An MC known for never stopping pushes through pandemic times
Dropkick Murphys have long been an embodiment of pure Boston artistry: DIY spirit, blue-collar ethos, and a localized output capable of rivaling the nation’s best. It’s encapsulated by their first studio album Do or Die cover art, which features hard-hatted day-laborers of an unnamed union. All Boston everything.
With his upcoming Dining in Dystopia, M-Dot, the Beverly-born MC and de facto leader of his multidimensional Experimental Mind State (EMS) crew, is reaching for that mantle.
Built on an outrageous work ethic, prolific output, and tracks alongside some of Boston and the country’s top hip-hop alumni, the followup to his beloved 2017 album egO anD The eneMy features, among others: Kool G Rap (“Decadence”), Conway The Machine (“Neck Tie”), Ras Kass, Elzhi, and Large Professor (“Reaganomics”). The RJ Payne-assisted “Wrath of the Titans” even has M-Dot on both the mic and production.
We spoke with the tireless artist about his new project, as well as his everyday gig as a union window glazier which still allows him to tour and rap with some of the game’s brightest stars.
During the pandemic, how did an artist who never stops—stop?
I was on tour when COVID hit in March 2020. We had just dropped the first single “The Atonement” with Pete Rock. I was on tour and things were going incredible. I was in Switzerland with The Beatnuts and they were almost done with their tour and I was getting nervous because every day the numbers were increasing. When I was in Germany, it was like 80 total; then next day it was like 180. You’re seeing Italy all on the news, and I was just worried about getting home, getting back to my kids. Then Trump announced on the news that the borders were being shut.
I came home and all the tours I had set up were shut down. We could chill for a second, but the single was already out for egO 2. I had a huge festival booked in Switzerland where I was a headliner; stuff was really snowballing.
A lot of my moves are made with merch on tours and shows. I was doing music for 20 years where I was touring, pretty much living off music, supporting my family off music. And when COVID hit, I adjusted.
How did production come to be?
I never produced in my life. And I started producing from home; like, literally self-taught myself. Because it was a period where we were home all day, every day for a couple weeks, I was finding record samples, because I used to do a move job where I would do cleanouts and people would throw records out all the time.
I was like, I can’t really tour; what else can I do? We (EMS) always mixed our own music, always booked our own tours; we’d always done everything ourselves. But I hadn’t produced before. So I wanted to learn how to produce. I started to watch tutorials. I got Fruity Loops. My girl got me an Akai MPK. And I started playing. I studied it every day for like a week straight. And after like a week I started making decent-sounding beats and the tenth beat I ever made, Smif-N-Wessun (“The Aces High Show”) used.
I’d keep ’em. So I started sampling records and I did beats. l did something with RJ Payne that’s on Dining in Dystopia. I did something for 38 Spesh—he’s doing crazy right now, too. After being an MC for 20 years, I found a second life with the producing because I adapted. Instead of sitting back and binging on Game of Thrones, I picked up another craft.
What was the motivation for a day job as a window glazier in the union?
Adapt or die. Basically. When I couldn’t do shows, we had put out “The Atonement” and that was the first thing off egO 2. The vinyl egO 1 was Underground Hip-Hop’s number one seller for 2017. This was the followup. We had all the momentum, we had a lot of buzz going after that single, we were touring. And then Trump shut the border. And I had to, literally from ground zero, reevaluate everything. I got home; I was worried. I was worried just if I was gonna make it home.
Has that motivated you even more?
If you want to do something, there’s no excuses. You see people every day commiserating and just whining about their life. It’s about going and getting it. You have legs. There are people out there without the ability to walk. You’re complaining. I think about this dude all the time who picked me up in a tow truck. One of my cars broke down and he’s like, Man, you seem happy. I’m like, Yeah, man; like the car broke down, but my health is good. My family’s good. And he started telling me about his life and his brother who’s in a wheelchair and he’s paraplegic. And he’s like, This dude never complained once. And this dude has a nice house and a job. You know what I mean? He did all that. Think of that. When people are whining. It’s up to you if you utilize the time; a lot of people don’t utilize the time.
Do you think that comes from Boston?
Growing up, this is how my parents raised me. They instilled in me just to go get it, work harder. I felt like we’ve been overlooked forever. Won Boston Music Awards, that’s cool. We’ve had European tours. I’ve worked with legends off the strength of who I am. But I still feel we are forever overlooked. I always feel like people are sleeping on us. Like even with the music being quality, we’re not at the cool table.
I’m waking up at 4am and I’m doing 10-hour days. And it’s like, I’m doing that and I’m still coming home and producing. I’m tired, but I’m still gonna make a beat; I’m still gonna send an email about a song; I’m still gonna work on art. I can’t just do that and let my dream, let the entire thing fade away. That’s the struggle a lot of people deal with is being able to do both, you know, and do both as strong as I’ve ever done it.
How do you ensure your quality doesn’t take a hit—whether production, lyrics, cover art, videos?
That’s why I’m most proud about the beats, because it’s like I’ve already jumped. I wouldn’t be putting them out if I didn’t think they were quality. You never know who’s gonna catch it or listen. If I’m saying we’re underrated, then I need to back that up. When people hear me, the quality needs to be good. The video needs to be good. The art needs to be good. It must be the highest level. That’s the biggest thing I can say to anybody nowadays. You never know who’s gonna hear a certain song. So attention to details is huge.
How did you develop and maintain this work ethic?
My parents. Like I have a chip on my shoulder. If I’m on tour in Europe and now I can’t perform, what else can I do? Okay, I’ll go in the union. But that doesn’t stop me from doing music. I’m not gonna be like, I’m too tired to do music. I am tired. I’m absolutely tired. There’s people that have told me to ease up or slow down, and focus on a career, but that’s their insecurities. That’s not mine. I want to do this. It’s something that I love. I need to keep going because there’s a competition in me, like a sports competition where I have a feeling that I know I can do more if I really want this.
Sports was a big part of it. I played college basketball and being dedicated, being in there every day, doing two-a-day practices; I had to get up and go get it. There’s almost like a self-motivation now with music where, okay, tonight I can’t put it off. I have to tell myself I can. I have to tell myself I have to do something. Because otherwise that dream fades away.
A lot of people want to do this, but they fade away. They fade away as time goes on because they don’t put in the work. A lot of people are talented. They have good music. A lot of people work hard. They don’t have the talent, but they need to work harder to compensate for that.
How have you balanced your creative career with your new union role?
I embrace the struggle. I embrace the struggle of waking up at 4am. If I say I’m gonna be there, I’m gonna be there. I’m there because I said I would be. And when I’m there, I’m not gonna let that change what I want to do. I’m not going to let that change who I am.
So basically egO anD The eneMy 2 took a long time. I shouldn’t have held it. I’m just an old-school person where I like to have a proper album. I wanted to have the biggest and best production on egO 2. So I saved a lot of those beats from Erick Sermon, Pete Rock; we have another song with Meth; Black Milk, and Apollo Brown. But like I said, because of my obsession with making it better, I had to put it on the side, and Dining in Dystopia is almost like for me, not leftovers, but loosies and big records I am doing right now that aren’t on egO 2.
I did a song for a new movie called Montréal Girls. It’s gonna be at Sundance. I did the production for the intro of the movie. Huge look for me; it comes out this year. They sent me the movie, I watched the movie, and I did the introduction to the movie. And then I got Dining in Dystopia dropping, and then we got egO anD The eneMy 2 which drops after this vinyl.
My next aspiration is to keep making movie placements with the production. But what humbles me is working a union job and being in the city with my peers and feeling at home. That gives me motivation. That gives me writing power. That gives me fuel. That gives me a feeling like I need to work harder, or I need to do more. I’m not gonna ever be complacent.
Check out M-Dot’s Dining in Dystopia release party on Jan. 29 at the Freestyle Clinic in Everett.
Matteo is a proud product of Boston and carries the city in his heart always. His two new books - Machetes Dipped In Rum and Deep In The Dark With The Art - drop Fall 2020.