An Interview w/ SXSW Hip Hop Director Matt Sonzala


Matt Sonzala

Matt Sonzala is a long time fixture in the Texas, Hip Hop scene. he started off doing a popular radio show in Houston on our sister station KPFT called Damage Control. Him and co-host Zin who now does SOS Radio we key in granting many of Houston’s now big time stars from Paul Wall to Bun B to Chamillionaire crucial exposure when many were content in  overlooking music coming from Texas…

Over the years Matt expanded his range and began penning articles for various magazines including the Bay Area’s Murder Dog. He then decided it was time to start highlighting many of the artist he was exposing via his radio show, by becoming the Hip Hop director for South By Southwest (SXSW) music convention.

We sat down and spoke with Matt about a variety of topics most notably all the artists that he’s managed to swing through SXSW. When he first started several years ago, Matt did a couple of showcases in what was overwhelmingly an indie rock showcase. He brought artist like Dizzie Rascal from the UK and gave love to some of the local Texas acts. Years later he had more than a dozen Hip Hop showcases and several panels with an impressive line up of artists ranging from members of Wu-Tang to Kanye West to Public Enemy to numerous artists from overseas. In this interview, Matt lays out the dense line up for this years gathering thus reminding us just why  SXSW is an important destination place if for any reason just to network…

In his recent blog found at  Matt laid out this line up for South By South West on his popular blog

Wednesday March 17, 2010
La Zona Rosa, Austin, TX
SXSW Night 1
SXSW & OGPR Presents The Best in Texas
Chamillionaire & Paul Wall Reunion Show (Houston)
Trae tha Truth (Houston)
Chalie Boy (Hearne/Calvert)
Dorrough (Dallas)
J. Kapone (Austin)
Fat Pimp (Dallas)
Big Sid (San Angelo)
Kyle Lee (San Antonio)
Question? (San Antonio)
League of Extraordinary G’z (Austin)

International Hip-Hop at SXSW

La Melodia (The Netherlands)
The Arab Summit (Palestine/Lebanon)
Invincible Voice (Palestine/Lebanon)
David Dallas (New Zealand)
Young Sidd (New Zealand)
Mr. Sicc (New Zealand)
Bliss N Eso (Australia)
Anita Tijoux (Chile)
ChocQuibTown (Colombia)
Sweatshop Union (Canada)
Binary Audio Misfits (France/Texas)

Coolooloosh (Israel)
Adam Tensta (Sweden)
Looptroop Rockers (Sweden)
Timbuktu (Sweden)
LidoLido (Norway)
4th Pyramid (Canada)
K-Os (Canada)
Young Fathers (Scotland)
Nach (Spain)
At Versaris (Spain)
Bubbz (UK)

Friday March 19th
Scoot Inn
Duck Down 15th Anniversary Show

Sean Price
B-Real of Cypress Hill
Kids in the Hall
Blue Scholars
9th Wonder
Ruste Juxx

Bun B

We talk to Matt about the history of Houston ‘s rap scene and how he’s seen it evolve over the years. He tal;ks about the key roles that artists like K-Rino, The Geto Boys, South park CoalitionTrae, Chingo Bling  and many more have played. He touched upon the innovative tech savy nature of artists like Chamillionaire who recently headlined a Silicon valley tech gathering. he also talked about the nurturing role icons like Bun B has played toward younger artists..  We also talked about the hustling independent aspect of Houston artists and compared the way the Bay Area has approached the game in similar fashion.

Below are the links to the podcast Interview w/ Matt Sonzala

Interview w/ Matt Sonzala pt1

Interview w/ Matt Sonzala pt2



here’s an interview from a couple of years back…

We get to square off with Matt Sonzala. One of Houston Texas finest pioneers in bringing the underground to the surface in all types of formats ranging from his radio show on KPFT every Wednesday at midnight to amazing interviews in Murder dog magazine among other things..

OTG – Let’s start this off right. What’s your name? What’s your hood? And what do you claim?

Matt Sonzala. I live just outside the Heights, two blocks exactly from the car lot where Rap-A-Lot Records first started. The Heights is like just below the north side, kind of north edge of the center of the city. I claim the whole world because I want it all. I get real restless and want to live everywhere sometimes to be real with you man.

OTG – How does it feel to be a pioneer in covering the sound that has been coming out of the state of Texas these past years? You have the Damage Control radio, the publishing’s and the infamous HoustonSoReal blog. Let’s not forget the photography. That sure is a lot of media and format to cover?

Man like I said, I get restless. I can’t handle having a real job. I don’t like doing the same shit day after day, so I just tackle whatever comes at me. I started writing in 1989 or so, and really began writing about Houston, and Rap-A-Lot in particular for magazines out here like Texas Beat in 1991, so I been on it for quite a while. It feels good to be me right now though because seriously I’m starting to get some recognition and some real money. Before I didn’t want to be recognized, and I’m still not the type who just goes way out there, but I really like that my work is being recognized and respected right now.

I’m completely obsessed with radio and wish that more of it was better. I used to sit up at night and like, turn the dial on the radio so slowly, trying to find the faintest trace of a station and check what they were playing. I’m originally from Pennsylvania, so when I was real young I’d hear stations in Canada, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, cuz I lived close to Lake Erie so there was not much in between me and those places, I could hear all kinds of shit.

And in high school I started writing for the school paper, publishing my own little Xeroxed fanzines and taking pictures with the schools camera. It was like my hall pass, I’d grab the camera and tell teachers I was on my way to take a photo for the school paper. I was just always way into radio, reading/writing and taking photos. Now I make money doing the writing and photography and have a lot of fun doing the radio. I need to turn that shit into a paid gig, but I’d have to have full control like on Damage Control.

OTG – How did you get your spot on Damage Control radio?

Man I did my first radio show in like 1989, a reggae show in Pennsylvania. Then in like 1991 I had been in Houston for two years and my man Richard Hanna asked me if I wanted to try and do a show on KPFT. I said yes and like 6 months later they put us on and we played hip hop from 3 a.m. – 5 a.m. Monday mornings. That later became Strictly Hip-Hop Sundays when they gave us the midnight till 5:30 a.m. slot. Then I moved to New York in 1994, and moved around a lot throughout the 90’s. New York, Austin, Amsterdam, Austin again, Chicago and then back to Houston in 2001. When I got back KPFT was going through some changes so I just got with a bunch of the people there, got them on my side and bugged the Program Director till I got a show. That was like 6 months after moving back here. I just stayed on them like crazy till I got it.

OTG – How did that start and how do you feel about what it has grown into?

Really it started as an idea to give independent artists from Houston and the south some real airtime. Some time to expose their music and talk about things outside the typical box of the typical rap interview. I feel like we’ve definitely achieved that. The show is sometimes half talk, half music because we really want to introduce these artists to the public. Most hip hop shows on college or community radio only play the hot 12”s from the indy hip hop cats from New York, LA, or whatever, the shit they report to in CMJ and whatever the indy college promoters send out. They really think they are breaking things when they play B Sides from major label records and shit like that. I don’t give a fuck about that. I want to hear what is going on here and now. I don’t really even talk to any record promoters at all, ever. This dude out here Lump is my man, I talk to him, but he knows we play local music and respects that. I talk to my girl Jessica at Spectre, but she knows we don’t play half that shit cuz we just don’t have time. We only have a couple hours a week and man, we have like 100-200 people pass through the studio literally every week. Most wanting something played or a chance to talk. We try to accommodate them all. We don’t need promo people to tell us things, the artists walk right up to us. I prefer it that way.

OTG – Last but not least did Bizzy Bone scare you?

Naw I had fun that night man. It was crazy all around yeah, but it was fun to me. I mean shit we have like 100 people in the studio at any one time. Nothings gonna jump off cuz we all respect what the station and the show represents so it’s all good. And he was real cool actually, fairly cordial, just a little strange. I wasn’t trippin’. I was glad he was there. You heard it.

OTG – How do you feel about watching underground artists from Houston climb into the spotlight of main stream America? It must be weird seeing Paul Wall on MTV talking about sittin sideways!

Man I’m happy about it. Real happy about it. I want these guys and girls to gain fame and make money. I wish more of them could, but it’s a testament to the grind. Swishahouse hustled hard. Most of the folks with deals came from Swishahouse in some capacity. Not all of them, but a lot of them, so what can you say? They been at this shit for years and deserve it. There’s a lot more talent down here though and there’s a lot of people eating off the music so we really don’t need MTV and BET. And to be honest I only saw Paul Wall on MTV talking about that once cuz I never turn that shit on. I liked My Block: Houston, but aside from that I don’t think I have even seen 10 other minutes of MTV or BET this year. I fucking hate music videos. They destroyed popular music a long time ago. Especially rap.

OTG – Now do you think Austin TX rappers like Bavu Blakes who are a bit more socially conscious in there records will ever get mainstream coverage now that the door has been cracked for Texas?

Man I mean, I don’t think that all of these artists really have to rely on the current trends or whatever. They just need to keep plugging away, make appealing songs and just do it for themselves. I personally think that Bavu Blakes is one of the best MC’s in the world and he is hands down the best live performer in hip hop. New York folks a lot of the time get scared when they see him cuz he’s not the typical Texas rapper and they don’t know what to make of him. He shows people how this shit is supposed to be done. I think he needs to get on the road and grind it out in front of a wider, more open mided audience than the Texas audience and he’ll do fine. Seriously that dude needs to tour. Now socially conscious artists in general? Shit, Scarface is the most socially conscious rapper of all time to me. Bun B is way up there. People seem to accept their messages. I wish they did more message oriented stuff.

OTG – I noticed while living many places in the south and interacting with rappers from Houston that the hustle mentality of people from H-Town touches no other. How do you think this mentality was built and framed into the minds of this generation?

Man the shit comes from way back in the blues days. No one ever reaches out and helps Texas man, these folks had to do it themselves from Day 1 man. And always have. Plus there’s a lot of money down here. Even the broke people have money cuz the cost of living is low and man, people just generally support people out here. Its southern hospitality at its finest. We’re not just rats in some race.

OTG – What artists do you think are next to come out of Texas that people should look out and have an ear for?

Definitely Bavu Blakes, this kid KB has a hot single, Cl’che is kilin’ em. SLAB is amazing, Rapid Ric is the best young DJ in the game, DJ Chill and DJ Ryno have some dope mixtapes in the works, there’s lots man.

OTG – What is next for Matt Sonzala? What new venteures do you having coming out that you are able to speak about?

I got the HoustonSoReal compilation and DVD project coming possibly on a major label, more shows in New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Amsterdam, London and wherever they’ll have us. I’m working on setting up an international booking agency,writing a book and just staying busy raising kids and being a family man.

OTG – Last but not least. Who are your top 5 artists out of Houston of all time?

Man! I don’t want to hurt anybody but Scarface, Devin, Willie D, Fat Pat, K-Otix.

OTG – Thank you so much Matt for letting us pick your brain. Any last words? Shout outs? Plugs?

Man I just want to shout out everyone who has love for music and art in general. Holler at me for anything Houston. I got dat. matt@damagecontrolradio.org and listen to Damage Control every Wednesday night from midnight till 2 am central time on 90.1 FM in Houston 89.5 in Galveston. THANKS MAYNE!

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