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Khari Mateen: The Collaborator.

March 17, 2012

Text by Morgan James. Images by G.W. Miller III.

Khari Mateen has quickly developed a serious reputation in the music industry. He’s recently produced on the critically acclaimed Undun by The Roots and Jill Scott’s The Light of the Sun, and he has toured with Icebird, the RJD2 and Aaron Livingston collaboration.

“Music is situational,” ruminates Mateen. “I’m not going to impose my will upon it in a way that isn’t right for the music.”

A cellist by trade, his creativity explores musical faculties with an intensity attributable to his immense abilities and ease of familiarity.

While growing up in California and Georgia, his saxophone-playing father would whisk him along on trips to recording sessions at the legendary Philadelphia studio of Larry Gold, who is also a cellist. After he graduated from high school, Mateen, now 25, moved here.

“Philly is fucking dope,” he says. “Honestly, everyone is doing something different and everyone inspires me. That’s why I’m here. I’m looking at everyone and I’m trying to work with as many people as possible, to grow from everyone in Philly.”

He’s performed and produced with The Roots and he scored the 2008 Mark Webber film, Explicit Ills, which starred Rosario Dawson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter. He has produced regularly for underground electro-pop favorite J*DaVeY.

Mateen helped start the band Nouveau Riche with Nikki Jean, along with Dice Raw, Dominic Angelella and Joe Baldacci. After that genre-defying project folded, Mateen helped create the indie-rock project, Elevator Fight, featuring Angelella and Baldacci, who also perform with DRGN KING. Mateen sings and plays bass guitar. Actress Zoë Kravitz fronts the new band.

“She’s super cool,” says Mateen.

The band spawned their name after a trip to Disney World, when they had an epiphany on the Tower of Terror.

In 2011, Mateen released his debut solo project, Khari. The seven-track album moves from smooth, neo-soul style grooves, to tight, get-you-out-of-your-seat funk, to old-school-style rhyming, to intricate, jazzy instrumentals. And it’s all rooted in his experiences in Philadelphia.

“When I see people in Philly doing music – playing, going out to jam sessions – there’s a great vibe,” he says. “It’s a testament to how important music is to people who live in this city.”

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