Story by Katie Kelly
Cover photo by Ahmad George
In September 2022, Lawrence Matthews performed his last public show as his musical alter-ego, Don Lifted. It wasn’t a small show, either (a headlining event at the iconic Overton Park Shell) and it didn’t come during some lull in his career. In fact, at this time Matthews was still riding the huge success of his critically acclaimed album, 325i. He had every reason to stay in the spotlight, but he didn’t.
After the performance, Lawrence Matthews disappeared.
When I say disappeared, I don’t mean that Matthews relocated to some remote cabin in Alaska where no one could reach him. Rather, I mean that the persona that Matthews had carefully crafted and nurtured for the last 10 years essentially no longer existed. “I had done such a good job of commodifying what the quote-unquote ‘Don Lifted experience’ was, that people started to project that experience back onto my artistic process,” he states. “You set the rules, then you share these rules for so long and so consistently that now people can’t see you outside of that. I wanted to do more. I wanna play more. I wanna try more. I want to experiment more.”
Which makes sense. Matthews created the idea of Don Lifted when he was still a teenager. He had long outgrown the songs he wrote at this time. 325i is a stunning collection of ambient-rap love songs, but that wasn’t reflective of who Matthews was anymore as an artist or a person. “I no longer had any direct connection to what those songs were. I was growing and learning things. Singing about some of the experiences that I had when I was 16 and 17 was fine, but the ones that are more specific started to feel a little icky. I realized like, dang, what is the future of this?” So, in order to explore what could be, Matthews had to close the chapter on what was. Don Lifted had to die.
Photo by Sam Leathers
Like most necessary endings, this one too spawned a new beginning. With the dissolution of Don Lifted, Matthews has been able to properly explore his full artistic potential without anyone’s preconceived notions. “The only rule I followed when I started writing new music was not to sound like or do anything I’ve done before,” he says. It’s a mentality that’s proved fruitful – Matthews tells me he has not one, but two new projects completed, with the first set to drop later this year.
Which brings us to now. On Friday ,January 26, Matthews will make his long-awaited return to the stage at the Green Room at Crosstown Arts – this time as just simply himself. When I ask him why he chose to come back now, Matthews–without hesitation–has his answer. “The only reason I felt the need to do it is because I felt like nobody was speaking to what the fuck was happening. I saw how people were feeling in the world and in Memphis specifically. This is the reason why I’m doing the show. I’m not doing the show to really even promote the music per se, or myself or any of that. I felt it was time for me to say something,” Matthews declares.
It appears he’s not the only one who felt this way. The show has already sold out with a formidable waitlist, prompting him to do a second performance following the original one.
With a message as important as this, Matthews’s vision for bringing it to life is gripping in its simplicity. “I just need a microphone and a stool. That’s it. I don’t need anything else. I’m not trying to do all this visual shit that you all have known me for. It’s just gonna be me, because I have something to say and I have something to express. That should be at the forefront.”
Despite the minimalistic nature of his idea, it’s incredibly ambitious. Not only has Matthews been away from the stage for a year and a half, but he’s also introducing fans to someone entirely different – himself and only himself. No frills, no extras, no reliance on what has been. It’s raw, it’s vulnerable, but most importantly, it’s real. That’s what Matthews hopes fans take away from this. “I hope that when people walk out of it, they feel heard and seen and loved on. I hope they have gotten out their aggression or their frustration. I hope after they can look forward to something that is speaking to what they are actually feeling.”
Having been lucky enough to hear Matthews’ new project, I know this to be true. There’s a lot more I want to say about what he has planned, but instead, I’ll leave you with this: if you haven’t gotten tickets yet, buy them. Now. You may think you’ve heard Don Lifted before, but I promise you – you’ve never heard Lawrence Matthews before.
*As of publishing, tickets are still available for the second 9PM show, which are available here.