The duality of Allan Kingdom’s career is an amazing thing. On one hand, he’s the guy getting flown across the world to perform with Kanye. On the other, he’s the smiley, introspective, Midwestern outsider releasing music with other nascent artists like Spooky Black, forming young supergroups and striving to live a young creative’s dream.
Allan Kingdom was in town to headline No Ceilings last week, and he put on an incredible performance for his first New York show. The confidence in his presentation and artistry alone would’ve led one to believe he had been on the road for years—and we haven’t even mentioned his dance moves. We caught up with Kingdom the next day to talk about documenting his life through music, performing with Kanye, not fitting in, and teen idols.
Firstly I just want to say congratulations on headlining the No Ceilings show the last week, you were amazing. It was your first show in New York, how did you find it?
I loved it, I don’t think it could have gone any better. There was so much genuine vibes in the room, I feel like I made new fans too. It was especially cool to share the stage with Kevin Abstract and London O’Connor. I feel like they were the perfect artists for that event to be held with. At this point, it’s like the first step out of my home city, one of the first milestones, one of the big ones.
So obviously I want to ask about the Kanye feature. I heard that you only had two days notice before you had to fly to the BRIT awards. You must have been freaking out, how was the flight?
I was a little bit tripping on the flight. I was thinking of every possibility that could happen to make sure that everything would go smoothly. I didn’t know what would be thrown at me, so I was reciting my 18 or however many words, saying it over and over again, making sure I had everything right. I hadn’t even heard the song so it’s not like I could listen to it.
How much were you told?
I was told that I was going to perform at the BRITS, that was it. The other information came when I got there, met the driver, went to a hotel and got the schedule. Everything was boom boom boom.
I heard you changed your phone number right before getting on the plane. Obviously you were expecting a change, how was it when you got back?
Things changed in the most obvious ways as far as more attention, but I feel like the biggest change is in me. The most good that it did for me is inside, I’m just more confident in my product and the message I’m trying to push. It’s such a validation. It’s like a graduation, which is just the beginning.
No one from your hometown was hating on you, or any personal things like that?
No, I’m a pretty nice guy so it’s hard to find a reason to hate me. I think everything is pretty low key as far as that is concerned, as far as the negatives and the hating, and I’m pretty good at dealing with it.
You have such a positive outlook on both “regular” life and hip-hop in general—how do stay so happy?
I don’t know, I just don’t like to be sad. I feel that to a certain degree there’s a law of attraction and if I pay attention to things that make me angry, that’s only going to introduce them into my life more. So I literally just ignore things I don’t like. If it’s not good for me emotionally, spiritually, or physically, I will do everything to make sure that I can go around it.
How do you do that?
Simple stuff that I’m surprised people don’t do more; you can just block someone on Twitter, you can change your number, you can not go to certain things. I don’t have to be at every party.
It’s a mental thing and it takes some time to build—I’m still working on it. I think the main thing for me is being aware that you always have more to go and you can always become a better person. Every time something goes wrong I usually blame myself, in a good way. I’m like, “Okay, there’s something I could have done to make that better.” I feel like blaming others puts you in low place because you don’t have control over other people’s actions, it makes you feel powerless. I don’t like feeling like that so I try to take as much responsibility as I can.
So at the BRITS, you were on stage with Skepta and all the key players in the grime scene. Did you know Skepta’s music before?
I didn’t know it in depth but I was familiar with his movement. It was interesting meeting people in the grime scene and talking to them about how being a hip-hop artist is different there, and the challenges they face. I feel like it was such a uniting of cultures, from the young scene here, the London scene, and the major shit that Kanye’s doing, but it was all hip-hop so it was dope to be part of that.
I was lurking online and found this video of you when you were 17 where you were asked to list your favorite artists and you said Theophilus London. How was it being on a track with him, your 17-year-old idol?
The 17-year-old in me was jumping around, definitely. You always have those artists that you listened to early on, that helped you get through things and influenced you in a certain way.
I set goals for myself, and it might take four or five years to reach them, but when I look back at that video when I was 17, it’s amazing to see that those things materialize and happen. So I’m very happy about that. It’s always good to look back and be like, “I did that.”
How did you start working with Plain Pat and DJ Kaslow?
I’ve been working with Pat and DJ Kaslow since I was 17 or 18. It happened naturally, just by word of mouth. It’s not like Pat managed me right away or anything—we built a relationship and as things got bigger and things kept growing in my city, it just worked. He would give me advice on what I should do, the moves I should make and that helped me grow and things just came together.
How instrumental has he been to your sound and your progression?
Very. I think I picked the right team.
You were born in Canada to a South African dad and a Tanzanian mother, and then moved to Wisconsin before settling in Minnesota. How much of an impact did your upbringing have on your music?
A lot. I was mostly raised by my mother so there was a lot of East African and Central African dance music. That was my first introduction to music as a child, because you just listen to what your parents play. As I got older, I had the freedom to venture into hip-hop, which was a new world for me to explore. I realized that I could take all my talents and put them into one thing; I could work on my visuals, I could play with my clothes, I could write poetry, I could sing, I could express myself, all under one umbrella.
Do you think having an international perspective, and not growing up with hip hop made you experiment more with the form? Not being like, “I have to do this thing because that’s what other people do.”
Yeah definitely. Either way I wasn’t going to fit in, so it’s not like if I tried to, I would have. I’m just naturally the oddball out. I think being an outsider makes you more creative. It’s okay if I can’t do this cookie-cutter thing. I’m just going to do whatever, I’m going to do whatever I want and hopefully people will gravitate to it and relate to it.
Why do you think you wouldn’t fit in?
I was the first person in my family to be born outside of Africa, on both sides. I’m very American to my family, I don’t speak Swahili or my national languages as I should. But to people here, I’m not American, and I don’t speak English right. I moved around a lot as well—there’s not one clique you can stick with because you’re constantly switching schools, so I used expressing myself as a way to keep something consistent. If I’m always writing poetry, if I’m making music, that’s something that’s always with me. It’s how I keep track of my life, my existence and my progression as a human. Every time I make a song, I try to reflect the environment that I’m making it in. I think “Evergreens” sounds like Minnesota, it just sums up my teenage years and being young. Even now, I still relate to it very heavy, it’s my anthem.
Thestand4rd album too—some of the songs sound like Toronto, where I made them. We went up there for a month to just get away for a little bit and work on some music.
How did you guys all connect?
We connected very quickly and naturally. When “Without U” dropped, I already knew Bobby [Raps].
Did you go to highschool with him?
No, we just knew each other from being in the city and trying to get our music out. I would always see him freestyling at parties, he would watch my videos online so we were peers. I hit him up being like, “Yo, I heard some stuff you produced for Spooky, I would really like to get up with you because I’ve never heard you make something in that lane.” He told me to swing by, so I went by the studio, met Spooky for the first time, Psymun came by, we made our first song and in the second studio session we came up with a group name.
How did you come up with the name?
All day [Laughs] I was riding around and I was thinking if I wrote a song called “the standard,” about how the new generation is trying to set a new standard, that’d be dope and as soon as I get in the studio, I’ll write a song called “the standard.”
So I get to the studio and we did “Decisions” or something like that, and we were like let’s come up with a group, let’s start a random SoundCloud page, what are we gonna call it? It was the creepiest thing. I was sitting there like, should I give up my idea… No one says anything, it’s just silent and then Spooky looks me straight in the eye and goes “thestand4rd.” I freak out and I start banging the wall, and I’m like, “That shit’s dope, we’re going with that.” Then I explained to them what I’d been thinking earlier and they were like, “All right that’s the name,” and that was it.
Of your contemporaries, who are vibing with right now?
Kevin Abstract, obviously thestand4rd, everyone young now, there’s Goldlink. All the new artists from Chicago/Atlanta, Playboi Carti, Father, Maxo Kream. Anyone could go through my SoundCloud likes, that’s where everything is that I listen to.
How did you connect with Kevin Abstract?
That’s a long-term thing, we’ve known of each other and been familiar with each other for about four or five years. He’d been watching me come up on the internet, simultaneously I was watching him come up and we just kept progressing at the same rate until we collabed with each other. So we’ve been talking since I was 17, since he was like 16 or 15. We’d been talking on the internet and just exchanging ideas.
What can you tell me about your next release?
I have a lot of music done for it that was made many different places over a long span of time, so I’m taking all of that music and trying to group it together and present it in the best way possible.
I haven’t been this confident in a project before, it’s definitely better than my last one, the music is a lot better, the songs are better, they make me feel better. It’ll come out in the next couple of months.