Matthew Maxey was only an infant when his grandmother realized he couldn’t hear properly, but it wasn’t until he was 18-years-old that he learned how use sign language to communicate. Today he is a key figure in the development of sign language programs, and is exploding as a highly recognized sign language interpreter in the world of hip hop music. As a late-comer into signing, Maxey, who had been exposed to hip-hop his whole life, used rap songs to practice, adding in his own signs for slang words. While doing that he realized he could give a second, visual, life to the music; one that would allow the hearing impaired to fully understand the meaning of the songs. He has since toured with Chance the Rapper as his official ASL interpreter. We recently interviewed Maxey on his work as a rap song interpreter, his journey to get there and his volunteer work to help the deaf community develop.
Blindfold: What first drew you to music? And what was it about hip-hop that drew your attention?
MM: Really, music was just a part of my everyday life from church to family to friends, everywhere I went, music was right there with me. Hip hop was just a library of storytelling that I could relate to in some shape or form especially with feeling like a rebellious outcast.
BFM: In terms of lyricism, you could argue rap is the most challenging and complex of the genres, how did you meet that challenge?
MM: With rap, it’s so visual where if you take the time to break it down, you often leave mind blown when it comes to the great lyricists. With it in sign language, to see rap understood in a visual format often gives it new meaning and a fresh outlook on how people once listened to music, but never quite understood what they were listening to.
BFM: As a sign language student, what were your thoughts on teaching programs? How well-rounded did you find them?
MM: Teaching should be done by the deaf for an authentic experience, I found that my learnings were best received when it came from the deaf community. Often times we can tell who has been taught by a hearing or deaf teacher which speaks for itself in being well rounded.
BFM: What changes would you like to see in the music / entertainment industry for them to become more inclusive of the deaf community?
MM: Mandatory interpreting, it shouldn’t even be a request.
BFM: What are your hopes in terms of outreach? How do organizations and programs step up to incorporate these kinds of projects?
MM: [I’d like to] help the southeastern region boost up advocacy and awareness with the deaf community. There are many organizations that do so from education to athletics and at DEAFinitely Dope we just want to contribute.
BFM: What has been your favorite encounter with a musician? Why?
MM: It was definitely with Chance The Rapper & Waka Flocka, as both of them were highly enthusiastic and motivated in learning sign language and more about the deaf culture genuinely!
BFM: You went from volunteering at schools to performing for concert-goers, how do you prepare for an event like that?
MM: It takes countless amounts of preparation as volunteering was more freelance while concert interpreting requires much more knowledge and understanding in properly relaying the message the artist expresses in their music.
BFM: What kinds of feedback are you getting from concert goers that are hard of hearing?
MM: They love it because it’s a deaf interpreter communicating in their language to make an usually unpleasant experience far more relatable and enjoyable similar to their hearing counterparts!
It takes a person with unique upbringing and outlook to be able to bridge two communities, in this case those who use the spoken language and those who use ASL to communicate. He not only represents both communities with a boldness to be admired, but strives to expand awareness and advocacy within the deaf community.
Keep up with Matthew Maxey and DEAFinitely Dope on social media: click here.