Matthew Hall:
A Poet, a Rebel.
A Fighter, a Friend.

Revolutionary Worker #1216, October 19, 2003, posted at

Matthew Hall
Optimus Rhyme

A poet, a rebel.
A fighter and a friend.

"so when they ask why the rivered tears
fall on the
tell 'em 'cuz the sun doesn't rise this
bright often"

-Z-313 (from the new song "Optimus Rhyme" by Kontrast and Miles Solay, featuring samples of Optimus Rhyme)


It's so much colder now with the wind cutting through every layer of clothing. We're in October now and the nights are growing longer; the sun is going to bed so much earlier. Yet just a while ago it was still feeling like summertime. People were enjoying the warm nights--hanging out, kickin' back and doing their normal thing.

And then it happened.

Matt was killed. Shot in the back by a youth he didn't know.

Matt was just 18 years old.

We found out in different ways. Some of us got that phone call we couldn't believe. Some of us were there that night in Harlem when his life was cut horribly short for reasons not entirely clear.

Although he had lived almost 19 years (his birthday is November 22), Matthew Hall had done so much with the time he had. I met him when he was about 14 years old through Act Your Rage--the only free politically conscious open mic for youth--organized by the youth of Refuse & Resist!. It was a rare kind of space where youth of all different nationalities, from all over the city, got together to spit rhymes, sing songs, recite poetry--where youth got to speak out and be heard and fuse all this with radical politics. It was here that many people got to know Matt and where he became an organizer for the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality and the struggle to free political prisoner Mumia Abu- Jamal.

He soon became a legacy in his high school for popularizing radical politics. He started to use hip- hop as a way to bring different people together, and it became a complete way of life for him, leading him to the Universal Zulu Nation, a "universal hip hop awareness movement" which struggles against racism and promotes spirituality. With the Zulu Nation, Matt started throwing shows for people to share their art and talent. Zulu became the core of his life because of the positive message he heard from them and the emphasis they put on hip-hop.

As Optimus Rhyme, Matt would spit rhymes with passion and that special spark of personal style and confidence just as well as he could break dance and develop his unique graffiti style.

"Matt was all about resistance music, words, actions, ideas. No matter where they were happening he was there, he was reading about it, he wanted to talk about it, learn from it, and make sure all these other people were hip to it too," said Araby Carlier of Refuse & Resist!

Easily thousands in his generation and beyond--in activist circles or the underground hip-hop community--knew him and what he stood for. Then with his death, the whole city started talking about him. He was on the front page of several newspapers and for over a week there continued to be articles about the positive impact Matt's life had on people.

Some news articles tried to say that the police cared about Matthew. But the truth is, they treated him like shit the night he died--the same way they treat the Black and Latino youth they shoot down in the street. According to some folks, the police didn't arrive until after the ambulances left. They went through his book bag, calling all the people in his phone book, and making some come in to "talk." Then they interrogated some people for hours and even tried to pin the murder on one of Matt's closest friends. The police harassed him, saying, "You see your friend as a living human being, but I just see a corpse lying in the morgue."

Scores of people were inspired by Matt's life, and strangers came to his memorials. People were inspired by the spirit with which he had lived. And that spirit included a real faith in the powerful mixture of youth and art. Last year, when everyone was in full throttle for the October 6, Not In Our Name National Day of Resistance to protest a U.S. war in Iraq, Matt decided that Refuse & Resist! needed to do another Act Your Rage. One hadn't happened in a while and everyone was mad busy but, Araby explained, "Matt really, really, really wanted an AYR, and he really, really, really wanted to have a big R&R! sign for Oct. 6, so he rolled into the office to help and drew the fist. He believed so much in how important it would be to have an AYR for youth who were all angry and antsy over the coming war--that he wouldn't let us not do it."

That's the thing--Matt would go to all these places--literally, or just in his head, and he'd take you along with him, invite you to take a deep breath and dream, or raise your fist, hold a banner, or meet all different kinds of people. He invited you into his world and helped you to see how another one was possible.

What also makes Matt's life remarkable is how it continues now to reverberate in his friends and beyond--how his life continues to send waves inspiring and challenging people, because of how he treated the people he cared about when he was alive, and that often included strangers.

"Yeah, he was a good MC, yeah he was a good artist, and yeah he was a dope b-boy, but he was great friend," said Eliseo, a close friend for years. He said Matt could be cracking a joke on you one minute and then get into a serious conversation about the war, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who he deeply loved, or about the history of the Black Panther Party. And he was a great listener. He really spent the time to understand his friends, including those he sometimes disagreed with. And Matt had such a wide range of friends, from different nationalities, religions, politics, etc., that none of them agreed all the time. He made people feel welcomed and appreciated when he was with them.

His friends say this respect and love came from his close relationship with his parents, and you could see that in how they spoke about him in the days after his murder. Matthew was the only child they'd had together.

George Hall, a Black retired teacher and church organist who was once jailed for trying to integrate a public swimming pool in Champaign, Illinois, said about his son Matt: "He was my best friend. I respected him. He was a better man than I was." George told the press, "In his 18 years, he did more than I did. The tragedy is not that he died, but that he died before he could achieve more."

"Matthew was a man of peace, love and hope--that's the message I want to give," said his mom Chantal, a Swiss-born psychologist. "We all have to work toward it. We all have to do something that makes the world better."

Miles Solay, who participated in doing a Not In Our Name anti-war, anti-recruitment TV ad with Matt, who he'd been friends with since high school, said one thing he learned from Matt is "you've got to make your moments count, make them matter with people." In remembering his friend, Miles said, "Some people live three times as long as Matthew did and never change anybody. They just follow the beaten path. Matthew was a rebel. He never accepted things the way they were. He loved the people, and he hated injustice. He got that dynamic down right."


The NYC chapter of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade issued a statement in Matt's memory that said in part, "Matt refused to accept that this world, filled with great injustice and staggering inequality, is the highest humanity can achieve. Where young people are offered no meaningful future, but get caught up and kill each other, or are sent to kill and die for empire."

Matt saw how the lives of literally thousands of youth are being cut short every year--dreamers and fighters, potential leaders--robbed by the cruel dog-eat-dog relations of this system where youth don't see a tomorrow worth living for. Matt hated the system, he was searching for a way out of this madness and considered himself a revolutionary. At every memorial held for Matt, everyone talked about going forward and fighting for that better world he lived for.

As the RCYB statement said, "Matt was a poet and a rebel. A fighter and a friend. Matt dreamed that another world is possible. And in his fierce memory, we rededicate ourselves to making it real."