The National Air and Space Museum feels like home to 25-year-old Anthony Alexander Mathison II. Today, he’s donning a black shirt and a backpack, and if you didn’t know better, you’d see a tourist; another passerby accompanying his travel companion, both peering down at various blocks of text to carefully read the information preserved by the Smithsonian. But the exhibits and galleries depicting space and flight are an area he knows more intimately than any earthbound apartment or house.
Online, Mathison is better known as Airøspace, a DC rapper who unapologetically uses clips of anime to promote his music. When his aggressive lines are compared to those of rapper Tyler, the Creator, he pays respect to the Odd Future hip-hop collective before correcting you on the actual inspiration for the lyrical outbursts: metal.
“[Metal and hip-hop] are very closely related,” Mathison says. “There’s a division because you know, they’re screaming and you sometimes can’t understand what they’re saying, but it’s the loudness. In the black community, you’re only supposed to listen to gospel, jazz or like, Prince. You’re not encouraged to go find metal music.”
You can hear this on the two songs released in promotion of his upcoming July record Nocturne, the opposite side of his November mixtape Analog.
“I’ve been working on it for about five months,” Mathison says. “I like writing and listening to albums you can absorb all the way through. Analog is more visceral and [taps into] raw expression, and the other is telling it how it is. Like, when you get in a fight with somebody, you’re in fight or flight mode; you’re in it. Nocturne is like the calm after the fight.”
Mathison has fought throughout his life, both figuratively and literally, bouncing house to house in various locations from Southeast DC to different parts of Maryland. He was largely raised by his stepmother after his biological parents gave up that responsibility. To fill the void, the young child attended church, but the institution carried its own issues.
“I was a pretty bad kid; I got suspended a lot. Sh-t was just rough. I got in a lot of fights, had a lot of angry outbursts. I grew up in a lot of different ‘hoods. I had a ton of identity issues, just trying to understand myself as a person. As a kid, you soak up knowledge and wisdom from the people around you. My stepmother was my mom, but she also wasn’t. She did her best.”
Despite his trouble, Mathison found solace in the drums at the church he and his stepmom frequented. From there, his love of music blossomed, but he wasn’t able to play with the percussion instruments as much as he wanted, so he eventually gave up. That was until he heard Jay Z’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, and anything by Eminem.
“I liked the creative aspect,” Mathison says. “As far as what got me in this musical mindset; it came after Eminem. I remember playing Pokémon Blue and “My Name Is” came on MTV, and I really started loving hip-hop from there. I’m like, ‘What the f—, how did he do that?’”
Despite his realization, Mathison says he didn’t take hip-hop seriously until 2016. He performed, made music and constantly wrote rhymes, but fear held him back. Instead of gaining steam with this passion, he reverted back to the scared child without direction. His lack of knowledge discouraged him from giving music his all, but that all changed with Analog and next month’s Nocturne.
“Clarity. I want people to hear clarity. I feel like there are a ton of rappers that don’t talk about their lives. The least I can do is be honest. I want people to find themselves in it. I want people to discover who they are. Life’s a growing process, and you don’t always have to be who others want you to be.”
When he was younger, Mathison always sought role models and belonging – the high schooler banging metal out of his headphones, the wide-eyed child doodling characters who originated in some Japanese scrapbook. Now, he’s a man peering up at the stars, whether they’re pictures hanging from a wall in a famous DC museum, or vibrant twinkles piercing the darkest night.
“It’s funny because people get caught up in their daily lives. But, we’re literally floating on a ball of water. I want to know what’s beyond that. If we expanded our views, we’d stop being so egotistical.”
For more information on Airøspace and to see where he’s performing, go to www.airospace.bandcamp.com.