Matt Talley’s love for music runs deep. But not just the action of listening to it, no — it’s taking the time to clean a vinyl record, reading the liner notes, discovering the origin of the sample in a favorite song; it’s all about the process of listening to LPs that does it for Talley and with his latest endeavor, he hopes to bring this experience to others.
In September 2020, the music aficionado defied the unfortunate fate brought on by the pandemic of most brick-and-mortars and opened his own: Cool Kids Vinyl. The shop, located above Maketto on H Street, features both vintage and contemporary records as well as retro memorabilia like magazines and action figures with a focus on Black culture.
Talley has taken some steps toward building upon Cool Kids since its opening, like partnering with Three Keys Coffee to create his own hip-hop-inspired roasts, but feels the best is yet to come.
“[Cool Kids] is a huge step in furthering what I want to do in my career, but I feel like I haven’t reached my magnum opus yet,” Talley says of his future plans. “For me, it’s a genuine passion project. I’m just happy people like it.”
District Fray: What inspired opening Cool Kids Vinyl?
Matt Talley: Originally, it was a traveling hip-hop exhibit [called ‘Diggin’ Thru the Crates] my mentor DJ Alizay and I started seven years ago. It was an event where you would dig through crates of new and old music [to find] whatever song or album you want to hear — then give it to a DJ to play what you picked. [It was] very nostalgic, very vintage of course (the vinyl compliments that). Having different magazines, cassettes and other hip-hop memorabilia gives you that feeling along with the event. Right before Covid, we did a five city tour sponsored by Mass Appeal and Monster. Then the pandemic happened and we had to close up shop and ended up transitioning to a brick-and-mortar store.
That’s interesting. A lot of brick-and-mortar businesses went online during the pandemic but you guys opened a new store.
Yeah, when you put it like that [laughs]. But I’ve worked at Maketto for four years now — it’s a very unique place here in D.C. We like to consider it a marketplace that is essentially a restaurant but it has facets of retail. It’s a little bit of a lot. Our second floor was a cafe service but during the pandemic, of course, we couldn’t do dine-in until September of 2020. It was a good idea to create something on the second floor to garner community back into the space as we opened back up. People grew a liking to it.
I know vintage memorabilia is another big part of Cool Kids. Why aren’t you just doing records?
There are different textures that make up the space. It gives you that balance of nostalgia and seeing things you wouldn’t typically see or don’t even remember seeing.
What do you love so much about records — vintage records in particular?
A few [things]: I started out working at a record shop. I worked at HR Records [as part of] their opening staff, and working at HR it’s either really busy or you won’t see people for hours. I would spend a lot of time by myself listening to music and when you’re sitting in a record shop with like 3,000 records, your range can be all over the place. Listening to a record I’ve never heard of in my life [gives me] this sense of discovery. I feel like everybody’s into something and for me, it’s the information of music. You get that with vinyl.
Do you have one record in particular you used to listen to a lot as a kid?
Growing up, I lived in the CD player era but I was one of the last people to give up cassettes. And some albums to this day sound a little bit better if you put it in a stereo and listen to it on cassette rather than a CD or YouTube. I would say as an adult I found entry into vinyl culture. I spent a little bit of time in London a long time ago and was alone my first couple days there. I was looking around the apartment and [found] a record player, so I went to this record store down the street and bought Nas’ “Illmatic” and Outkast’s first record on vinyl. It was literally the only thing I did [until my friend arrived]; I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I literally played those albums until they started to scratch.
How does Black culture influence what Cool Kids is all about?
It’s a solid hip-hop experience but at the same time, it is Black culture. One of the first gifts a person gave me [after] opening up the record shop is a Life magazine from 1965. It’s the oldest magazine we have in there and it [includes] the story about the 1965 L.A. Watts riots. On the front page, you see kids almost in this militaristic stance. It’s so powerful. It’s a moment in time you can sit in the record shop and in 10 minutes read that article with so much knowledge and history. [Cool Kids] is essentially an educational yet stimulating experience walking through a record shop. I like to think of it as an encapsulation of Black culture.
What do you hope people will feel or experience when they step foot into your shop?
I want people to feel comfortable and stimulated in the experience we try to give off. The unique thing about this place in particular is you can get a kid from the neighborhood to come in and buy a 21 Savage vinyl and an hour later his grandma can come in and buy a five dollar Stevie Wonder record. They both get the same experience and feeling when they walk in, which is the comfortability of the space and the stimulating experience. [The hope is to] not just have you there, but keep you there and keep your business.
What is your favorite album of all time?
John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”
What’s the last song you listened to?
“Is There Someone Else” by The Weeknd.
What’s your guilty pleasure music?
I listen to a lot of Amy Winehouse.
Favorite D.C. haunt?
I’m always on H Street. I toggle back and forth between CopyCat and another place called Hill Prince. It’s a watering hole, the debriefing place.
What’s your go-to coffee order?
A cortata with oat milk with a little bit of honey syrup if you have it.
Batman or Superman?
Superman. Batman isn’t a superhero.
Favorite part of the Super Bowl LVI halftime show?
I really love Kendrick so it was great to see him come out of his hole and perform.
What musical instrument do you wish you could play?
I wish I could play the piano. The piano looks super cool to play.
It’s Friday night and you don’t feel like cooking. What do you order in?
Chinese for sure. That’s the one that comes the fastest, too. Pizza is an option and/or wings. Very junky.
What does your favorite T-shirt look like?
I have a T-shirt that has a list and a drawn picture of all the Soulaquarians — it’s a well-rounded collective of people who recorded a lot of their albums with each other.
Follow Matt Talley on Instagram at @talleyismajor