Bull Horn is an avenue to give wings to the stories that matter most. This series, from Red Bull in partnership with the Chicago Reader, invites guest writers, artists, activists, and community members to share their ideas and amplify timely, crucial topics they feel are important now.

Courtesy Paul Araki Elliott

Matt Muse: I started growing my hair when I was in college at Northern Illinois University. The school had a really strong Black presence, but because it was a PWI (predominantly white institution), Black people were sometimes—for lack of better words—treated like shit by the school, and especially by the white students.

There were a lot of programs that were created and implemented to help young Black folks, Black men specifically, to present a certain way in order to be ready for a professional setting. When I first got to Northern, I’d go to class dressed up in button-up shirts and slacks. Then, in my second-to-last year, I was like, “Yo, This is not comfortable. It doesn’t fully match who I am.” So I started wearing hoodies and sweats to class like I should’ve been the whole time. I also started growing my hair—I haven’t cut it since around February of 2015.

The idea that Black men have to look a certain way to be taken seriously is a problem. It’s profiling. It causes a lot of problems to say, “In order to be taken seriously at your job, you gotta have waves, you gotta have a fade, you gotta have nice hair.” What if the guy with dreads is just as smart and even better at the job than the dude with the haircut? That’s what I wanted to embrace: the presentation doesn’t matter, it’s who the person is. 

The term “nappy,” in the Black community, is not positive. At that time my hair was in a nice, organized nappy fro, so I was like, “Yeah, my hair is nappy. I’m not about to present myself the way standards say I should, but I am going to be confident.” Nappy Talk was a full album of shittalking and championing myself and how much I love my natural real self, inside and out. The hair was just a metaphor for that. 

Hip-hop culture is Black culture. What you see in the music is what’s actually happening on the ground when it comes to hair, and more and more people are letting their hair grow naturally. In a sense, it’s a form of rebellion, but the idea of a rebellion feels intentional. In some ways that’s the intent behind it, but in other ways, the intent is not to rebel—it’s to be yourself. And to call it a rebellion gives too much credit to the people that we might be rebelling against. 

My generation is championing this idea, through music, of being yourself and saying “fuck the establishment.” And [younger people] now are living it. I’m doing a residency at a school right now and the students’ hair is so diverse. None of them have perms, none of them come to school with their hair pressed. They all have braids, dreads, or wear it in a fro—guys and girls. I think the [younger people] are doing a really good job when it comes to presenting themselves, and not allowing society to tell them how to do it. The bigger issue is an issue of self love. The conversations that are important to be having with young people, especially in Chicago, is like navigating self-love, and navigating living in a city that has the amount of issues our city has. 

The thing that’s dope about Love & Nappyness is that it doesn’t just benefit young people, but also people transitioning from incarceration. I’m very glad people embrace and understand the idea that giving people these products could help people enhance their self-image and help them get jobs. But the bigger thing is that the work of Ignite and St. Leonard’s is so important. It’s not just about giving them the products, but doing the Long Hair Don’t Care show, where we can raise money for their causes and give them a platform to talk about their work. I’ll always be happy to do the product drive, but what’s just as important is, “How can we support Ignite and St. Leonard’s and other charities in the city?” That to me is the beautiful thing. I fuck with the press and I fuck with the people, but when I go to St. Leonard’s or I go to Ignite and drop these boxes off and they talk to me about how their residents respond to it—or I get to meet their residents—that’s when I know we must be doing something right.

Matt Muse is a Chicago hip-hop artist and activist. In 2019, he founded the Love & Nappyness Hair Care Drive, an initiative that fosters self-love and wellness through natural hair care and community support. In its third year, Love & Nappyness, which is named after the title of Muse’s 2019 album, benefited St. Leonard’s Ministries, a nonprofit organization that empowers formerly incarcerated individuals, and Ignite, an organization that supports youth experiencing homelessness. The drive, which aims to collect sealed and unused natural hair care, skincare, and personal hygiene products, ran through December 17, culminating with a benefit concert at Metro that evening. The Long Hair Don’t Care show featured performances by Muse, theMIND, and headliner Jamila Woods.