“I had an idea of where I wanted to be by now, and that will fuck you up.”
There’s an understated fire to Angelo Mota’s music. The 23-year-old New Jersey rapper tackles depression, anxiety, paranoia, and good ‘ol fun across his records with a catching fervor. Mota hits all the right notes to make his music effective: He snarls when the track calls for it, stutters without putting on airs, leans into a melody to ease our ears, and calls on impressive guest features to highlight hip-hop’s penchant for camaraderie. From House of Diamonds in 2017 to When All Is Said and Done in 2018, to 2019’s upcoming My Art Is Bad, Mota has grown into his baritone and refined his angst.
“I was pissed off,” Mota tells me over the phone. “I had an idea of where I wanted to be by now, and that will fuck you up. I didn’t have a grasp of how long things took when I was younger. I wanted to be in this crazy-ass position, and I didn’t care about anything else besides being heard, [and] taking care of the people around me, without really focusing on my craft.”
There is a fresh rage to My Art Is Bad, but it comes from a place of catharsis and resolve. The album ends with “I DON’T CARE,” which, as Mota tells it, is about throwing your doubts to the wind and embracing life for what it is. Mota uses My Art Is Bad to battle his self-doubt and to realize that as long as his work touches the listener, there is no way his creations could be worthless.
“As this album was coming together, I was just getting high and writing all these songs, and doing them at my friend’s house,” he says. “It brought me back to ‘You know what? Art is completely relative to who’s listening and what it means to them.’ For me to say my art is bad is to say the people who connected with it are wrong. So I couldn’t call my art bad, because somewhere, someone is always going to resonate with it.”
As his most mature project to date, there are no questions that My Art Is Bad will strike Mota fans new and old, and give them the necessary perspective to shake their insecurities. It’s a noble cause. Angelo isn’t free of anxiety yet, but he’s drinking more water, and he’s well on his way.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Take me to the first time you realized you had a talent for music.
Angelo Mota: Hm. I’m not sure. I went through a long period of feeling like [the music] wasn’t good enough. When I was 16 or 17, I was teaching myself how to do a lot of production stuff off of YouTube. It could’ve been around then that I realized I had a knack for picking things up and applying them. But in terms of talent for music, I don’t know. This is a hard question, you know? I’ve already tried to make the best music that I can, and when it was made, I was like, “I can do better.” Which probably isn’t healthy, at all.
It’s good to be humble. Keeps you hungry, and gives your music fire.
Thank you. I was trying with this newest album to tackle that very idea: all the doubt that I’ve always had. Even today, I might have a little bit of doubt still left in me, but I’m working away at it.
I appreciate your openness here, and in your music.
I used to try and hide a lot of stuff and not show how I was feeling. Half of it was out of like, “Oh, I don’t wanna trouble anybody with my shit,” and the other half was me being ignorant, and not realizing how I was thinking and what my day-to-day life was turning into. I just felt this emptiness and music was the only way to fill that. I would go crazy, and micromanage myself, and do all these things to kind of fill that [void], and I think that bleeds into my music.
I read that you started on the drums. How did that early understanding of rhythm impact your sound?
That’s a funny story because I almost wasn’t going to start on drums. The way that my elementary school was set up, once you hit the fourth grade, you could do band, orchestra, or choir. I chose band, and I told them that I wanted to play percussion. There were seven or eight kids that wanted to do percussion, so they were trying to encourage me to do trumpet. But I was adamant I wanted to do drums and I wanted to understand them. I wasn’t sure why. Eventually, they gave in to [my] nine-year-old incessant need to play drums. It shaped how I come up with my drum grooves in my production.
As both a rapper and a producer, what’s something about that balancing act people wouldn’t expect?
There’s some obvious things like if I make a fire beat, I wanna keep it to myself. I’ve been challenging myself to let go of that. Something that people may not see right away is that since I produce my music, many times I come up with my best shit when I hear it for the first time. When I make the beat, I spend so much time getting it to the right place, that the writing side takes a hit. I just completely throw myself off the rails because I’ve heard it too much, or I’ve thought about it too much. The fatigue that I get when I make songs can sometimes throw off the rapping side.
Talk to me about your early career trajectory. You signed your first record deal in 2015. What’s the deal now?
I started on SoundCloud, and then I linked up with Immaculate Taste in 2015, which was Well$ and his cousins. After I linked up with them, they showed me about distribution, and in 2017, I did a distro deal with EMPIRE. Just this year, Immaculate and I parted ways. I still have something set up with EMPIRE, but this new music that I’m releasing, I’m doing 100 percent by myself. I’ve been inspired by a lot of artists coming up and pushing that “own everything, do everything yourself,” especially recently with Nipsey Hussle and with Chance [The Rapper].
Do you prefer to do it alone?
When I started, I couldn’t pay someone to mix and master my album. I couldn’t pay someone to make beats. So I just learned how to do it myself. I took the reins, and it gave me this full control over the final product that I didn’t have before. Being able to control the message has been beneficial to me. I need to be careful that the reason I want to do it alone isn’t that I don’t think I need help. I need to open myself to other people when the time is right.
Talk to me about the new album, My Art Is Bad. Where’d that title come from?
That goes back to the doubt I was talking to you about. I’m about to have released three albums on DSPs that I’ve produced entirely. After I dropped When All Is Said and Done, I took time off because a lot was going on in my life. I didn’t have a place to record anymore. I didn’t have any money. It was just a lot of me doubting myself because maybe people weren’t fucking with me because I am not good at it. Perhaps the fundamental isn’t there. I was looking at art very objectively like there is good art and there is bad art.
As this album was coming together, I was getting high and writing all these songs and doing them at my friend’s house. Then I would get the stems and mix it on my computer, playing it out of the desktop monitor. It just made me think of music in a new way. I didn’t use an interface; I was clicking stuff in. I was like, “You know what? Art is completely relative to who’s listening and what it means to them.” For me to say my art is bad, is to say that the people who connected with it are wrong.
The album is a lot more intense than your previous work. Where’d that fire come from?
I was pissed off. I had an idea of where I wanted to be by now, and that will fuck you up. I didn’t have a grasp of how long things took when I was younger. I wanted to be in this crazy-ass position, and I didn’t care about anything else besides being heard, [and] taking care of the people around me, without really focusing on my craft. In the beginning, it was this very angry process of me writing out my frustrations masked as different songs.
It just happened that the way I had ordered the album, it was chronological with when I made the songs. It ends with “I DON’T CARE,” which was throwing all of this doubt and confusion into the wind because we don’t have much time on this earth. I wanna be happy in what I do, and I wanna make people happy with what I do. So I’d rather focus on that than the superlatives.
In 2017, you said: “I wanna get my sleep schedule back. I wanna get my diet back. I need to try to improve my health.” Where are you at with those goals today?
Recently, I’ve been busting my ass as a server, so it’s been putting me on a certain sleep schedule. It’s better. I used to wake up at three in the afternoon, and go to sleep at six or seven in the morning. I am drinking more water. I’m not going as crazy trying to perfect everything and realizing the beauty in the imperfections. It can be a little rough around the edges and still be beautiful. I would say: I’m working on it.
Listen to Angelo Mota on Audiomack.