Music

This American guy’s sign-language rap videos are just what you need

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Sam Diss
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I don’t know if you’ve noticed – you’ve been busy, you had that thing to do this morning, and then that meeting, and loads of emails and stuff, and there there was all this news about a monster being elected to the office of President, instated as the most important person in the world, that was a bit distracting – but people are a bit fed up right now. 

To paraphrase Jackie DeShannon: what the world needs now, is incredibly sincere videos of sign-language translations of rap songs. So meet Matt Maxey, nice dude from Jacksonville Beach, Florida who does ASL over rap classics on his YouTube channel, DeafinitelyDope, with nothing more than dexterous digits, some headphones, and a cheap video camera. 

While his channel was recently flooded thanks to a bump from Reddit – there was a lot of “LE REDDIT ARMY, ASSEMBEL” from dudes named Gustaf Smythe-Richards in neckbeards and fedoras – his videos remain a warming nip of emotional brandy in this cold, cold, cold-as-fuck world.

“I've been doing this for 5 years,” says Maxey – who has profound hearing loss which means he has just 20% hearing remaining – over email. “I started out really just practicing my signing and as time went on, I started realising more and more that there's a bigger vision to signing hip hop with American Sign Language in a way that both the hearing and deaf can understand and feel inspired by. [I felt like it was] something a lot of people have never seen before and it breaks down a lot of stereotypes in the process.”

There’s something to be said about the inclusivity of translating a populist genre that was borne of – and still incredibly important to – people of colour and people persecuted against society. More so than any other type of music, rap has been about communication and the expression of ideas, occasionally on quite a granular level, making it a potentially vital way of reaching out to a group too often left in the society’s wings.

“They have sign language interpreters at concerts, but most deaf people won't even bother to attend a concert thinking it won't be accessible for them,” says Maxey, “but now you can bring the concert vibe to them to help them experience music like never before. And yet the hand gestures still fit with the hip hop culture, they just make words and paint a bigger picture which gives the track new meaning on another level.”

Dunno why he’s shirtless now but fair fucks, Maxey. You continue to do you. 

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Sam Diss

The Associate Editor of New Projects at ShortList, Sam enjoys making up words to annoy editors, writing features about sports, music, weird things, and cool people, and listening to Mark Morrison's 'Return Of The Mack'. He's also a fairly capable centreback. Follow Sam on Twitter: @SamDiss

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