St4nd By Me
Internet music phenoms Corbin, Psymun, Bobby, and Allan Kingdom are setting a new stand4rd.
Photos by John Haynes
A new crop of producers, rappers, and singers are melting the mountainous ice caps that insulate most of Minnesota’s cities from pop culture pandemonium. Far from evoking a Rhymesayers “Where Are They Now” vibe, the crew is doing their thing in a very 2015, super-connected way. And though overtly serious, “conscious” hip hop is not having a bullish moment, Butter Country’s newest team ensures there’s still plenty of talent and substance beneath their intentionally lofi self-made videos and Dilla-inspired beats.
As the Web’s waviest music collective, thestand4rd are putting Minnesota back on the hip hop map. Before delving much further, it’s important to get acquainted with the crew:
Corbin, the baby-faced 16-year-old former choir boy turned R&B singer known for wearing durags in his grainy videos set against a backdrop of Minnesota winter white.
Bobby Raps, 21, looks like your imagination of a typical kid from Minnesota: white, scruffy beard, rosy cheeks, into winter sports, and still entertains a healthy affection for Three Six Mafia and Lil Wayne.
Allan Kingdom, the clean-cut 21-year-old Canadian-born artist of Tanzanian and South African descent, performs for the camera like a seasoned vet, with a quick-witted timing and style to his flows reminiscent of Kid Cudi and Chance the Rapper.
Psymun (pronounced Simon), a 22-year-old multi-instrumentalist, is considered the main producer of the group, though they all contribute. He’s made a name for himself with his ethereal, sparse productions, off-kilter melodies, and down tempo beats, just waiting for words to bring them life.
In a short amount of time, the group has amassed online fame with their sultry R&B slow jams, quickly hitting millions of plays on SoundCloud and YouTube. And that fame has recently crossed over to sold-out shows and studio work with producers Plain Pat (Kanye West, Kid Cudi) and Doc McKinney (The Weeknd, Santigold, Drake). There’s simultaneously a fascinating disconnect associated with their success.
It’s appropriate, then, that the crew connect for this interview via Skype. When they appear on the screen, it is a confirmation that they do exist, and aren’t just some dreamed-up Internet project aimed at trolling us all. Checking in from their somewhat-barren studio in St. Paul, they crowd around the computer screen, just far enough away to obscure their inside jokes and chuckles. The real question is, can they simultaneously help change the way success in the music industry is defined and be 2015’s answer to Boyz II Men?
Mass Appeal: How do you tell the difference between Internet hype and real talent?
Allan Kingdom: For me personally, we see how our music is affecting people’s lives. That’s how we know it’s real. If you don’t really touch anybody in a real way, they don’t think about it, and it isn’t part of your day, or it doesn’t make you do anything, then it doesn’t really matter.
Bobby Raps: I’ve always been an advocate of word-of-mouth. Word of-mouth is the way that you can actually tell if it’s some good shit. The Internet’s gonna tell you that everything’s good. How many times does Complex post, “Check this out, check this out, check it out.” We really started by just going to the studio chillin. It wasn’t an Internet thing. We all started word-of-mouth just as much as we started with the Internet. Those two things together are very fucking powerful. Just one without the other, eh…Together you can make an impact.
You released your album, thestand4rd, in November. You can hear all of your influences on it, and they come together in a really great way. What would you guys say it’s about?
A: I don’t think anyone has ever asked us that.
B: I mean, I think the initial statement is—we’re just kids with computers.
A: I think that’s the setting, the umbrella of it. I don’t think that’s the actual message, but that definitely defines us in the physical realm.
B: That’s the atmosphere, you [Allan] were saying, and the message is, “You can do it.” You know what I mean? I think people kind of have bad representations of how to make an impact, when in reality, it’s all in your head, ya know?
In the age of the Internet, two million views can mean everything, or it can actually mean nothing. It doesn’t mean that you have a record deal, or that you’re ever going to get one. But you’ve said that you don’t need to have a ton of money to make great videos, and you don’t need to have a record deal. So how do you define success?
Psymun: Waking up in the morning, being alive.
Corbin: People listening to your music.
B: Yeah, for sure. The connection with people, and it doesn’t take money to do that. ‘Cause everybody out here is looking for some shit to fuck with, something relatable and human, we’re like the last line of defense [Laughs].
What about Minnesota? It’s an area where a lot of people only think of Rhymesayers. What it’s like being from Minnesota, and what is the music scene like there?
B: It’s a trip. People don’t even know it exists. That’s my whole mission statement as an artist. We are an accurate representation of what’s going on out here. I don’t know, I mean it’s a small city, but there’s a lot of people trying to do music, so it gets oversaturated. We can’t be mad that people don’t know about anybody except Rhymesayers, because they went around the world slapping stickers in bathrooms at the grimiest clubs in every city. I’m ready to rise to that role, personally, where I’m going around the world, kind of like an ambassador to the scene and what’s going on.
Minnesota feels essential to your music, particularly your videos. Would you agree?
B: Yeah, that’s our life.
P: We go to places—like L.A. or New York, Chicago, wherever—come back and I’m like, “Man, I have a total advantage right now.” We have this whole secret place nobody knows about, and this is where we’re from. You go to places like that, you can soak everything up—the city life, the paces of different places and stuff—and then come back home, recollect yourself. I’m just so grateful for that, and I know I wouldn’t rather have it any other way. So, how would you guys say you’re different from the current music scene there?
C: Well, it’s like real hip hop. [Laughs]
How so? Like post-Rhymesayers rap?
C: I mean, it’s not real. Like the younger scene, like my generation? Isn’t really fucking with it as hard.
B: And we’re providing that. We all have different influences in music, and we’re all very melodically inclined. So, I think that has something to do with it too. I don’t know, I wouldn’t say “real hip hop.” I think real hip hop doesn’t mean anything. That’s why we can redefine people’s definitions of what music is supposed to sound like. I think a lot of people in Minnesota just don’t want to compromise with each other, and my whole thing is, you can get so much farther if you team up and work together, as opposed to just trying to do it all by yourself. That’s kind of how we got shit cracking’ out here in the first place with Audio Perm shows. There were 10 of us. We could bring a bunch of people to shows.
thestand4rd has sort of a boy-band element to it. Like in your trailer for the album release, at the end, you do a kind of boy-band thing. Like, Allan’s the “party guy.” Could you guys elaborate on Corbin, Bobby, and Psymun, who would you guys be? What is each of your personas?
C: I’m the wannabe stoner.
B: Psy’s the ladies’ man, for sure.
C: Bobby is the burger freak.
B: I’m the approachable one! I’m more of a pizza guy really.
How do you guys deal with haters?
C: I give them my phone number.
A: We kiss them.
C: Yeah, we kiss them—we make out with them.
So, would you guys say that you’re the same person when you’re writing and performing, as the person sitting here right now.
B: I definitely am, like 100%.
A: I feel like people who come to my show, and most of the people that chill with me first, or the people that come and talk to me, I feel like there’s a certain camaraderie.
C: People think I’m some weird stoner who just wanders through the forest and shit. And that I like hang out by myself a lot. Fucking I don’t know. I’m pretty normal. People don’t really know what I’m like. I’m funny on the Internet, but I’ve kind of stopped being funny on the Internet ‘cause you get known for being that kid. I get sad when like a picture gets more retweets than one of our songs or some shit.
B: Yeah, you’re not like that. Spooky Black was an alter ego.
A: Sometimes what people forget is that you can take a part of your persona, because you have so many sides, right? You can choose one side, and I don’t necessarily think that’s bad at all. I do it in my songs, not saying I’m a bad person, but in this song, I might sound like I want to knock somebody out. So in that song, you might think of me in a certain way, it just depends, but I feel like you’re tackling different characters that are actually you.
What about influences? Do you guys have similar influences, or do you all bring your own influences to the group?
A: We all pay attention to similarities. I feel like there’s a group of artists that we all pay attention to, but then have our different influences too. So we all have a reference to what’s popular now; I think there’s a group of artists that we always keep track of.
So, who would you guys say, right now, that you’re really into?
B: I wanna listen to that John Maus man, aaaaand Young Thug. Young Thug is the fucking shit.
C: I’m listening to Bjork, and I came back into Lil Ugly Mane.
P: I’ve been listening to a lot of punk right now.