Allan Kingdom is Mastering His Domain
Life can be isolating in the cold, northern midwest. Luckily Allan Kingdom's got his music, and a bright future because of it.
This is not a dream. This is real life. You are not Sandra Bullock spiraling out of control toward an infinite beyond. You are indeed sitting still, headphones on, grounded to earth, though we’d understand why you might feel otherwise. This is Allan Kingdom, and his music is a dreamscape of lush, spacey sonics, his staccato raps punctuating them like stars in a blackened sky.
At 19 years old (he’ll be 20 next month), Allan represents a movement of young minds exploring the depths of their creativity and imagination and skyrocketing because of it. Think Tyler, but instead of aggression fueling the ship, it’s curiosity.
We’ve been a fan of young Allan for a minute now, and his Talk to Strangers release from this summer comes with the Mass Appeal stamp of approval. Not that the king to-be needs it. We spoke with Allan on his discovery of music, his variety of influences, and why “Adventure Time” is more than just drawn insanity. We’re also bringing you the debut of his video (above) for “The Dwelling / Good Problems,” two cuts off Talk to Strangers. As he says on the first, “Up is where I’m really tryna go / Tryna do it without looking needy.” He’s looking poised from our vantage point.
Mass Appeal: Hey man, how was your Thanksgiving?
Allan Kingdom: It was cool, it was chill.
MA: Did you spend it in Minneapolis?
AK: Yeah yeah.
MA: Have you lived there your whole life?
AK: I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and then I moved to Wisconsin and then I think in, I want to say 4th grade, I moved to St. Paul. I never actually lived in Minneapolis, I just spend a lot of my time there. I moved to St. Paul, then I moved to a St. Paul suburb called Woodbury, and now I’m back in St. Paul.
MA: What was it like moving around a lot?
AK: I got really used to things changing all the time. I never really felt a part of a specific group of people, because I knew it would switch. I think that has to do a lot with how I think.
MA: Were you always interested in music growing up?
AK: Yeah, pretty much. I have no idea where it came from ’cause it’s not like anyone in my family, that I know of, is a musician, but I’ve always been interested in it.
MA: Do you remember when you first started making music?
AK: I first started recording, when I was really young, probably eight or seven, but I’d always been writing. I shouldn’t say eight or seven, I think like nine. I have this CD of myself when I was really young, I just forgot the age. I always wrote songs and poems or whatnot, from the time I could write. So I don’t know when I could say I started making music, per se. I just remember at an early age, my uncle, he was a musician, and was staying with us for a while, not my blood uncle, a family friend. He had a lot of equipment, and I used to play with samples on the computer. At the age that people would be playing video games on the computer, like 12, 13, 14, I’d be in like Reason, putting together samples and loops, and writing songs to ‘em.
MA: What kind of stuff were you listening to back then?
AK: I would listen to everything mainstream. Anything that was hot, pretty much. But my first musical influences weren’t hip hop. I didn’t really know what hip hop was at first, it wasn’t in my household, I had a lot of African influences, honestly, early on. And pop. Lionel Richie, and Bob Marley, and music from the Congo, and East Africa and whatnot. And those are my first influences of music, period. And a lot of Christian music ’cause of my mom. So I think that’s where that positivity comes from in general, when I wrote.
As I got older, I remember I was watching TV and I saw Eminem at an award show and he got an award and he was like, “Yo, whats up.” And I was in Canada and I was like, “Mom, what does ‘yo’ mean.” And that’s how much I knew about hip hop. And she had to explain to me what yo meant. I think that was my first glimpse, of, oh I can rap if I want to. ‘Cause I sang and I wrote poems, which were basically really parallel to what I do now but I never saw it as rap, I just saw it as I’m writing something that rhymes and I’m singing. But I didn’t know about the hip hop culture till I started going to middle school.
MA: Was there any influence about where or how you grew up that formed your musical tastes or interests?
AK: Yeah, I think one thing about me moving around so much is I had the opportunity to be around different people and understand them. My mom would put together resources so that I would never be on one side of track. I don’t think she ever wanted me just to get with kids in the suburbs and only relate to them. And I don’t think she wanted me to go kick it in the hood and only relate to those kids. She did a really good job of making sure I was well-balanced. As well as myself. I had opportunities to expose myself to different types of music and different ways of thought. Now I can listen to jazz ’cause I had friends that went to art school or I can listen to King Louie or Chief Keef and I can enjoy both of them the same. I can listen to Robert Glasper, and I can draw influences from it. So I think moving around and having different friends was a good thing for me.
MA: What was the musical scene then? Were you going to concerts?
AK: I feel like everything from when I was younger, from age 10 on down, all that music influenced me, but I wouldn’t be able to explain how. Whereas in my teen years, when I started looking for stuff on the Internet that was when a lot of things changed for me. When I was living in Woodbury in Minnesota, that was a time in my life, I didn’t have a lot of friends and I would just go online and look at blogs, and look at stuff from New York and that’s how I found Kid Cudi, that’s how I found Pharrell. I think I was in, I want to say, 5th grade, and I found Kid Cudi’s first mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi, that was produced by Plain Pat and Emile. I remember, I was like the only one, only person I knew that knew who this guy was, and I used to listen to him all the time. Lupe Fiasco, Pharrell, and Kanye. And it was just majorly the Internet, to be honest. I would just spend hours on the Internet, looking at brands that I couldn’t afford, listening to music, to artists that probably had no idea what Minnesota even was, I was just out in the middle of nowhere just on the Internet soaking in culture. And that’s a huge part of the stuff I do now. I’m able to not be boxed in by where I’m at ’cause I’m aware that there’s other stuff going on in the world that’s not where I’m at.
MA: Listening to your stuff on bandcamp, it gave me a Cudi feel, sort of out there, galactic music.
AK: Yeah, yeah. I think a lot of artists that open a new lane, they open younger artists minds to be like, “Hey I can make a new lane for myself.” And I feel like it’s a new generation. I feel like there are a lot of artists now that are being inspired by people that have created their own lane for themselves. There’s a whole generation of kids, making music that’s inspired by Pharrell and Cudi and Kanye and we’re now seeing the influence they’ve had. Because we’re now old enough to be in the industry and show everyone.
MA: What is your creation process like, and how did you find your rhythm for it all?
AK: I try not to have a template of how to do things. A lot of producers, when they make something and they open up the program, they have a set template of like, this is the kick I’m gonna use, these are the snares I’m gonna use, these are the tracks I’m gonna use, and then I’m going to make 32 bars or 16 bars. Even with writing, some people always do one thing first, like, ‘I always make sure I write my last bar first,’ but I make sure to never do that. If I’m in a certain trend of creating things, I’m only in that trend for that project, for that couple of songs, ’cause then it’s gonna be old. I think with me, I usually just naturally end up starting with choruses. The way I write my songs, I’ll be out somewhere just doing normal stuff and then someone will say something or I’ll just think of something and I’ll just save it in my head. Or melodies, sometimes I think of melodies first. I save them in my head and then I go home and I record a vocal take of it. I’ll record the chorus or the hook and then create a whole beat around it or create a whole song around it. So it’s like the foundation of the song is what I am saying.
MA: Where do you find inspiration for your melodies or your hooks?
AK: Everywhere. Sometimes it’s the way people talk. Different accents have different melodies. I used to work this odd job, I would put cards on people’s doors for this construction company and I would just spend hours walking every day. I would just hear sounds. Sometimes I would just hear chimes and it would just trigger, ‘What if I used chimes.’ Or someone would say something slick and I would think of a response. Or someone would make me mad. Just everyday things that lead up to me making something. Sometimes it’s an event. Like I got into a verbal argument with somebody or a girl pisses you off and you go make a song. There’s that, too. But it’s usually just everyday occurrences that happened.
MA: How would you describe your sound?
AK: Honestly, I feel like I’m still trying to discover what my sound is. I don’t know, ’cause with me, I feel like next month the songs I make will be completely different from the songs I’m making this month. You’re still obviously going to be able to tell it’s me. But who knows. When I’m 30 who knows what type of music I’m going to be making. I don’t even see things as hip hop or like a genre, but I know I rap. I make music and I like to rap on it. Whatever people chose to classify it as, that’s just where it’s gonna go. I’m just going to let people decide on what they want to call it, and that’s whatever it is. I don’t really have any restrictions on it.
MA: Who are you listening to currently? Is there anything that’s in your rotation right now that you’re really digging?
AK: Yeah. I just burn CDs and listen to like the same 18 songs ’til I get tired of them. I’m listening to a lot of Juicy J.
MA: Did you like his new album?
AK: Yeah. I like his new album. I like a lot of his music, though. His music is like really multi-generational. It still gives people the same reaction in the same way it did when it came out. “Slob On My Knob,” people are going to act the same way at a party if you play it now as they did when it came out.
MA: He’s so consistent. It’s the same sort of beat he’s able to hit.
AK: Yeah, and he’s just perfected that. I’ve been listening to a lot of Juicy J, a lot of King Louis. I listen to a lot of Schlohmo. I listen to a lot of random songs, to be honest. Oh Dom Kennedy, definitely. His new album has been on repeat, Get Home Safely. I have certain spurts where I’m all about one artists, like I only listen to them for a few weeks. But most of the time, it’s just random songs. I like a little bit of this sound, I like this type of song, I like this Kanye song, this Lorde song.
MA: I saw you have a song “Adventure Time,” is that named after the show?
AK: Yeah yeah yeah [Laughs] I just like the show. I feel like there’s just a dialogue between artists, and every time there’s conscious work put into any type of media, whether it be clothing or cartoons or anything, it’s just cool to honor it. And be like, “Hey I see what you’re doing.” I like anything that feels like a dialogue, that’s why I like listening to certain artists ’cause it feels like they’re talking to you. That’s what I try to do. Something that I noticed is a lot of times when I meet people that have really listened to my music, I feel like they get me. I’ll crack a joke and they’ll get it and most people wont get it. I feel like I try to accomplish the same thing. That was just in dedication to the “Adventure Time” show.
MA: That show is just wild and so off the wall, but it really speaks to the power of imagination; this progressive new mindset, like fuck it, do whatever you want, just picture it and do it.
AK: It’s like me and my homeboy Checho, he’s like my creative partner, my main creative partner, ’cause we do all the videos. I met him in high school at an arts school in St. Paul and we’ve just been cliqued up ever since. That’s just been like a brother to me. We watch “Adventure Time” all the time. I feel like it really speaks to us. I feel like it speaks to artists in general. Everytime I talk to musicians who watch cartoons, “Adventure Time” is like the number one. ‘Cause it’s like you said, it’s imagination. And I can’t wait to see how the kids growing up now watching it, how it affects how they think, in the future.
MA: Yeah, I was put onto it by my 10-year-old brother and sister. What’s funny too, is that show, and “Regular Show,” there’s so much innuendo and stuff you know goes over their head.
AK: Exactly. I feel like it can be the same way with music, too. You can have innuendo in your music and do it very classy and have specific topics, I feel like it’s more honorable. I feel like that show is a lot better, just in my opinion, than like, “Family Guy.” ‘Cause “Adventure Time” sometimes even speaks on the same topics as “Family Guy” does, but it’s done in a lot more creative manner, to me, personally.
MA: So, what’s next for you coming up in this new year?
AK: I’m working on an album now, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say the name of it yet. It’s pretty much done, I have everything recorded, produced, it’s just in the final stages of being mixed and having live instruments on it and what not. And Ryan Olsen of Polica co-produced it with me. I’m very excited about it. It’s supposed to come out early next year. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say, but I’m very excited. I feel like on this album, all of the influences that I’m telling you about, the Chief Keef’s, the everything, I’m taking everything that I’ve ever listened to and taken all of my favorite parts and put it in one album.
MA: Are you releasing that independently?
AK: Uh, no, I am not. It’s the first one that’s going to be released like, for real for real.
MA: Can you say who that’s through?
AK: I cannot. [Laughs]. I’m not allowed to say.
MA: Well I guess we’ll find out soon enough.