With his new album due out later this year, Matt Citron is feeling defiant. Boldly titled Who the F*ck is Matt Citron, the LP is a giant extended middle finger to anyone, both inside the music industry and out in the streets, that doubts his talent and drive. Indeed, the record’s first offering, “Blackout,” is a blistering three minutes that sees the rapper taking savage aim at his detractors and haters. “This is not the fucking YMCA pick-up game,” he says bluntly about his motivations to create the track. “I was tired of people treating us like we weren’t really talented.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with the Atlanta native and, oddly enough, his father, Tod Citron, who shared details of the family’s musical legacy, a history which extends to the glory days of New York City jazz in the 1950s and the 1960s. While the burgeoning emcee spoke about his frustrations with the music industry and the need to vent his pain and anger on his new LP, his father spoke of Matt’s grandfather, Michael Citron, an accomplished saxophonist who played with Janis Joplin and Tito Puente before succumbing to drugs and being tragically murdered in 1979. It’s a story that serves as both inspiration and a dire warning, allowing Matt to to dig deeper in his pursuit of music. “My family does have some very polarizing characters,” he says. “I think Michael Citron is the most metaphorically important to my journey.”
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Do you have a musical family?
Tod Citron: My father was a jazz saxophonist. Even as a young person, he already had an interest in being a jazz player. He played a lot of clubs in New York City. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, it was a time, of course, where jazz was fading down and rock ‘n’ roll was taking over. He wrote a lot of music; he loved to play in a jazz band. He got caught up in that lifestyle. He would be out in clubs until 3 a.m., [and] there was a lot of partying.
Who are some of the names he played with?
TC: My father played with Tito Puente, who is a legend, an icon. He played with the Newport Youth Band. In his late teens, he was one of their musicians. In 1966, we were in California for a short period of time. My parents were separated. My mom took me out at five-years-old. My father was hanging out with members from Big Brother and the Holding Company, which was Janis Joplin’s band. I remember driving around in a ragtop convertible Cadillac with their drummer, Dave Getz. My father was hanging out with them. There’s some rumor he had a fling with Janis and she had a thing for saxophone players.
Can you speak on his passing?
TC: My father had some involvement with mafia folks. He was making a living selling drugs. My understanding is that he got behind on some debts. They were never caught. I was a freshman in college. The last time I ever spoke to my father, I was nineteen and it was winter break, December 23rd, 1979. I went to school at Oswego State, in Rockland County, forty minutes from New York City. I walked into the apartment and the phone rang. I picked it up and it was him. He wanted to get together over winter break. He was killed on Christmas. I didn’t find out about it until my birthday, which was January 9th. They killed him in his apartment.
How about your grandfather, Moses?
TC: Moses Citron would be Matt’s great-grandfather. He was a businessman, and was a business partner at one point of Meyer Lansky. Moses invested $121,000 with Lansky in some sort of business. Moses’ daughter, who was my grandfather’s sister, Anna Citron—she was Meyer Lansky first wife. They had three kids together.
Matt, what are your thoughts on your grandfather?
Matt Citron: I view Michael Citron as kind of a greater power and greater force around me. It really helped me with my melodies and freestyles—they resemble the patterns of a saxophone. I definitely feel his energy helping guide me. I truly believe that his energy is helping me. When I’m around certain harder drugs, he’s right behind me saying, “Don’t you fucking think about it!” I feel like I’ve heard so many unbelievable stories about him growing up. I view what he went through and what he was capable of as motivation because, yeah, I have this greatness in my blood but don’t for a second think that you’re above falling victim from flirting with them. My family does have some very polarizing characters. I think Michael Citron is the most metaphorically important to my journey.
How much support did you have from your family when you started?
MC: When I first started off with the music stuff, my dad was a little hesitant to support me. My dad had seen his father lose his life and lose his mind—become a heroin addict as my dad was growing up. It wasn’t that he didn’t support, he just had seen the dark side.
Why has it taken so long to put out new music?
MC: I was working with a very political major label dynamic that really had nothing to do with me. It was politics between the major I was on, the sub-label I was on, and a lot of people were doing some re-positioning. The last project I put out, it did good numbers, I was proud, but it wasn’t something that was going to make everybody drop their head and turn my way. If you want to get what you need, you have to be your own advocate. I think the thing that really motivated me was my family going through shit. My personal life, there was so much fucking crazy helter-skelter shit. I have a lot of very dramatic people in my life as well. When dramatic situations come into play, everybody gets really bugged out in my family, my friends, my collaborators. Maybe I’m attracted to it. I have to do this shit for my family. I have to do it for my friends and family. I’ll tell people time and time again: I’m not Matt Citron. I’m Matt. Matt Citron is who I am in the music industry, Matt is who I am to my friends. No one does this themselves unless they woke up in a vacuum.
What was your thought process during the recording of this album?
MC: I truly, wholeheartedly believe I have to get it. I switched into full-blown power mode. Kind of like a runaway locomotive. As I was going, it was some of the most unbelievable workflow. I was in the studio almost every single day. It was a big getaway for me. It was a really big escape for painfully real shit going on in my life. It helped release a lot of really powerful emotions into those moments. You just feel that pulsating aggression and intensity… All the worries in my life would just flood out. Whatever bullshit energy would just flood out of me.
Why go with “Blackout” as the first new song in a while?
MC: I just love the song… January 18th is my birthday. [A few] nights ago, I was in my room having problems putting it out on major retailers. I refused to not have it out on my birthday. Fuck all the bullshit, bro, I’m putting out the song! I just need to throw that energy into the world. I hit a new pocket on that song. It was burning a hole in my head, in my laptop. It was becoming too powerful.
Who are you talking about on “Blackout”?
MC: I am talking about a lot of people in particular. There’s a lot of motherfuckers that it can apply to. When you’re in a new phase, a lot of things change. I don’t care if you’re a rapper or a new teacher at a middle school—people treat you differently. There’s a lot of fuck shit that goes on with being a person. They take advantage. There’s definitely a big edge. It’s like a “Yo, fuck off!” type of song. I’m the youngest of my team. I got people working who are still in their twenties, some OGs. I’m kind of telling people I’m not a fucking kid anymore. Don’t try to fucking play me, we will beat your ass. Even if it’s not physically going in and jumping somebody, we’re not the fucking ones. People on my team are not doing anything. We’re some of the nicest, friendliest people, [but] there are some people in this industry that really don’t give a fuck about anybody but themselves. This is not the fucking YMCA pick-up game. I was tired of people treating us like we weren’t really talented.
Who do you look up to in rap?
MC: I do believe that Kendrick is the most intellectual… I don’t mean this to sound very condescending, [but] I feel my strongest competition, the two people that I have set as gold standards, are Kendrick Lamar and Andre 3000. When it comes to truly caring about the delivery, the content, those guys have held themselves to an unbelievably high standard. I’m not taking anything away from Jay-Z, Drake, Busta Rhymes, you know, the list goes on and on and on. There’s just something about the way Kendrick and Andre create. I love how much they care. I believe Kendrick Lamar. I just respect him. I have the utmost respect. He has a bunch of lines. He said, “I inspired a 100 MCs to do better.” He set a very fucking impressive tone that made people want to compete again.