Hip-hop ASL interpreter Matt Maxey is bringing communities together through music. As the founder of DEAFinitely Dope, Maxey works to bridge the gap between deaf culture and hip-hop culture, a mission that includes creating videos in which signs along, in his trademark animated style, to tracks from the likes of Tupac and 2 Chainz, interpreting at events (including Chance the Rapper shows), hosting ASL lessons for the cannabis industry and consulting with businesses to boost accessibility. (He can also be booked through Airbnb for a lesson in serenading a sweetheart in ASL.)
"It's a language," he says of his efforts to "break barriers between music and sign language" with DEAFinitely Dope. "It's accessible. It's a possibility to make life better for the people that didn't know it was possible. So many deaf people don't go to music events because they already assume that it's not made for them. But to show the videos, to show the culture, to show presentations, to show performances involving sign language and music, would help lessen that stigma so that it became more of a norm instead of ... a novelty."
"I may not be the best," he says of being an interpreter. "I'm definitely not the only one. But if I can use my platform to create a ripple and domino effect that would last for the rest of history or contribute to the betterment of everything ... it feels like my purpose here is fulfilled."
MATT MAXEY: Because I felt like as I was growing up and watching music, everything that I saw that did have sign language, I couldn't relate to. I'm sorry. I'm not vibing. I can't get jiggy with it.
I never saw a Black man signing in hip-hop. I never did. And I wanted to put it in a way where everybody could get jiggy with it and add their own twist and flavor to it.
Growing up hard of hearing was definitely a challenging and interesting experience. I never really had exposure to the Deaf culture or Deaf community. So I spent most of my childhood growing up trying to figure out how could I fit in as best as possible as I was trying to learn how to navigate communication with hearing aids.
My mom, she sings, she loves music. I grew up listening to Mary J. Blige, Outkast, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest. So everywhere I went it was just music everywhere, to the point where it became my primary language more than conversation. Hip-hop is a story. So for me to understand a deeper meaning, I find joy in that.
One of my favorite songs that I loved to sign was "Changes" by Tupac. I would sign that just the way it is, very word for word for word for word. Hip-hop is art. It's more a poetry.
And the more I understood the culture and how ASL worked, all of that became that's just the way it is. It's more smooth. It's more fun. It's more entertaining. It's more engaging.
And add the sign language with it, it became more of, oh, wait a minute. How do all of these words just become a picture every time I try to apply the sign language? Wait, wait a minute. This is pretty cool. Hearing the song and seeing the sign language oftentimes left a lot of people mind-blown.
I am the creator and founder of DEAFinitely Dope.
CHANCE THE RAPPER: DEAFinitely Dope! I love you. It's dope!
MATT MAXEY: Normally deaf people don't go to music events because they already assume that it's not made for them. But to show performances involving sign language and music will help lessen that stigma to that it became more of a norm instead so much as a novelty.
Accessibility is something that we have to fight for all day, all night, every day. We also now have a movie that we just finished showing at a film festival, which is called "Sign the Show." Whether it's comedy, whether it's Broadway, whether it's music, whether it's festival, focus on showing how you can become more accessible. We never want you to feel alone.
Some people have it great. They come from that family. They live in deaf-friendly areas. But not everybody has that same opportunity or luxury.
The why of how it feels to be providing sign language interpretation-- I may not be the best. But if I can use my platform to create a ripple and domino effect until sign language is everywhere, I guess that is the purpose for it. Yes, yes, yes, that's it. [LAUGHS]