Written by Greg Gagliardi
Photo by Greg Garza
Before Matt Charles collaborated with the one of most prominent artists in mainstream hip-hop and began touring the world, life was much different. He sat in a dark room, away from the world, with no tunes. As Kendrick Lamar would say: "Just a reality that if I don't make a vow soon, my existence will be consumed by a doom, and my light will never illuminate a gloom."
Matt Charles, or Ghetto Guitar, is originally from West Haven, Connecticut. Growing up in West Haven, his dream was to be an ESPN journalist. At West Haven High School, he was voted DECA president (Distributive Education Clubs of America) and then eventually attended Central Connecticut State University, a stone's throw from his future aspirations at ESPN. But as quick as it began, it was over. "I wasn't focused on school," says Charles. "I got caught up in the college lifestyle, and it got the best of me. On paper, it didn't make sense. I'm a smart person; this shouldn't happen to me."
The consequences of his past actions would light an internal fire and motivate Charles to dig himself out of hell: his dead-end job. "I was busing tables at a Texas Roadhouse, and after a while, it became clear, there was no upward mobility. If I didn't do something, I'd be stuck here, doing the same thing repeatedly."
Repeatedly experiencing the same repetitive restaurant shifts, Charles would begin uploading guitar covers of hip-hop songs to his still-standing Youtube channel. "I'd clock out, be dead tired, and get to work. The days of partying and wasting time with people who didn't share the same vision as I were over. I took a leap of faith and never looked back."
At this time in 2012, riding the success of “Love Sosa”, Chief Keef was the hottest hip-hop artist in the world. Charles recorded covers of Keef's two most viral songs, "Love Sosa" and "I Don't Like." The latter gained enough traction to be seen and reposted by Chief Keef and producer of said records, Young Chop. "I'm a self-taught guitarist," says Charles, "that interaction gave me confidence that I could attract the right people, and musically I must be doing something right."
This interaction with Keef and Chop drove him to take his craft live. "I didn't only want to be on the internet. I started honing my craft at open mics in New Haven. New Haven's art scene is personal, diverse, and rich in history. After playing an open mic, I'd chill and talk to the audience, make connections, and strengthen my confidence. You gotta think, if you can't play in your hometown, you'll never be able to play on a world stage." The local scene introduced Charles to a New Haven staple and eventual mentor, Rohn Lawrence. "I saw him play with a live band and thought to myself, I have to make that my reality,” he said.
His reality consisted of juggling a restaurant job, live shows, and a Youtube channel. Through the power of the internet, he connected with Wiz Khalifa's “Taylor Gang”. "I contacted Wiz's producers, Sledgren and Ricky P, and drove 8 hours to Pittsburgh", laughs Charles. "Next thing you know, I'm at Cheevy Wood's mom's crib, the classic hangout spot in Hazelwood and Wiz, Ty Dolla $ign, and Chevy Woods walk in. I wasn't expecting that. I thought I was here to meet producers and lay a little guitar. But it goes to show; you have to be prepared. You never know how real things can get. That experience was so pivotal. To this day, I still speak with Ricky and Sledgren."
Ricky P, Slegdren, and Charles song "Got Me Some More," produced by Young Chop, did not make Khalifa's album Blacc Hollywood. Thus he would not get paid. In need of money to support his career, Charles took a warehouse job in Bridgeport. "I'd be driving to work listening to Gunna. At the beginning of his songs, was the tag, ‘Run it back, Turbo,’ so I'm like who the hell is Turbo, this guy is super talented. Nonetheless, on Instagram, I found him. I told him I have something to offer."
Charles' offer would come in the form of a beat pack. A beat pack that would unknowingly contain Gunna's and Lil Baby's hit song, "Sold Out Dates." It was this record that launched Charles' career to new heights. On Spotify, the track has millions of streams, and during the Louis Vuitton runway show, Virgil Abloh played the song. An abridged version titled "Yosemite" was placed on Travis Scott's multi-platinum Grammy-nominated album, Astroworld.
Astroworld was big for Charles--but the impact of “Sold Out Dates” went beyond the album. Gunna decided to take Charles on tour, an experience he described as life-changing, "I had never been all over the states, let alone Europe, and now that's happening. I went from vomiting outside local bars cause I was too nervous about performing to playing Rolling Loud."
From West Haven High School to Rolling Loud, Matt Charles’ story is that of redemption, perseverance, and longevity. His contributions to hip-hop solidified his legacy, and in time it will only grow. Along with "Sold Out Dates" and "Got Me Some More," he is responsible for "Big Shot," "Outstanding," and "Richard Millie Plain" off of Gunna's 2019 Gold-certified album Drip or Drown 2. Additionally, he contributed to "Belly" off the 2018 platinum collaborative album Drip Too Hard by Gunna and Lil Baby, a project that, in many eyes, cemented Lil Baby and Gunna as two of hip-hop's most promising stars. His final contribution for Wiz Khalifa culminated in the 2016 SoundCloud loosie, "Wit The Kids," which presently holds 1.46 million Soundcloud streams.
1.46 million Soundcloud streams, a resume of co-signs, and a finely tuned guitar have positioned Charles to focus on his solo album, something he described as "a gift to the fans for their countless support."
For the time being, you can support Charles by streaming his prior album, a collection of covers titled "Riff's and Spliff's Vol. 3," available on Datpiff.com.