For Matt Talley, an internship with local artists evolved into an opportunity to channel his entrepreneurial spirit. A hip-hop enthusiast at heart, Talley embraced his passion for music and created his own business. The record shop, Cool Kids Vinyl, appeals to an eclectic taste by offering vintage records and magazines. In addition, Talley decided to provide patrons with the interactive hip-hop exhibit known as Diggin’ Thru The Crates. This unique experience not only allows participants to be immersed in music culture but also Black culture. As an all-around creative soul, his interests go beyond just music and venture into the field of writing. During a chat with QG, Talley shares his story, discusses his book, and plans to keep his business afloat in the current pandemic.
How did you get into the music industry?
I don't consider myself to be "in the music industry". I interned for local artists here in DC for several years and got to meet a lot of resources and a lot of good people. However, I've always been in some type of entrepreneurial position or standpoint, having my blog early on, covering different music and news around the DC area. And you know that spawned off into just having different opportunities. I published a book back in 2015, a children's book. I always consider when having a big audience, you have to cater to that and also kind of dabble in different things.
I came into the "music industry" in 2010 and got a chance to work under a lot of different artists and tour and do all those good things. But still having an audience through my blog, I was able to garner relationships and kind of get into different forms of media. I started writing for media outlets and eventually published a book. I like to consider myself in the creative industry more so than just the music. I try to use all forms of different media to express myself, whether it be through djing and interning, or writing, or anything based around music.
Can you tell us a bit about the record shop Cool Kids Vinyl and how your business came about?
I and my creative partner, his name is Steve Jenkins, and my mentor DJ Alizay created the Diggin' Thru The Crates hip-hop exhibit, which is based and focused around [on] vinyl. A patron can take it back to a world where hip-hop is "in the park" and where you can interact with the DJ. When you can have the DJ and hand them a vinyl and say, Hey, play this. So the exhibit was based around vinyl and the different uses of the forms of vinyl. Essentially you would dig through crates of vinyl around in our gallery or wherever we were having this event, and whatever record you pick, the DJ plays. It's almost like having that engagement with the patron and the DJ, along with different artists' relations and hip-hop memorabilia.
The last tour (that we did last year) was sponsored by Mass Appeal and Monsters. So we had a "monsters lounge" where people were able to play an original Sega. It puts you in that time capsule of what people would consider "the golden age of hip-hop", which is the 90’s. So it's almost a time capsule to that space in time but also its different materials that makeup, not just hip-hop or music culture but black culture as well. You can pick up a Life magazine and figure out how the Black Panthers were organized in the sixties and early seventies. You can also pick up a magazine where there's [with] a tribute to Tupac and Vibe magazine. So it [there] was a wide range of information and knowledge that you can get at this event.
Eventually, we wanted to have it at different gatherings around the country for a week or three days. We tried to expand it out rather than just a one day or one-night event type of situation. Due to the pandemic, we had to shift our focus. How can we have a standalone brick and mortar to house this place or to house this experience? What can we pair with it to make sure our business goes smoothly? So this is when Cool Kids Vinyl came about. We're on the second floor of Maketto, which is my job. I didn't have to quit my job to pursue the idea that I have of having a record and magazine shop.
What advice do you have for someone who may be considering starting their own business?
I can only speak from my own experience, but it has to be something that you love. I think people have to have more of an understanding or comprehension that whatever hobby or talent that you have, there are multiple ways that you can turn that into revenue. So for me, in particular, my interests are things that people wouldn’t consider valuable, which are old records that you can find in your mom and pop’s basement or attic. VHS tapes that people throw away because they don’t have a VHS player anymore. I find value in these different things and find historical context as well. And I think that in turn, that turns into something valuable, whether it be through the perception or just a matter of fact. For me taking that as a hobby and turning it into a business, it's kind of seamless because I had a passion for it. Whether it's going to be successful or not businesswise, I’m still into this. I’m still having an interest in it. The money isn’t the interest in this factor.
How did the coronavirus affect the Diggin’ Thru The Crates event series?
So just for now, it's still on pause. I think once things kind of settle into post-pandemic slowly but surely, we’re going to have different experiences starting in the record shop. And just for capacity sake, we can do something with like 25 people, 50 people, and then slowly but surely as it gets safer, kind of amp up and get back on the road. It’s an experience that we’ve been doing for five years that people now nationwide seem to love. Right before this pandemic hit, we were wrapping up a five-city tour that went well, East Coast and West coast. As long as people are interested in music and education and a tastefully curated experience, I think Diggin’ Thru The Crates is gonna start back up next year and continue to grow and thrive.
Can you share a bit about your book, The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin?
Yeah, back in 2015, I and a friend of mine, his name is Malcolm Bailey (he is an illustrator and recent graduate of Howard University) developed this book and the illustrations and ideas behind it. It's about a boy who is a superhero in his dreams when he goes to sleep. In his dreams, he battles a monster named Metus, which is Latin for fear and anxiety - and defeats Metus. So it's a story about a boy overcoming fear in his dreams. I think it's a good story. I have a love for writing and bringing things to life. We were just talking about it the other day. I would love to create another book.
It’s going pretty well. It always picks up good attention during the holiday times as well. People are trying to get books and different gifts for their small children. So it's a really good experience. We also did an activity book to go with it. It has different crossword puzzles. You can color the characters that are in the book and things like that. So it's very good.
Creatively how does storytelling relate to music?
Storytelling is one of those five elements of hip hop. I think storytelling (when it comes to music) is probably one of the purest things that you can create with music because it is your story or your experience.
In what ways have you given back to your local community?
Recently with the record shop at Maketto, we sponsored the new H street 5k run that raises money and awareness. A group of runners (and it's funny that most of them met at Maketto getting coffee) have organized 5k runs that we sponsor. It's a community-based type of thing. They do their meetings and everything at different places and spaces on eighth street. They run to raise money for the needs of the community. So they did a 5k run last month. It was sponsored by Maketto, Cool Kids, and a host of other different businesses on H street.
This summer, we did a pantry protest in which we gave away food for three months. We link with different farmers and meal packages people in the city. And we gave away healthy meals to homeless people on eighth street. We had a pantry protest dedicated to George Floyd, where people that were protesting can get different supplies such as face masks and gloves, and water. It was a really good opportunity to give back and also just be involved with the community more and be on the right side of history, to be honest.
Despite the current times, we’re in what hopes do you have for the future?
We started to develop our programming now with the record shop. In December, we’ll have a live podcast and after-hours performances just getting into that programming phase of the space now. But of course, we abide by CDC guidelines and the laws of everything. We want to do some type of grand opening of sorts, but we want to wait until phase three, maybe phase four. We may have to go back down 25% capacity like other states that are high risk are doing now. It's a sit and wait type of thing just like everything else as far as the pandemic is concerned.
While we can, and while it's safe, we want to start having some type of programming media-wise for the record shop. Because now it's just online-wise, which is posting about records for sale and magazines and different things. But we want to, of course, build some content up and have good people in there and have book meetings and book clubs.
To learn more about Cool Kids Vinyl, click here.
Photo Credit: The Washington Post -Cristian Zuniga