-fast speed and wit have made a name for himself as ASU’s resident rapper.
His eminent exposure began in the summer of 2011, when he performed before Juicy J from Three 6 Mafia at Club Red in Tempe. He won a competition among Arizona’s rappers in June titled “Step to the Mic,” which earned him the show at Club Red.
After Andujo’s Juicy J performance on July 14, he was an opening performer the following Saturday at The Roxy Theater in Hollywood for Slum Village.
The shows continued, with a performance resume spanning from Wale (the first mainstream artist for whom Andujo opened) to Kid Ink.
“Before you know it, you’re driving around Tempe and we hear the car next to us playing one of my songs, it’s like kind of weird you know,” Andujo says.
At the Key Club in Hollywood, when Andujo was an opener for Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly, he got acquainted with another native of Cleveland — Drew Carey.
“So I had no idea who he was, and we walked off the stage, and I just see an older guy like ‘hey guy come here,’” Andujo says.
Andujo walked up to the man in VIP, not recognizing him as “The Price is Right” host. Afterward, when Machine Gun Kelly invited Carey to the stage — it clicked — Andujo had just met someone famous.
“Holy shit, that was the guy who shook our hand,” Andujo says as he recalls the event.
At first, music for Andujo was a stress reliever, a form of therapy. Then it evolved into a connection with his audience through his stories and emotions.
“That’s how I started with music,” Andujo says. “It was more of an expression of what I was doing at the time, its kind of like a therapy to me and it’s just, people really like that.”
Back home in Whittier, or “the 562” as Andujo refers to it, he would freestyle battle rap at Venice beach competitions, which evolved into the freestyle raps he slung at ASU parties.
Those same parties are now how he unwinds from the stressful life of school and the music industry.
Andujo now has six music videos and his debut mixtape, “Parking Lot Dreamin’,”on his resume.
His confidence and presence as an Arizona rapper has drawn numerous promoters to him over the past year and a half. In his most recent live show (he is currently focusing on the completion of his second mixtape), he opened for Tyga, a rapper from the infamous YMCMB rap team.
What If I
In mid-September, after 16 missed calls, Andujo answered his phone to his manager on the other line. He had been hiking, unaware of the exciting news that awaited him.
“I got a show for you. It’s Tyga. It’s in two weeks,” said James Theut, Andujo’s manager and confidant.
“Oh that’s cool,” Andujo responded. “Lets do it.”
The relationship between Andujo and Theut as manager and artist was at first unexpected. In 2009, they were both freshman trying to make as many friends as possible in a foreign place — college.
“I met James at Whataburger,” Andujo says. “Yeah,” they say in unison, as they reminisce on their first meeting.
It was 3 a.m.; Matt was pledging for his fraternity and saw James eating by himself, so he asked if he wanted to join him and his friends. A month later, the pair lived across from each other in the Theta Chi house, scheming musical mischief.
Theut is a stocky, blonde and well-groomed white guy who wears well-kept, slightly unbuttoned polos. He defies the typical appearance of a hip-hop manager, which at first made Andujo skeptical. But Theut’s knowledge of hip-hop surprises even Andujo.
“He’ll text me at least 10 times a day, ‘Oh did you hear Kanye West is dropping this new single this week?’ and I am just like ‘Oh shit, like I didn’t even know that,’” Andujo says.
Theut is not only Andujo’s manager, but also his best friend, despite the admonitions of people who say that mixing business with friends is a bad idea.
Andujo’s response: “We have everything under contract and everything. We’re good.”
A manager must consider studio time and a venue performance fees as some of the many aspects when working with a musician. Even though being a manager is not as lucrative as other business careers, Theut remains passionate about music and determined to succeed.
“I don’t care if I’m making an eighth of what I make or could make some day doing something else. If I love music and it makes me happy, then I’m going to keep doing it,” Theut says.
Before, Andujo says he didn’t know any business direction and he needed someone to push him. James became his catalyst.
“It was easier for me to have somebody who was calling studios for me, and kind of giving me that extra push to actually get in and progress toward making an actual mixtape, which is a lot more work than people think,” Andujo says.
Living Our Dreams
Before meeting Theut, Andujo says he never really rapped unless he was drunk at a party. However, his family members always surrounded him with a wide variety of music, such as jazz and R&B, which left some influence in his life.
He started to produce his own music after he listened to Dr. Dre’s “2001,” which inspired him to save money for an MPC, (a beat processing machine). Andujo has since evolved into the role of lyricist and performer.
He went from rapping in his spare time, to rapping in the studio every day.
His choice to develop his music career occurred when people other than his friends commended his abilities. Producers and engineers would walk into his set asking “Wow, who is this kid?,” Andujo says. That was when he realized, “’Well, maybe I do have some talent at this.’”
He describes music as an emotional rollercoaster — from its ups when doing shows with big hip-hop heads — to its downs when struggling with writer’s block, or wasting time and money.
“When I came out here (to Tempe), I met people who were like ‘you know you need to get in the studio and actually do this 100 percent, full time.”
Andujo started college at 16 years old through Rio Hondo College’s dual enrollment program in the Whittier Union High School District. When it was time to pursue a BA, the deadline for schools in California had passed and they didn’t accept spring transfers so the choice was between ASU or University of Oregon, Andujo says. “The first thing I did was type in Arizona State in YouTube and a pool party popped up and I was like ‘alright, we’re gonna go to ASU then, I guess,’” he says.
Andujo started as a junior at ASU in 2009, but had to take a year off school for multiple surgeries on his left knee after a Theta Chi fraternity tackle football game. Andujo will graduate in December and hopes to pursue business school.
Music was a passion of Andujo’s, but never an option as a career path until he came to ASU. He enjoyed the more intimate experience of creating behind-the-scenes and not performing in front of strangers.
But Andujo has struggled with the balance of school and working as a full-time musician.
“School’s expensive and we’re trying to finish, but I have dropped classes because I’ve been in the studio and I’ve had a test that’s due at midnight but I have to finish a track,” Andujo says.
While he wants to find a place in the corporate world, he says he will still do music heavily.
His goal is a production deal to get free studio time and instrumentals. His current studio is The Saltmine Studio Oasis, with a clientele that ranges from DMX and Lil Wayne to Sheryl Crow and the Jonas Brothers. But Andujo does not plan to sign a permanent contract with any studio because he ultimately wants to do music for free.
In the end, he is ready to “ride the wave” as long as possible.
“Without coming here music wouldn’t even be in the picture right now. School, I mean everything, it’s been a blessing really that I chose to come to Arizona State,” Andujo says.
Stand The Rain
At first, Andujo would base his music on what the audience liked to hear, he says, but he has since started to make music for himself.
“Once you make music for yourself, people are going to love it, because if you capture that passion, that emotion, they’re going to love it,” James Theut says.
Andujo’s following flourishes, but he advises that it wasn’t quite that easy.
Andujo recommends any burgeoning musician to have a fallback. There’s talent out there, but the music industry is just so harsh, he says.
“It’s all about the right team and a fallback otherwise you’re going to be jobless, selling your mixtape on Mill Ave,” Andujo says. “It’s rough, but that’s how it is.”
At first when an artist hasn’t built a name, no one will call for bookings unless they have a fanbase.
“There’s a lot of calls that are never going to get returned, a lot of emails that are going to bounce back to you,” Andujo says.
Aspiring performers should develop a show resume with a solid variety of performances, to increase an artist’s audience.
“You have to build your name,” Andujo says.
When Andujo started his musical career, he drew 20 people to his performances, now Andujo and Theut say they can draw 300 to 400 to a show.
Andujo now boasts the title of rapper — his music has become business.
“The goal is to make music that people enjoy, and that I enjoy making,” Andujo says
Back in Whittier, Andujo says he didn’t think his parents would support his music at first because they were such a “textbook, shove it in your face, go to college kind of family.”
His close-knit Hispanic family was always working, his mom a principal and dad a businessman.
Andujo was shy in high school so when he first started to make music, his friends were like, “What the hell, like that’s Matt Andujo, no way,” he says.
His mother was surprised when his college friends told her of his talent for rapping; but when she saw him perform, he earned her support, Andujo says.
In the music business, it’s never clear whether popularity will last, Andujo says. But with his mother’s encouragement, he can pursue music in every avenue possible through writing, rapping and producing — and it’s worth the fight.
“Don’t do something unless you love it,” were Theut’s father’s words of advice.
The Kid Ink concert at Club Red in Tempe received an out-of-control fan response — lips moving in response to the lyrics, hands in the air, roars of excitement as he finished his set, Andujo says. That night his music video “What If I” stretched to 100,000 views on YouTube.
“They were hanging off every word he said,” Theut says.
Photo courtesy of Matt Andujo
Andujo shouts out his hometown often during his live performances, an action which he refers to this as a “typical rapper thing.” But he notes the importance of appreciating hometown supporters who spread his music and his name.
“I’d rather have a handful of fans that are die-hard and really support my music than a bunch of fans who could care less what happens to me tomorrow,” Andujo says.
His down-to-earth personality and good music have maintained his fanbase, Andujo says.
“I think he’s learning how to perform more,” says Mike Theut, a computer science sophomore, Theut’s brother and Andujo’s fraternity brother. “I can’t go up there and bare his soul (for him).”
His next mixtape, “All That Matters” is about the importance of music and finding happiness in life.
“Now that I have a fanbase I can go back to the real hip-hop that I like,” Andujo says.
“Parkin Lot Dreamin”, his first mixtape was about racy desires for money, booze and girls. But in his most recent music, songs from “All That Matters” delve into the emotionally evocative stories about dying in a gang shooting in “Gun Down” and moving on in “Mirage.”
He has overcome the stereotypes of frat rap artist and Pittbull-esque Mexican rapper; he has woven a story for his audience with his introspective rap lines.
“You can just tell he just scraped the surface. Music is becoming a part of him,” Theut says.
Emotions drive Andujo’s lyricism, every event is an opportunity to write. It’s necessary to write lyrics that don’t have a common theme or direction to grow as an artist, Andujo says.
“At the end of the day, it’s about being happy and content with what you’re doing, And no matter what you do, to do it 110 percent,” Andujo says.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @katiemeakem
*every subhead is the title of an Andujo song