After sitting down with Don Lifted, AKA Lawrence Matthews, to discuss music, art, and Memphis, he ended our conversation with this statement in response to a question about his future desires and plans:
“I just want what’s for me to be mine.”
Between securing a spot on the stage at SXSW and Treefort Fest, releasing his third album with Fat Possum Records, winning Best Hometowner Music Video through Indie Memphis Film Festival, selling out the Crosstown Theater, and garnering global attention via Spotify, Bandcamp, etc—you could say that this multifaceted man is being blessed with his “belongings.”
I want to make it clear that that kind of energy doesn’t exude ego, but instead a sense of self discovery defined by years of artistic exploration and introspection.
The Don Lifted that started making music in 2009 is not the same Don Lifted that’s making music today.
“I was using negative stimulus to fuel myself, which is not not a bad thing—but it’s also not sustainable. At some point, you have to flip it.”
Now, a few factors have remain the same. He’s still the born and raised Memphian that graduated from Germantown High School. His hip-hop is still a hypnotic concoction of ambient beats; a melodic memoir. He still a fine arts fellow who finds beauty and interest in creative endeavors of all kinds.
But when it comes to how he moves in Memphis’ music scene—now versus then—he’s no longer fueled by his foes. But instead, it’s the therapeutic release at the intersection of vulnerability and viability.
“Memphis has this thing where we feel like stuff is scarce, so integrating into the local hip-hop community was difficult—because people start viewing you as a threat when you take up space. When I was a young dude, it was very satisfying for me to prove people wrong; it was a competition thing, but working on the three projects in the car trilogy shifted my approach. I’m not doing this to be better than anybody. I’m not trying to show off how many different ways I can rap. This is about song writing as self research.”
Each album—Alero, Contour, and 325i—illuminates upon eras of prominence in Lifted’s life. From teenage trauma to the reality of relationships to unearthed identities, listeners are lyrically-led through his transitions and transformations.
Among the many shifts was his mentality towards Memphis, and likewise Memphis’ mentality towards him. When he went off to attend college at UMBC in 2010, he left with the intention of never returning. He didn’t believe Memphis would make way for him to thrive. Now, granted, he didn’t come back because he wanted to; the reason doesn’t really matter.
As time went on, his talents towered over the barriers that he thought would render him ineligible to receive acceptance by his city.
“This is a hard place to cut through. If you can do it, you’ve really done something. If you were to go back in a time machine, find me at 17, 18-years-old, and say ‘Yo, you’re gonna be on the cover of the Memphis Flyer one day. They gon’ rock with you,’ I would’ve told you that you were nuts. It’s really been a lesson in perspective; that life today ain’t life tomorrow.”
His dedication to the pursuit of his craft has drawn him to help other artists who are in pursuit of theirs.
When he’s not writing or recording, he serves as the Gallery Director at Tone, a local nonprofit that empowers Black artists and communities through active programming.
Whether it’s lending out old equipment or providing a setting for artists to advance and advocate for themselves, Don is doing his due diligence to make space for more of his peers to excel—and exceed him.
“When I look at that list [of SXSW performers] there’s only one Memphis, Tennessee on that list. I’d like to change that, and I can by going there and letting those folks there know that we’ve got something to say here.”
Like many native Memphians I’ve met, Don’s affection for Memphis has been molded like silly putty, manipulated by the trying times and merry moments—and it’s a combination of both that have led him to want to stay.
“You don’t get any of my projects without a Memphis component. It’s all through a lens of kid who grew into a man in this place. I don’t want to remove that from my art and what I do. I want to see that through, in whatever way that looks like.”