Allan Kingdom discusses staying grounded after working with artists as prolific as Kanye West, Denzel Curry and more. The following is an extract from District Magazine Issue 002, as Coili Collins catches up with the St Paul artist.
“Part of being an artist is being able to realise a trend and resist it. That speaks louder.”
2016 was a monumental year for hip hop during which it gained its foothold in the mainstream more than ever. However the genre’s identity has never been as fragile while also being versatile. There are more sub-genres emerging from alien quarters, and so many artists that the future of hip hop is quite uncertain, but certainly exciting.
Being a singer, rapper, and producer Allan Kingdom’s versatility in some ways embodies the charismatic, sporadic and unpredictable path ahead for the genre.
Minnesota is located in the heart of the US’s ‘Northern Regions’, in contact with Canada but not quite Canadian, part of the States, but not quite in touch with the States’ ethos; Minneapolis being a snowy alternative metropolis to the country’s classic skylines. Allan Kingdom, hailing from Minnesota, adheres in some ways to the modern hip hop scene, whilst being simultaneously left of field. In terms of artists that are innovative and prepared for what the future holds, Kingdom is well ahead of the already unique pack, all the while consciously being himself.
With two albums, and as many Grammy nominations, a Kanye West collaboration, a tour with Denzel Curry and a remix of Lil’ Yachty’s ‘Minnesota’ under his belt, Kingdom’s ‘young’ career is well-seasoned with glittery names and accomplishments.
While of course these highly individual characters have influenced Kingdom, his own soulful dash remains on each track he lays his vocal stamp upon.
Over the past year you’ve carved out your own spot in the modern hip hop scene. Now that you’ve burrowed into it, how has it been for you?
It’s kind of cool, I think it’s had its challenges but it’s all worth it. It’s been nice, especially the tour with Denzel [Curry], such a genuine person, it felt like the right person, I’m glad that my first real tour was with him.
You two are leading lights in terms of your own styles, you fit into boxes but are also creating your own ones. How do you perceive your own style’s development as time goes on?
I feel like in terms of the future, it’s about always coming from a new viewpoint, I think the people that fade away are the people that can’t evolve. You either adapt or die in nature.
People who fade away are people who can’t evolve their viewpoints and grow as people, which means if you can’t grow as a person you can’t grow as an artist, you’re going to get stale. Everyone’s going to get used to your message and somebody newer and younger and fresher is going to come along and do it in a crazier way, that’s just how it is.
If you don’t grow as a person, then it’s hard to last.
After collaborating with distinctive artists like Curry, D.R.A.M and having your own take on a Yachty track, how do you maintain your own place among so many other individuals?
It’s so apparent that you can’t do what they do and that they can’t do what you do, so you’ve got to stick to your own thing.
I like collaborating with people I already have a friendship with.
Since the Kanye West hype has died down, how has it affected your own mindset?
If I wanted to be hot all the time, then it’d be a bad thing. I wanted to make sure my vision was presented to the world raw. I appreciate the opportunity, but I’m glad how things are going. I’ve got to let the records speak for themselves.
There are still going to be the ones that stick around and there’ll be the ones that go, no matter if there are new artists coming along every day, good music is still good music. A song that hits people’s hearts is a song that hits people’s hearts no matter who it’s coming from or what the artist is dressed in, or how they got their music out. It has to do with the content, the best will survive, even if a million artists come out in a day, the cream of the crop will rise to the top.
How has the northern US scene developed?
Doing my thing, I’ve definitely seen some artists come up with more international sounds in the North, it’s only going to grow. I take it all in my stride, when I was coming up here I had no one necessarily trying to help, I want to spread the love back.
Social media has had a massive impact on what’s popular and what style is trendy, will that lead to a mass adherence to trends or a mass uprising of distinctive individuals, especially due to the use of algorithmic systems?
It’s all about representing who you are. If you’re on social media representing what’s really you and that stays constant, you’ll survive. It’s about adapting but also you can’t go with every single wave, just because something’s hot on the internet doesn’t mean I’m going to do it.
If that was me then I’d do it, but if it isn’t me then I’m not going to do it. It’s all about representing who you are, it’s not me to hold guns up to the camera!
Part of being an artist is being able to realise a trend and resist it. That speaks louder. When everyone’s doing this but you’re not going to do it, it doesn’t mean that you hate it but it’s just not your thing.
No matter how social media platforms change, as long as you stick to your thing and evolve then you’ll be good.
Has the hip hop sphere switched from a macho, members-only club to a creative space for unique individuals?
Definitely, as far as fans and the general public, I think they’re more accepting. Hip hop’s nature is very exclusive and competitive. There’s always going to be a macho thing because hip hop is so competitive. I’ve seen a lot of creative people be pushed to the side or ignored, based on feelings that they’re a threat.
It still is based on popularity, money, all the things that hip hop is cool for. Just because the style and the music has changed doesn’t mean that the attitude has. As far as being a creative in the hip hop game, there are positives and negatives.
You’re talented, when you make it, you’ll last longer, but people will be on your road that’ll try and push you to the backseat.
Is there a pressure to be marketable? Have artists become brands?
Definitely, it is about a brand but you can only go so far if that’s all it’s based on. Someone who writes amazing records that the world falls in love with, that also has a sense of style is always going to be better off than the artist that has an amazing dress sense that makes people like their pictures.
The artist that touches people’s hearts is always going to have more respect than someone that dresses cool. It’s never going to change, sort of like a law of the universe, especially since music is so intangible. Style is maybe more important than it was before but I think you need both. Without the music, it’s not going to last. Styles change. I just like expression.
Photography: James Pearson
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