I’m writing this at a picnic table inside a forest. The light of my laptop screen is drowning out the moon, I’m well aware of the irony. My wife and daughter are asleep inside the cabin, lulled to sleep by that ceaseless, droning hum, that accumulated feedback from every living thing you only hear in the woods, that to me sounds like the absolute sound of death. The beer I brought along for exactly this occasion has been long since livered, there's nothing left to distract me from the relentless, impending doom of the wild except for Allan Kingdom’s music. I press play on his Future Memoirs album and everything else disappears, it's just me, the music and this laptop screen. It’s a strange place to write this piece, but here I am. Here Allan Kingdom is.
Kingdom's got an instantly identifiable voice, a nasal-inflected tone that's constantly pitching up and down, like someone trying to tell you a secret but they're too excited to actually whisper. Out of all the aspects of rapping we typically talk about - lyricism, flow, delivery - voice is the one we mention least frequently, but in many ways it's the most important. Pick any famous rapper, from Eminem to Drake, Jeezy to KRS-One, and as soon as you hear their voice, that voice, you instantly know who you're listening to.
Kingdom's rapped with that unique voice since he really started making music as a teenager. When we spoke he said, "Even on my earliest stuff, I may be a little embarrassed by it now, but it doesn’t sound like anything else. The best music, there’s not anything like it." His voice was strange enough to get him singled out, called weird by other kids, but it's also the voice Kanye West heard and wanted on "All Day."
If you know Allan Kingdom you know him as a St. Paul emcee who's been putting out music for years, but if you've only heard of Allan Kingdom, chances are you've heard him via his inclusion on Kanye's banger. But while his name might have vaulted into the public consciousness essentially overnight, music's been a decades long pursuit for Kingdom. Born in Canada to African parents and then later moving to St. Paul, Kingdom's earliest musical experiences came through the church, making his first songs with an uncle, then going through an indie rock and EDM phase before truly delving into hip-hop as a teenager. "I always knew I wanted to do music as a profession," he said. "I was 16-years-old when I decided my name, decided what I wanted my career path to be."
Since that teenage decision Kingdom's drive and music has connected him with Plain Pat, the former manager for Kanye and Kid Cudi, who connected him to Yeezy who brought him in for "All Day," which immediately changed Kingdom's life, except it really didn't. When people see you on stage with Kanye they think you're immediately handed an Illuminati membership card and a million dollar check, but while Kingdom undoubtedly got a bump from the exposure, that bump wasn't life changing. He returned from that London show to his same St. Paul apartment filled with the same bills and got right back to the same grind he was on before. "You still have to go work for your fans," he said. "Nothing that really means anything changes overnight. I’m still working the same way, nothing feels any easier than it did before."
More than a co-sign or guest spot, it's his upcoming album that Kingdom thinks could really bring his career to the next level, paired with a move to L.A., and that album's almost finished. When we spoke he still wasn't ready to unveil a title, but he did say that he had been working on the project for years now, he only had a handful of songs left to mix, and that while we shouldn't expect to see a litany of big names now attached to the album, being around Kanye did change his approach in one huge way. "The way I see what's possible really changed, he said. "Being around that level of excellence, you get used to it as the norm, you want to stay at that level."
The other lesson he learned from "All Day" is just how unpredictable the music industry can be. Ending up in the studio with Kanye wasn't an accident, but it wasn't some meticulously executed plan either. Just how much of your career is, and isn't, actually in your control is a powerful thing for any artist to realize, and Kingdom realized it early. That's why he's determined to not get caught up in any hype and to stay focused on what's right in front of him. "I don’t know what the long term plan is, I didn’t even know 'All Day' would happen. I just make the best music I can, put it out, and see what happens. You can get that phone call, or you could grind for two years without anyone noticing. All I can say is I won’t stop."
It's a wise strategy, and one I'm going to adopt, keeping Kingdom's music in my ears as long as my laptop battery lasts. This is when you really find the music that matters to you, when you're unable to sleep during a camping trip or stuck in an airport waiting for a delayed flight or anywhere else you need to have music take you outside your reality, and right now Kingdom's music really matters to me. Only time will tell if his music grows to matter to the larger world, but regardless, he won't stop.
Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.
Photo Credit: Instagram