Four Years Later, Matt Ox Turns 16

In 2017, a pre-teen Matt Ox arrived in a flash with the viral "Overwhelming" video. Four years later, he's in a very different place.

Matt Ox
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Matt Ox

In 2017, Matt Ox was introduced to the world via “Overwhelming”—an immediate viral hit, headed by a fidget-spinning 12-year-old belting out lyrics like “posted in the trenches, yeah that’s where I’m flexing” with the utmost confidence. The song was produced by a then-underground Philly crew by the name of Working On Dying, whose involvement in the local rap scene helped position Matt Ox and “Overwhelming” as more than a viral curiosity. He was memeable, but also showcasing raw talent and intriguing left-of-center energy, which fueled the string of singles released thereafter (one of which was “Messages,” which according to Matt Ox, is rumored to have received a $150,000 bid from Drake’s camp prior to release.)

These singles led into OX, Matt Ox’s debut album in 2018, 11 tracks long and complete with features from Key!, Valee, and Chief Keef. Welcomed to generally positive reviews, OX was the full-length project that cemented Matt Ox’s place in the wake of a viral moment. Fans and fellow artists alike flocked to the Philly-bred talent, and a year later, Ox’s voice belted out the chorus on XXXTentacion’s “$$$,” which to date, has brought home over 130 million Spotify streams, over nine times that of “Overwhelming.”

At this point, Matt Ox was coming up on 15, still not old enough to get his driver’s license but experienced enough to reminisce on nearly three years of relative fame. Then, for almost two years, nothing came out. According to Ox, the pause in new music came as the result of a change in management, complications with his label, and artistic maturity that led him to explore new sounds. All of the sudden, at the end of 2020, Ox returned with his SWEET 16 mixtape, followed by UNORTHODOX 2 months later.

The two mixtapes feature a more developed version of Matt Ox—deeper voice, an increasingly focused and eccentric creative vision, and a raw, Philly-cut energy equally chaotic and infectious. Here’s a kid that four years ago, was introduced to the world as the face behind a fidget-spinning viral video, just catchy enough to stick. Today, he’s a 16-year-old breaking new ground and making true-to-self music, stamped with a resume of collaborations and stories that range far beyond his years.

Viral moments happen by the week in the current climate of music, it seems. When an artist stretches that overnight success into a career spanning four years and marked by constant evolution, it’s worthy of appreciation. Especially when that artist is barely old enough to get a driver license.

Four years later, Matt Ox is 16 and taking online classes while dropping some of his most forward-thinking music to date. We had the chance to get an update from Philly’s own about virality, being 12 years old in the spotlight, meeting artists like XXXTentacion and Earl Sweatshirt, and more. Read the full conversation below.

Let’s start from the beginning. “Overwhelming” came out when you were 12 years old. It’s your introduction to most listeners, and it’s this big viral video. It’s the fidget spinner, it’s this little white kid in Philly. It comes as a viral moment, which always seems difficult to handle as an artist. Looking back, how do you feel about that moment that birthed everything?
I learned so much from it. I’m just happy I’m able to experiment and do what I’m doing now. It’s art. In a sense, I feel like if I kept trying to keep up with the clout or kept trying to maintain that viral moment, it wouldn’t have worked. [Trying to go viral] is like a game. I’m not worried about going viral again. I’m going to give my fans me. The real, raw me, with flaws and all—and there’s longevity in that. “Overwhelming” happened like it did for a reason, so I could move on and learn that two Ls make a win. I learned from all of it and I’m blessed for all that.

When “Overwhelming” first started going viral, was there any pressure to immediately capitalize on the moment and figure out how to keep it going?
No, I wasn’t worried. I was 12 years old, so I was pretty much just having fun with it. It’s your art so it feels great, but it definitely threw me off a little bit when people come around and start telling you “it’s got to be like this” and “you need a manager” and “you need this or that.” But I learned from all that and I’m happy it all happened. Because now, I’m just moving smart. There’s more to this than a viral moment. I got modeling agencies tapping in with me. I got people trying to get me to act. I think that happened because I didn’t try to make “Overwhelming” again and again. I just made what I wanted to make.

Which is so important, because so many viral artists just try to recreate that moment and run 100 miles per hour while they still have the spotlight. But you get burnt out that way. 
That’s how you crash.

After “Overwhelming,” you release a few singles, including “Messages,” which Drake supposedly wanted to buy before it came out.
This is a story that my ex-manager told me, and the manager might have been capping. He might’ve just been saying that so I give it out, so I don’t drop it or something like that. But pretty much he called me like, “Drake wants to buy the song for $150,000.” I’m like, “You capping.” I just kept saying no, because that’s my song. I didn’t want to give up a part of me that easy. It was just my intuition, because it’s about the music more than it’s about clout or money. I had to stand my ground.

“Messages” and a few other singles come out, then we’re led into your first album, OX. When you first put out the project, did you feel like there was a lot to prove, especially still coming off of a big moment like “Overwhelming.”
I never felt like I had anything to prove in this game. Everybody’s going to have their own opinion. A lot of people see that I’m 13 and I’m doing something a little bit better than them, and they hate it right away because of that. It’s nothing I can do about that. I love all opinions, because, in a sense, it just makes me grow.

If I had tried to keep up with the fans and play this whole game, I would’ve went insane. And then, with me going insane from that, I would’ve made some trash music because I’m focused on what everybody else wants. And then, they going to be hating on that, and all of the sudden, I’m going to be like, “Damn. I just went insane for y’all to make this music, and y’all not liking it?” So that’s why I’m glad I’m experimenting now. I’m doing me, and I have so many years to go and so many songs recorded—different styles, different genres, all of it. My first album was very generic to me. Certain songs I still like, though, like “Blue Racks.” That type of flow, that soft, melodic, real dreamy... I could still listen to that song.

You didn’t swear on the project, right?
Yeah. Because when I was younger, my mom didn’t want me to swear, so I didn’t. In a sense, it worked because of business, radio play, all that. I took it as a benefit, I guess.

If I had tried to keep up with the fans and play this game, I would’ve went insane. And then I would’ve made some trash music because I’m focused on what everybody else wants.

After that first album, you didn’t release much for about two years. How come?
It was about management and all that stuff getting switched up, so there were a lot of difficulties in that. I was also afraid to drop for a little bit. Not in the sense where I would care what people thought, but I was afraid of the label saying something, things like that. But then I just had to take that risk. As I grew older, I grew more confident. I thought and planned out my craft. Do I want to be out here doing everything for everybody and just being a puppet? Or do I want to make music that I want to make and spread messages I want to spread? I do things the way I feel they have to be done because in a way, I’m exposing myself with the music.

That whole period made me tap back into before “Overwhelming” dropped, because that’s when I really loved it. When you’re going through the system and you have to go through this person or that person, your business is all over the place and it’s not fun anymore. It’s why so many signed artists want to be independent.

Are you signed right now?
Yeah, to Motown. But I love Motown. They’re doing good for me. I’m at the point where I’m just embracing everything, taking what I have and making the most of it at my age. I really see what I had and what I got, so I’m doing as much as I can right now. Because I’m going to regret what I don’t do more than what I do.

I see that in your approach with this recent comeback. Just hitting people with two mixtapes after not releasing for almost two years.
Exactly, and in all chaos, there’s a cosmos. Carl Jung said that. “In all chaos there’s a cosmos, in all disorder there’s a secret order.”

How did you feel about coming back into the spotlight with these two new projects? Were you nervous at all?
I was excited for real, for real. You can take the lead-up to something as being nervous or you can take it as being excited. Leading up to SWEET 16, I got excited, because it was the way I wanted to drop it. I planned SWEET 16 in two days. I was just listening to my songs going crazy. Like, “Bro. I got so much music. I just want to drop it all.” I was on some Lil B, like BasedGod type, talking about wanting to drop 500 songs. So I dropped the SWEET 16 as a gift to myself. Dropped that, it went up. Shot a video, it went up. All based, real raw, just me in Philly. I freestyle all my music—just punching in, one or two bars at a time. But all it’s all off the dome. I don’t really write. What I do is learn new words. I’ll go search up weird words and just write them in my notes and then have them in the back of mind.

Do you read a lot?
I listen. I don’t read books really. I listen to philosophers. Carl Jung is a psychologist type, he be going crazy on it. You gotta tap in. Him, Alan Watts. These people, they quotes just be life changing.

I wanted to ask what you’ve been listening to. You were tweeting about the new Madlib project a few weeks back, which was really cool to see. What have you been into lately?
Not going to lie, I’ve been listening to a lot of producers now. I’m trying to only get my inspiration from producers now. I feel like it’s a whole other dimension of sound you could go with. We listen to rappers so much and it’s getting repetitive to me. Certain songs I’ll find and it’s like, “Yeah, this is dope.” But it’s to the point where Flying Lotus or Madlib, I could listen to for hours and I can’t get sick of them. But if I’m going to name some love, I got to show love to my boy Quadie Diesel. He go hard, he’s a big inspiration. Shout out Robb Banks, too. Robb Banks be smacking.

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I can see your appreciation for producers in the names that you’ve worked with, from Working On Dying to Narcowave. A lot of those beats feel like they’re touching new ground. “Ambition” is a song that especially shows the strength of your ear for production.
Yeah, I’m tapped in with a lot of groups of producers. Shout out Narcowave, shout out Working on Dying. My boy McCoy produced “Ambition.” All these beats are so crazy, I be making my vocals a part of the beat instead of rapping over it a lot of the time. Just experimenting, adding layers to my vocals and making it all one.

I noticed that on UNORTHODOX
Yeah I be doing that a lot. I tried to combine multiple beats within one song on UNORTHODOX too, because people be having short attention spans. I wanted to do five songs that might be three or four minutes, but you still always listen to the full jawn because it keeps switching up every one of two minutes. All them songs are super unorthodox the way we put them together. 

What made you decide to drop those two projects on SoundCloud and not Spotify or Apple Music?
Because that’s where I started off. It brings me back to just having fun with it and being excited to drop new music the way that I want to drop it. SoundCloud gave a lot of artists a chance, just being able to release music for free and listen for free.

I wanted to run through a few artists who you’ve worked with or have been pictured with and ask how you met. Let’s start with XXXTentacion. 
I would always listen to X’s music. One time, out of nowhere X mentioned me on his story and he don’t even be posting like that. He mentioned me on a story saying, “If Matt Ox don’t get on XXL next year I’m going to be mad.” Something like that. I was like, what? Why me? How? So I DM’ed him, he hit me back, and he sent me his number. We started FaceTiming. That was the bro. It was just insane. Looking back on it, I ain’t even peep how crazy it was in the moment. I was just excited to work with him and talk with him, because I was a real fan of X. It was real organic. One time, we were just playing music and I played the hook that he used on “$$$.” He told me to send it to him, so I did. 

Chief Keef was the next artist I wanted to touch on. 
Bro, shout out Chief Keef. Pretty much, I got a feature from Chief Keef, and when I sent him the song, he DM’ed me like, “Yo young boy, this jawn is crazy.” We actually met for the first time at the video shoot for “Jetlag.” We was just chilling there, all good vibes. After that, he invited me to go to his crib and we cooked up more. Seeing him make his own beats and cover art inspired me too. Just being young and learning things quick on your own, I related to that. I feel like we learn quicker as kids. The older you grow, the slower you get. 

I feel like a big part of that is how your view of the world can become limited as you get older, which limits your imagination.
Right. In a sense, that’s not bad though, because that gives structure and stability. But at the same time, we need to be open-minded. That’s the only way things will be flexible, because then we can learn from newer realms of ideas. It’s these newer generations that are really coming up with things because they’re so open, their minds are so clear and they haven’t been forced so much knowledge where they can’t think outside of that structure. Kids have all the ideas, but as you get a little bit older, it’s easier to bring them to life.

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How did you meet Lil Peep?
I only met him once, but he was cool as hell. Just free energy. Real. We met at Rolling Loud. It was in the mix, so I never got to chill with him to the point where I knew him, knew him. But when I met him he was just a real cool party boy—I was getting lit with him. You feel like you don’t care about nothing, you just turning up with him. I love that energy. RIP Peep, man.

How did you meet Lil Uzi Vert?
We first met at Rolling Loud—I was just walking around and I saw him. We were chilling in his bus, but we really got to meet through Working on Dying and just being in the studio all the time. That’s the bro. We don’t talk that much anymore but Uzi the best.

The last artist I wanted to ask about is Earl Sweatshirt. You appeared in a picture recently alongside Quadie Diesel, Key!, and Na-Kel Smith. How did you guys meet?
Through Quadie. I just called Quadie and he was like, “Pull up bro. I’m out in LA.” I didn’t even know Quadie was going to be in LA. I didn’t know Key! was in LA. I didn’t know that none of them was going to be there. So I was just pulling up on Quadie, I come downstairs, I see Earl Sweatshirt and Na-Kel. My brother Na-Kel. I was meaning to link with him. When I saw him, I ran up to him and gave him a hug. But Earl was there, too, and he cool as hell. Earl’s story is crazy with Samoa and everything. I respect him for that crazy.

So you’ve met and worked with all these great artists, played shows, developed a fanbase, seen a lot of the world, walked in runway shows, all at 16 years old. How does it feel? Most kids your age are just getting their license and feeling their first big step toward independence. Does it register with you how differently you’ve grown up?
For me it’s just overwhelming. It’s what I manifested, and it’s crazy. It’s hard to explain because everything changes so drastically. I love it though. I always wanted to be a rapper. It’s not like it just happened to me—I chose this, in a sense. Ever since a kid, like 8 years old, I wanted to be a rapper. It was in me forever. That was the number one thing. That was the one thing I didn’t give up on.

It’s these newer generations that are really coming up with things because they’re so open. Kids have all the ideas, but as you get a little bit older, it’s easier to bring them to life.

Considering all that you’ve done and all the artists you’ve worked with, there’s definitely a community of people that almost see you as this legendary figure, in a sense. Do you see that at all?
It’s crazy, bro. I feel like it’s nothing special about me. The way I see it, the homeless man and the president are equal because they deserve the same respect. People be saying, “This kid is a genius. This kid is a prodigy.” It’s all boosting my ego. You know I love it. You feel me? I ain’t going to cap. But at the same time, it’s just about being aware and taking a step back sometimes to separate those things from your thoughts. Knowing I can’t get too piped up and just humbling myself. You gotta stay respectful.

Do you feel misunderstood at all?
Yeah. That’s always going to be a factor, though. I feel nobody’s ever going to really know me, but at the same time, that’s cool. I mean, certain people know, certain people don’t. Certain people going to see me as this, certain people going to see me as the whole opposite. It shows you how many perspectives are in the world. It’s so many ways to see this.

Do you have friends your age that you can hang out with? A lot of them are just regular high schoolers, I would assume, so is it hard to connect?
I be with shorties my age but that’s it. Other than that, all my friends are older than me. My youngest friend that’s gang is 18.

What’s an average day in the life of Matt Ox these days?
I wake up. Probably make a smoothie. Open up my online lessons, and then I’ll probably go on YouTube and listen to music. That’s all I do, listen to music. Then, I’ll probably find some philosophy that pops up on my YouTube, so I’m going to watch that. And then I’m going to call my engineers to see who’s trying to cook up today. Pull up on them, cook up for the rest of the night, come back home, eat. Then I stay up and listen to my music or sometimes I’ll go to sleep. Yeah, that’s the craft.

You’re in online school?
Yeah, I’m in online school right now. I go on a website every day, I log in, do a couple quizzes, go on a live jawn, and then I go to the studio. I’ve been doing online school since sixth grade when everything started. It’s not too bad. It’s not as bad as it would’ve been if I had to go to real school every day, waking up in the morning.

What’s next for Matt Ox now that you have these two new tapes out?
It’s album time. It’s the year of the Ox.