Allan Kingdom makes music beyond the boundaries of states, countries, and continents. His debut album, LINES, fuses the “instinctual” African styles he grew up listening to with the ominous blues and grays from his Canadian birthplace. You might know him from the hook on Kanye’s “All Day,” but Allan’s been an artist to watch since his mixtape days. 2011’s Trucker Music and 2012’s Pinkspire Lane feature him using rap as one of many mediums to create a piece of art. On any given track, he seamlessly shifts between tight flows to strung out singing. His vocal work is instantly recognizable with its chilly quality and earthy tones channeling Minnesota evergreens.
For him, the only criteria for music to be considered hip-hop are unfiltered expression, an unexpected sound, and it being fun. With his debut, he’s checked all boxes. A track like “Fuck My Enemies” is born out of the frustrations that come from working with an unnamed pretentious artist. While “Vibes” has Allan capturing a peaceful moment with a relaxed flow as he people watches at a function.
His idealized vision extends beyond hip-hop to including fans in worldwide group chats or linking them to create everything from clothing brands to medical cures. He’s got a similar goal with his label So Cold Records, which is meant to be a hub for a new generation of artists to get their music out and work together to create Minnesota’s latest sound.
Allan and I spoke on the phone about his regional influences, his debut album, the current vibe of hip-hop, and the line between being a rapper and artist. —Donna-Claire
I want to start with your background: born in Canada, raised mostly by your mother, and always surrounded by East and Central African music. Talk to me about these early musical influences.
Allan Kingdom:I feel like at first I didn’t really realize I was listening to other types of music, like African music. That was just the first music I ever heard, so I wasn’t too conscious of it, but as I got older I started to realize that I had more of a unique taste in music. My mom played a lot of music cleaning the house. We would go to a lot of parties and things like that, so I was always kind of around music.
With all the music in the house, you being an artist seems totally natural. How did your mom react when you first started pursuing it?
Allan Kingdom: The thing is, I don’t think she actually realized how much I was exposed to [music] and how much I really liked it. So, I feel like she kind of exposed it to me on accident, so she was surprised. She never thought it was going to be the main thing. She always thought I would make music on the side.
Was she surprised by how big you’ve gotten?
Allan Kingdom:Yeah, because she was hearing me when I first started and when I was at my worst. Sometimes when you watch somebody grow next to you, you don’t realize how much they’ve grown. Whereas other people only started to hear about me when I made a song that was good enough to listen to and to talk about, but she’s been there since I first-first started. Her perspective on me is just a bit different, so when she hears people react to me she’s like, ‘Oh, wow! I didn’t know it was that serious.’
Let’s talk about the new project, the debut album, LINES. How did you know it was time to drop the official debut?
Allan Kingdom:I’m 23 now, you know what I mean? I felt like it was the right time. My other projects were just me figuring shit out, and I still am, but now I know what I want to say at least. This project was more of me being like, ‘Alright, this is me and this is how I sound and this is what I think.’
How was your approach to this project different than Northern Lights or even Future Memoirs?
Allan Kingdom: When I was working on this project, I had just seen more. I had just done my first Europe tour. I had been through more ups and downs, built my career more and built my label more. I know more than I did before, but I feel like I’m saying less. I feel like I can say more with less words. So I took that approach with this project.
What were some of the ideas you wanted to work into LINES without having to say too much?
Allan Kingdom: On the song “Leaders” I didn’t have to say too much. I was still saying a lot about how I feel about coming to power in general and trying to push forward, and looking up to certain people. The same with “Vibes;” it’s a feel good track. I feel like I didn’t have to say too many words, but you get the way I feel and the state of things. A lot of people try to squeeze in as many words and things as possible, but I feel like sometimes less is more. A lot of the time.
I always got the sense that your music was giving a voice to the outsider, do you see LINES continuing that trend?
Allan Kingdom:Yeah definitely, and even more so as my music becomes accepted. Day one fans sometimes have this view of, ‘Oh, stay how I found you,’ but I feel as my music becomes more accepted it shows any outsider if you work hard enough and have a vision, you can make people accept your vision. You can make people accept what you think is cool. So as my music and my fan base grows, and more people come to accept my sound and my voice and my ideas on life, the perception of my music might change. At the end of the day, I still was the outsider and that’s never going to change. I enjoy seeing people come into power and becoming accepted, so that’s how I feel the trend is going.
You’ve got a pretty big back catalog, but on this project you sound more sure of yourself than ever. I think of my favorite of your projects, Pinkspire Lane, and how you weren’t always front and center on that project. On LINES, you’re the star of every track, so what was the journey like to get to that level of confidence?
Allan Kingdom:It was really the duality of things. I realized that the same things that pressure somebody can be the same things that lifts somebody up. Someone can go through something and lose a friend or lose a parent or something serious, and for one person it can just crush you. You can go through life with that weight on your shoulders and that lack of confidence and pride, or you can use it as fuel to do well. I’ve just been working on taking everything I felt I wasn’t confident about and using that as fuel. Or using that as aggression, or channeling it in the right way. I feel like this all comes with growth and deciding where you want to take things for yourself.
That really comes across on “Fuck My Enemies” with Kevin Abstract, so can you tell me how that track and collab came about?
Allan Kingdom:That song came about because I was mad as fuck. After a while, you go through life and the game and work, and you start to notice patterns in people. And you start to learn who you are, the older you get. If you’re genuinely a person that thinks on a deeper level, you start to understand who you are and your weaknesses, or how people can take your kindness for weakness. You start to get sick of it, and you can let that make you bitter or you can let it fuel you.
So I was working on LINES, and there was an artist I was working on it with, and at first I thought he was cool. As it turns out, he was mad pretentious and a complete ass to deal with. So I scrapped the song and he pissed me off. So that night I went to the studio and I was so pissed off. You know, I’m already an independent artist, running my own label, and now I have to work with artists that are being assholes and making it harder? All of that emotion together, I made “Fuck My Enemies.” Originally, I had to tone back some of my original ideas, but that’s how it came out.
Most of the songs on this album, actually all of them, are moments like that. Not always angry, but maybe moments where I felt super peaceful and I was like, ‘Yo, I needa go to the studio.’ I feel like those are how my best songs come about. So after that was done, I sent the track to Kevin. He killed it and sent it back, and it was a wrap. Working with Kevin is always that easy.
The album cover and your visuals for “Know About It” really emphasize pinks and blues. Do you have colors in your head when you put together your melodies, or do you play back a track and get a sense of what color it sounds like?
Allan Kingdom:It depends, but with this album I felt like I knew what colors I was going for before it happened. Then, through Robert Henry who made the cover, he just sent it to me like, ‘Yo, I made this last night.’ And I thought, ‘Damn, this is gonna be the cover.’ It was the same colors I thought of, and I liked it right away. It wasn’t over thought; we didn’t go do a photoshoot or anything. Those are just pictures he took of me while I was performing. So we decided that was going to be the cover and made all of the visuals based off of that.
What do the colors and hues of the album mean for you?
Allan Kingdom:Bright like, ‘I’m here.’ Most of my other colors have been earth tones and cool, like I’m chilling. These colors kind of feel like an arrival. Some of the themes on the album, like on “Fuck My Enemies” and etc. are darker themes, but I wanted to contrast it with the brightness to show that no matter what darkness you go through, there’s always a bright side to it. If certain things didn’t happen, if I wouldn’t have met that certain artist, I would have never made “Fuck My Enemies.” And that’s the biggest song on the project right now. Certain things like that, I want people to look at both sides of things. Even in the world, with sensitive topics like death and things like that, there’s always two sides. So I wanted to capture that in this album: there’s always two sides.
That video also has you floating through space, what feelings led you to putting together those drifting shots?
Allan Kingdom:Sometimes I just feel like that, like I’m just confused and lost. I feel like no matter who you are or what profession you’re in, you could be a scientist or anything, there’s still times as human beings where we’re just floating through space. We are, at the end of the day. Sometimes that’s all we really know.
That really humanizes you.
Allan Kingdom:Thanks, I just really think all success starts with the person. If you have the wrong outlook, even if you think you’re successful, I don’t think it’ll last. Everything starts with you. People who have longevity and die happy and peacefully, I feel like they deserve that and it started inside of them. They didn’t get like that because they won an award or had a hit single. All of that came from within them first, like the awards and hit songs were already inside of them.
On “Don’t Push Me” you rap, “I am from Canada, I am from Africa, I am from so many states,” and I hear all of these influences in your music as well. Can you define each of those locations’ sounds for me?
Allan Kingdom:When I think of embodying Africa, it’s a lot of tribal sounds and instincts. It’s very instinctual. A lot of Canadian sounds are—the sounds trending in Toronto now, at least—are cold and they feel cold. The sounds are ominous and there’s a lot of echo, and there’s a lot of attention to detail. The sounds feel blue and gray. It also depends. There’s so many sounds in different areas, but even they have something similar to them. Even artists that are so different from each other like The Weeknd and Ramriddlz, there’s still something about the sound that makes it feel like they’re from the same city. I feel like Minnesota is still creating its sound, and I feel like we’re helping create it. I think the new sound that’s gonna be in Minnesota is gonna be mad funky, groovy, and colorful.
I also try to think about what I think everything should be like, too. It’s not just about what’s trending there. When I think of those places, I try to think about if I was walking through there, what would I want that music to sound like? What would I want it to sound like in 50 years?
How do you find a balance between all of those sounds when you make your own?
Allan Kingdom:I think it just comes out naturally. I just go off what music I listen to. So if I’m feeling a certain mood, I might just listen to dance music. Or, I might just listen to dance hall music. I might just listen to East African music or bongo flava, that’s like Tanzanian dance music. The music varies based on how I’m feeling, so when I go into the studio it all comes out naturally. I won’t have to try and be like ‘Oh, I should incorporate this’ when I’m writing, those elements will just come out because that’s what I’ve been feeling or listening to.
Now that the debut is out and you’re turning even more heads, what’s your relationship with Kanye like?
Allan Kingdom:We never really got cool on a friends level, we were just creative together. When I met him, he was dropping “All Day,” and also trying to get his album out, and I was still figuring out what I was going to do. So we were just in the studio working on music, but outside of that it was real hectic. He had the Yeezy collection dropping and my management situation wasn’t really right. But things are dope now and who knows what the future holds.
Again, since the debut is out and you can look back, how much do you think the “All Day” hook influenced your career?
Allan Kingdom:I got to see all levels of the music industry. I got to see the top-top. I got to be around people who were where I will be in the future, and I also got to chill and do regular life shit. I got to be around new artists and upcoming artists, and I got to see the rise of Desiigner. I was around for all these things and I got to learn from them. Then I got to take all of that knowledge and bring it home, and decide that this is how I want to run my shit: this is how I want my album to come out, and this is how I want my label to be. I got to see the negatives and positives of all levels, so it was kind of like I got sneak peak of everything without having to sign with Kanye.
Most things are based off of business, so I just felt like I wanted to build my own thing. I wanted to come back to Minnesota and build. In some way, business wise, I grew up looking up to these people. So I don’t necessarily want to be owned by them. I would rather see what they did to get where they’re at, then get myself there.
Talk to me about So Cold Records, what are your plans with the label?
Allan Kingdom:Basically, I’ve been dropping my projects under So Cold Records since Future Memoirs, but I think I just want to push the region more. There’s a lot of talent here, so I just want to give back because I didn’t really have anything like that when I was 16, 17, 18 and wanted to get my music out. There was nothing in my age group that I could reach out to or be apart of, or go to the shows and meet someone affiliated and really get involved. We really need a hub, we need something for quality music from this region that is relevant and popping, that is in the club and that people around the world genuinely enjoy.
For me, just doing it the homegrown way is truest to my nature. I’m just happy doing this. I’m happy to meet a kid that’s trying to get his music out, but I wouldn’t have known who he was. I just met him because he heard my music and is extremely talented. I enjoy seeing young talent come up and get what they deserve. So that’s what So Cold is all about, and repping Minnesota.
Let’s transition for a second and talk specifically about Minnesota. Whenever I mention MN to hip-hop fans, their first idea of the music scene is usually the Rhymesayers: OGs like Brother Ali and Atmosphere. Your sound is totally independent of that image, so I’m curious what your experience was like coming up in MN and essentially bringing a new style up with you.
Allan Kingdom:It’s cool. When you really come into something with your own voice, no matter if you make shoes or you do makeup or you’re an actor, if you have your own voice or style there’s no comparison. You can try to compare yourself, but when you do, you’re only comparing it to other people who made their own voice. I feel like because of that, I can be even more confident when you’re asking me about my voice and know that this is my voice. No one can take that away from me, and it will only get stronger and better. I think that’s also part of where the confidence in the new album comes from.
What’s the MN music scene like now?
Allan Kingdom:I feel like the state is on the verge in every way, like when it comes to sports or being a developed place. It’s developing extremely fast right now, so for the first time here there’s a generation gap between me and the new kids making music that’s only a couple years. Whereas when I was making music and Spooky and Bobby came out, and when we were coming up, the generational gap was huge. It was grown men and young kids, but now we’re just young adults. There’s preteens and teenagers making music that grew up listening to our shit, so the gap is much smaller. I feel like if we all get on the same page, the possibilities are endless.
On “Loner’s Anthem” you rap: “I made a future through my computer, no suit and tie.” Talk to me about the digital age and how it has shaped the way music becomes successful.
Allan Kingdom:I think it’s cool. I don’t really see any more negatives or positives from how people got famous before. People will talk down on the Internet or praise it, but singers in the ’70s or ’80s had people curating their appearance and they didn’t even write their music. I like the way it is today, because I feel like the artist has more control. Even if someone says an artist’s image is put together and it’s not really who they are, at least they put it together themselves, you know? I enjoy progression, and I enjoy when new technology comes out. If there’s a new app that everybody’s on, I wanna know about it.
You did an interview with Go 95.3 where you talked about how hip-hop is evolving, but it’s still hip-hop because of the vibe. Can you talk to me about what you think “the vibe” of hip-hop is now?
Allan Kingdom:What’ it’s always been: the most fun thing. Whatever the most fun or the most groundbreaking thing is, it’s called hip-hop. If it’s fun and you’ve never heard of it before, or if it’s shocking, then it’s called hip-hop music. What separates it from radio music is that it’s unfiltered. If it’s whatever you feel, that tends to be what people call hip-hop.
In that same interview you mentioned this idea of more and more rappers being considered artists instead of just rappers, what’s the line between the artist and the rapper?
Allan Kingdom:Rapping is just a style of art. Rapping is just one thing you can do to make a song. Nobody just raps anymore, well some people do. You can call them rappers. Most people don’t just go through a song and literally rap the whole time, and don’t sing and don’t do anything else. If you’re an artist that’s making a piece and you use sculpting and you paint on it and do something else to it, you wouldn’t just call yourself a painter. You’d call yourself an artist, because you did a whole bunch of things to create. I guess if you just paint, then you’d call yourself a painter. Rap is a style just like playing an instrument. If I produce a song and I play hard or put piano on it, that doesn’t mean I’m a piano player. Some artists concentrate on rapping, and some people use all different mediums to create the songs they want to make.
You also tour a bunch and you’ve got a tour coming up in Europe, so paint me a picture of an Allan Kingdom show. What can fans expect when you hit the stage?
Allan Kingdom:A lot of color. I just like chilling with fans and talking to them. They can listen to the songs any time they want. I’m not doing stadium shows yet, but for now I feel like people come to a show to get your vibe. When I’m in Europe and on tour, I’m just concentrated on having a good time with people. The songs will be dope, and I’m gonna do the songs that everyone wants to hear. I’m just genuinely concentrated on, outside of the music, creating the experience that you can’t get anywhere else. I have this worldwide group chat where I put my biggest fans, and they tell me that they came to my shows alone and now they have lifelong friends afterwards. So I just want to expand on that and have people feel like that when they’re at my shows.
Using a show to create a community for your music?
Allan Kingdom:Not even just for my music, just to make shit happen. I want somebody to meet somebody else and they figure out the cure for something. They could make the next coolest shirt. They could make the next hit song, or anything from just meeting at my show. So it’s not even a community for my music, I just wanna create something that will be a seed for other things to grow and happen.
Outside of music you’ve got a really distinct clothing style. What inspires the way you dress?
Allan Kingdom:It’s really whatever I’m feeling like. I like to mix things. I like to be in between dressed up and street, or old and new.
Do you already have your next few major moves plotted in your head? Any you can share?
Allan Kingdom:North America tour in July. Right now I’m just gonna hit up the fans and see where they want me to go, and take it from there.