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Friday, March 25, 2016

Minnesota Rapper Allan Kingdom Talks Learning Protools in High School, Changing His Phone Number, and How He Got A Verse on Kanye West's "All Day"

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2016 at 10:08 AM

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If you're into hip-hop and up-and-coming rappers, then Canada-born, Minnesota-raised Allan Kingdom simply must be on your radar. The 22-year-old, who comes from Tanzanian and South African roots, is known for his wicked-fast lyrical prowess and hard-hitting verses. He sings about quotidian topics in an engaging manner that makes even the most banal subjects interesting. He was a featured rapper on the 2015 Kanye West single, "All Day," and he just dropped a new mixtape called Northern Lights

SF Weekly spoke with the burgeoning rapper ahead of his upcoming show at The New Parish with Florida rapper Denzel Curry. 

Allan Kingdom and Denzel Curry play at 9 p.m., Tuesday, March 29 at The New Parish in Oakland. $16 to $20; more info here

Tell me about how you started rapping.
I was very young. I feel like everyone that’s naturally a creative starts when they’re born almost. I feel like it’s just the way you see the world. I don’t feel like it’s when you started piano lessons or guitar. When you are an artist, you just are.I feel like I was always doing art through poetry and drawing at a young age to exercise how I think. I begged my mom to go to this alternative high school and it was the only high school in Minnesota that I could find that had production classes. It was called Creative Arts. And I went there and I learned Protools and everything I needed to know. I realized that I just wanted to do music the rest of my life and that school allowed me to do that. They allowed me to finish my work and go to the studio so I would do that every day.

That sounds like a cool school. Do you feel like your parents Tanzanian and South African roots influenced your music?
Definitely. I feel like I gravitate more towards voices and patterns. One thing in African music that I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t matter if you can hit that run in the most perfect way, it just matters if it sounded cool and people can tell it’s your voice. It’s more about the unique person's voice and how they use it rather than can they hit the note that that guy just hit. 

Do you feel like moving and growing up in Minnesota influenced you?
Yeah. I think that because I’ve been in Minnesota and kind of away from the scene that other people grow up with or have the pleasure of being close to. Having to come up in Minnesota, I just had to be a loner and find my own path. And I feel like that’s one of the ways that it strengthened me.
I’ve heard that you're a really nice friendly dude, known for your Midwestern kindness.
Yeah, but it’s frustrating sometimes. You want to stay true to who you are and what you represent and sometimes it can be hard and you can be tested when you go to other places that don’t have the natural Midwestern culture. I used to look at is as a weakness that I was that way, and now I just try to use it to my advantage.

I read that you're a big fan of blocking people and changing your phone number. Do you do that a lot?
I feel like I change my number a couple times a year. But this is only for the last two years, so it’s not like my whole life. But before that I had the same number since 8th grade. It’s only when people started acting different towards me that I had to readjust to my life and how things are now. I still see myself as the same person, but when other people see you differently they just start being weird.

I guess that's a necessary evil when you become better known.
Exactly. It’s like if you want to be nice to people, you can’t put yourself in positions that you can’t be nice. Att the end of the day, I’d rather just not be in that situation. I’d rather just have a good time. And if you're not capable of me being in the same vicinity as you and having an amazing time then that’s on you. I can’t really do anything about that.

So how did your crew — Thestand4rd — start?
They’re all homies. We just met naturally at the studio that I still work out of now in Minneapolis. I'd known Bobby Raps for years. He’s a great producer and rapper and artist, in general. I met him throughout the years but I never got the opportunity to collaborate with him just because the music he was making, I didn’t see how it could go with mine. He was doing a lot of hood shit. And it was super dope, but I didn’t see how my sound would mesh with his. But when we got together in fall 2014, it was actually amazing and Spooky Black was in the studio and we all made the first Thestand4rd song. And people liked it so we kept doing it.

So why is Thestand4rd spelled with a 4?
We had to change the a to a 4 because the hotel already had the name. And I think another band already had the name. It was just too much confusion.

I saw on Spotify that someone placed you in a playlist called Mellow Bars. How do you describe or categorize your sound?
I don’t know. Rap in general these days is hard to explain. I usually just tell people I make hip-hop because, at the end of the day, I’m a rapper. I hate the subgenres. It’s like who cares? When I go to Tanzania and there's a little boy in the village singing 50 Cent, they don’t know what the fuck kind of rap that is. You can call it what you want, but I’m more interested in how is this going to make somebody feel? How is this going to make somebody's day better than what it's called? 

On your Twitter, I saw that you call your fans your friends.
That’s not like a thing, like. 'Oh, my friends!' But I just actually feel like that. It’s not like I was like I’m going to name all my fans friends now so that I’m personable. I just feel like that. When I’m at a show or someone talks to me, sometimes people do act like fans. But sometimes I’m like, 'Man, this person is really cool.' A lot of the times, maybe it’s the level I’m at because I’m not super mainstream yet, in order to know about me you have to be interested in music at a certain level. You actually have to dig somewhat to find me. So when I meet people we usually somehow have some type of interests in common and it's cool that I’ve been able to build that and not just hate fans and be annoyed by them.
So how did you get on "All Day?"
"All Day" happened through a series of good decisions and being in the right place at the right time and hard work. A lot of people at that time were really interested in what was going on in Minnesota in general so it was just the perfect time to be in the Midwest. Kanye happened to be in the Midwest and not traveling a lot. So we just linked up in the studio. And I had already heard clips of "All Day," but I never imagined id be on it.

What’s Kanye like? Did you have any interaction with him?

The most interaction I had with him was creative. When he's in the studio and focused, he's amazing. You can ask for any type of advice and he's not shy to give you some and let you know even some of the mistakes he's made and point those out. But other than that, I haven’t really spent so much time with him. It’s mainly been when I’m needed at the studio.

What did you think of Life of Pablo?

I heard some of it, but I honestly haven’t heard a lot of it because it’s so hard to find. It’s hard to get, especially if you're running around. Like, I’m an artist. I have a tour I’m getting ready for and things to do, so it’s hard to get access to it. But I heard some of the songs before they came out and they were dope.

Lastly, Northern Lights is your newest album. I love it and it sounds like it goes together really well. How long were you working on it?
Mixing music and making songs is easy. That’s like eating candy. Coming up with ideas, you can go in the studio and do that. But putting together a body of work and making a concept and something that the public is going to get is the challenging part. Some of those songs are older, but most of them are new or revised. And it was just this process of going over what I wanted to communicate or what I was going through.

Did you work on that for most of 2015?

I would say I worked on it for about a year collectively. I never sat down and was like. I’m working on Northern Lights right now. I only did that at the end when I had to put the songs together. I always kind of knew what it was, so when you have that, it’s easy to make the rest of the songs.

And you made it for free download.
Yeah, because I don’t have a big label pushing my shit. So it’s like when you don'y have that, you've got to make your work accessible. Because I just want to people to hear my music. At the end of the day, that’s what matters to me. As long as I put my heart and soul into it and people get it and understand it, I know my career will be okay. I mean, I’m about my money too, but right now in my career who am I to be charging 15 dollars for an album if you've never heard of me? It doesn’t make sense.

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Jessie Schiewe

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