Get Your Pom-Poms Ready for Hoodie Allen’s Pep Rally

Originally published at, April 23, 2011 – Read the full text here

Let’s explore for a second the commonalities of an up-and-coming rap or hip-hop artist: Growing up in or around a large city? Check. Eclectic musical taste? Check. Began writing or freestyling since their early years? Check. Hoodie Allen meets all of the the criteria and then, there’s that non-musical elephant in the room: He graduated from UPenn and works for Google by day. Real-life aside, Hoodie Allen is what would happen if Slick Rick met Girl Talk in 2010.

The level of musicianship on his free LP, Pep Rally, exhibits a consciousness and respect for music not to be expected from a novice in the industry. But when you get to actually chat with the mastermind, you can easily determine that there’s a real methodology to everything, and a legitimate love for music.

Kristina Villarini: As a New Yorker, music is a big part of our environment. I’m from Harlem, and you “rep” Long Island, so I know you’ve heard all kinds of tunes growing up. What were you listening to in your house? How have your musical tastes changed?

Hoodie Allen: As a really young kid, I grew up hearing music from Billy Joel and Hall & Oates. This was the type of stuff being played in my house. My specific tastes were all over the place–I just loved to absorb all types of new sounds, which led me from everywhere from Reflection Eternal and Nas to Blink-182 and The Offspring. I don’t think my tastes ever stopped growing, but lately I’ve been more receptive to really great writing and witty pop songs. I suppose this explains my fascination with more of the new-school singers from the United Kingdom.

KV: Do you consider yourself a new or emerging artist?

HA: I think that’s one of those things that the world decides. I’ve been recording music since I was 14, but all this attention is less than a year old, so I think it’s fair to call me “emerging.” There’s a lot of work to do.

KV: The songs off of Pep Rally are riddled with samples by some really amazing indie artists: Marina & The DiamondsDeath Cab for CutieIngrid Michaelson, and many more. Are those artists you’re listening to, and how did you decide to rhyme over those songs as opposed to the typical drum samples or older R&B?

HA: I sample the artists that I love and I want to pay tribute by re-imagining their material. So, yeah, Marina was the catalyst for Pep Rally as her CD was on endless loop. I just sample what I like and as a fan of music I feel more personally connected and inspired by. Artists like Florence and The Machine, Marina & The Diamonds, Beach House and Yeasayer speak more to me than some more traditional R&B and soul acts.

KV: Some artists have said that they cannot listen to other music when they’re writing or recording. What kind of space do you have to be in to create?

HA: Same goes for me. I don’t think I’ve listened to another rap album or mix-tape in many months. I don’t want my sound to be influenced by anybody else.

KV: Your music has been gaining traction on the Internet and through various musical blogs. How do you think the Internet has changed the music industry?

HA: It gives the artists who know how to navigate it an incredible platform to be heard that could only–before–be bought. The same ease of use and accessibility also give ways to make good things feel very saturated quickly, but I suppose that is a trade-off that we, as consumers, are willing to live with.

KV: There are a lot of common themes in rap music and hip-hop. What keeps it fresh for you and where do your rhymes come from?

HA: I think I focus more on emotions then themes when I’m writing. If it’s a song about honesty, jealousy, individualism… Whatever it may be, I find it easier to connect to people on that level. Keeping my rhymes witty, and writing about influences from my own life, whether it be pop-cultural or otherwise, help me keep it fresh.

KV: It’s documented that you have a “regular gig” as an employee at Google. Do you think that you have another responsibility as an entertainer, and if you continue to gain traction and expand as an artist, would you pursue music full-time?

HA: Yes, right now I have two-full time jobs, I like to say. I certainly feel a responsibility to myself and my fans to be working as hard as I can to give my efforts toward my music.

KV: How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with you?

HA: Creative hip-hop that isn’t afraid to be both poppy and different.

KV: What is your measure of success?

HA: My fans. Not necessarily how many there are, but how much they really care. That’s what really keeps me happy and motivated.

KV: If you weren’t making music, what other creative outlet would you have?

HA: I’ve done a little screenwriting through high school and college–I suppose it goes hand-in-hand with writing songs a bit. I do enjoy entertaining people, so I’d probably take a closer look into acting, etc.

KV: When does music become boring to you? What would be the circumstances under which you stop performing?

HA: When I stopped having something to contribute creatively. I find that unlikely though, because what inspires me to write is just living and feeling like I need a way to talk about things.

KV: How do you handle bad press?

HA: By being secure enough in what I do to know that the loudest people are usually the smallest.