Steven Markowitz, better known by his stage name Hoodie Allen, has an impressive resume.
Not many chart-topping rappers can also boast an ivy league education and a stint at a Silicon Valley tech giant, but Markowitz can claim all three — with a remarkable sense of humility.
Markowitz grew up in Long Island listening to an eclectic mix of East Coast hip-hop and West Coast pop punk. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010, he landed a job at Google, but ultimately decided to pursue music.
The rapper recently released his third studio album, The Hype, the highly anticipated follow-up to last year’s Happy Camper, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Rap/Hip-Hop and Independent Albums charts.
Markowitz wants to tell a story and send a message while making music to turn up to. His polarizing influences have also given him significant street cred in both alternative and mainstream spheres. The uplifting, infectious beats and clever, confessional rhymes on his newest effort also prove that sometimes, the hype is worth listening to.
Tell me about the inspiration and ideas behind The Hype.
I think the main story piece of the album for me was looking at the last five years of my life…and trying to take a look at the beginning of someone getting some buzz or getting some hype around them. There’s so many twists and turns and ups and downs and I really wanted to explore how certain successes lead to other personal problems in my life, people around you acting differently and relationships failing, and all that comes with good stuff too. And it’s hard to balance all of it together.
There’s a lot of hype around the word “hype.” What are some things that you think are super overhyped right now? What about things that are underhyped?
Well, hype itself is probably overhyped. Flat tummy tea, whatever people are putting on Instagram. I would say that California is overhyped and New York is underhyped. Underhyped is definitely walking around and going to parks and exploring your city and neighborhood, overhyped is “Netflix and chillin’.”
You’re known for making yourself extremely accessible to your fans. Why is connecting on such a personal level with your fans so important to you?
I want to do what I wish all the artists I loved growing up could’ve done for me, which is be that person who will acknowledge your existence. I feel like it also provides me with a lot of context for why I’m doing this and it really makes everything worthwhile. I could never be one of those artists who just hangs out in a hotel all day and pulls up to the show like five minutes before they play and then leaves right afterwards, it just doesn’t make any sense to me.
Who did you grow up listening to and what role did music play in your childhood?
I was a very voracious music consumer, like there will be songs that are 15, 16, 17 years old and I still know every single word. I think that’s one of my greatest talents; I can hear a song once and remember the whole thing. I listened to The Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Nas, Big L, Big Pun…a lot of East Coast hip-hop. But I also love The Offspring, Sum 41, Blink-182 and all the pop punk bands that were killing it at the time.
Did you always anticipate pursuing a career in music?
No, I think it’s impossible to just predict something like that. It’s kind of a weird thing to plan for. It’s something that was a passion of mine that I was lucky to find an audience with and once I found that audience… I think it really gave me the confidence to double down and put all my work into it.
Can you talk a little bit about your college experience and how that phase of your life impacted you and why you decided to leave that to pursue music?
I graduated; I think that was something that was very important for my family. I’m glad that they made me stay in school because there was a point around my junior year where things were starting to happen a little bit musically and I could’ve left and they were like, “Don’t leave, this will all happen when it’s meant to happen.” At the time, I was very anxious about that, being like “This is my moment, I have to leave.” Obviously I ended up staying…That whole part of my story is really non-traditional and I’m very grateful to be able to sort of encourage people…They don’t have to choose, it’s not like one or the other… As long as you prioritize what’s important to you.
What was it like working at Google?
It’s a very nurturing environment full of creative, smart people. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work; it just so happened that I had this other thing that mattered a little more to me and it ended up working out. They let me take a leave of absence for six months and said, “If this music thing doesn’t work out, your job is still here. You can come back any time.” I just knew that I was so committed to making this happen that after six months, my life was heading in that direction, thankfully, and I didn’t have to go back and beg for my job (laughs).
On The Hype, you teamed up with (pop punk) band State Champs, who are also from New York. It’s an awesome collab, albeit a surprising one. I’m wondering how that came about and what that process was like for you?
Yeah, they’re friends of mine. I met them at a festival last year. I think they’re awesome dudes and I love their music and if you ever see a live show of mine, there are a lot of elements of a rock band. Vocally, I think if I wasn’t a rapper and I started over my career, I’d probably want to be the lead singer of a pop punk band. I think they’re one of the best bands in that scene. When I wrote that song, I just had them in mind as the perfect collaboration. We got them in the studio and made it feel like a real collaboration and I think it’s been one of the fans’ favorite songs so far, so don’t be surprised if they pull up at one of the shows and we do a little live performance.
All of your albums and mixtapes have been self-released. I’m sure you’ve been approached by labels, so why turn them down and remain independent?
I’ve seen a lot of friends go through the major label system and when it works great, it honestly is amazing. But I think for me, the worry is…you put out a single together and it just doesn’t work, people don’t like it, whatever the case may be, you’re still on the contract with them and they might feel a lot less enthusiastic about you and it kind of hamstrings your career. Being able to make something with no expectations for commercial success and really making what I think is the best, and hopefully they’ll like, it just works better for me.
A couple years back, you collaborated with Chance the Rapper, who also has no allegiance to a label. What was it like working with him and did you find that you guys share a lot of the same values?
Yeah, I think we do have a lot of the same values. He’s just proving that there really is no glass ceiling if you make the right stuff and you connect with an audience… He’s really an inspiration and I’m glad I got to collaborate with him; I’m glad I can call him a friend. He’s really championing out here for people like myself and any up-and-coming younger artists.
If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?
The ones that come to mind are Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides and Amy Winehouse, Back to Black. I have vinyls of both in my apartment untouched, kind of as a keepsake.
Do you have a big vinyl collection?
I don’t, but I hope to. Right now, I’m just in the mindset where I want to use it as a representation of the things that really inspire me and I think are defining for my creativity.
What can fans expect out of your live show?
The show is super high energy. It’s nothing like any other rap show you come to see. We play with a full live band; it’s got crazy production and a lot of fun gags that happen… I just want to leave everyone there with a smile on their face.
Hoodie Allen w/ Luke Christopher and Myles Parrish, Marquee Theatre, 730 N Mill Ave, Tempe, Wednesday, November 1, 7:30 p.m., $30.