New York rapper Hoodie Allen talks to Donna Doyle about his blossoming career and what makes his music stand out from other rap artists
“I would call it a nice mixture of pop, indie hip-hop.” Very rarely would you hear a hip-hop artist describe their music as “nice”, but then New York-born Hoodie Allen is not exactly like his contemporaries.
Opting for witty lyrics and genre-blending choruses rather than an ostentatious charade of bitches and bling, the artist claims it is his personal life and background that accounts for this vast difference in tone. “I just kind of have an interesting background, like I graduated college, you know, I left a job at Google to do music full-time. I don’t know if many other rappers could honestly up and say that”.
Stemming from a love of writing as a young child, Allen says “I would write stories and rhymes and I think it kind of grew out of that … I always just had this kind of innate desire to do this”. What changed was his influence, as storytelling was replaced by personal experience to which his fans can relate.
This embraced individuality was no more glorified than with the release of the anthemic track ‘You Are Not a Robot’, which samples the chorus of Marina and the Diamond’s track ‘I Am Not a Robot’. The choice of sample is an example of how the artist has strived to blur the boundaries of musical genre. Allen explains how the project came about; “It basically started because that’s the type of music that we listen to and we wanted to put a new spin onto it … and kind of make something that was different but also a whole new and possibly better interpretation for people who prefer hip-hop”.
The record was produced by college friend, RJF and released independently in June
2010. It experienced unprecedented success, occupying the number one position on
Hype Machine (an online community and aggregator that records the most blogged about music in the world). “I thought we had something that was pretty good”, says Allen, “but I didn’t really anticipate that”. To date, the self-financed video has achieved over two million views.
The response to his debut release allowed the artist to justify that self-confessed “leap of faith” and Allen released his mixtape, Pep Rally in September of 2010. Allen, encouraged by the success of ‘You Are Not a Robot’, continued to feature samples from alternative artists and the track list of the mixtape includes contribution from indie-rock outfits Death Cab for Cutie and Two Door Cinema Club.
After establishing a core of dedicated fans throughout the US, Allen released Leap Year in July. “It took a little longer than I thought. I set a bar for myself and I think
Pep Rally was the first time that I created a real fan base … I had fans who weren’t people who knew me and I wanted to make sure … I was giving them something that was bigger and better. Having fans is a really cool thing, especially dedicated ones … so I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t putting out bullshit”. Another acute difference in the material is that Allen relied less on the influence of successful samples. “We just tried to do something that sounded a little more original and that was less based on samples…or wasn’t directly influenced by it, which meant writing more of my own choruses”
Still an independent artist, Allen explains that the main benefit of his unsigned status is control. “[It’s nice to be] able to say I’m going to do this today and no one can tell me, no you can’t do that, you have to get someone else’s approval. I just have complete control of my schedule and my decision-making process with the music in general, and that’s a really valuable thing for me.”
Currently touring universities in the US, Allen is in the writing process of his first official EP, the first record that will be released by the artist for sale. “The hope is that that will allow me to go and tour the UK a little bit. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do basically since the beginning of time”.
Hoodie Allen’s witty lyrics caught the attention of prominent sketch duo Jake and Amir and through a Twitter relationship, came to collaborate for the College Humor website in the form of ‘Rap Teacher’ – two sketches that portrayed Allen as an ineffective rap tutor for the pair. His appearance on the internationally established sketch promoted his previously unknown name across shores.
On the cusp of what one would assume will be a successful career, Allen speaks of his future and what he hopes to achieve, increasing his dedicated fan base and touring further afield. “I hope that I will be playing in Madison Square Garden … and have created something really special with my fans that is, you know, global.”