The opening track of rapper Hoodie Allen‘s mixtape, Crew Cuts, begins with the aptly titled “Let Me Be Me,” a song that sees the 24-year-old ex-Google employee and Ivy League graduate rapping about what makes him, well, himself. A delicate piano refrain introduces Allen, born Steven Markowitz, before he starts to rap about the various misconceptions surrounding his background, specifically the fairly unconventional path that eventually led him to relative stardom as an up-and-coming hip-hop artist and rapper. “I just wanna’ do me right now,” he raps with casual confidence in the hook, and the genuine impression left by his words follows throughout the entire release.
When approaching an artist like Allen, it’s easy to make assumptions about what he’s really about; images of established acts like Macklemore and Mac Miller are probably the typical associations. I fell into that trap before I listened to Crew Cuts, an impressive self-released EP that hopes to dismantle initial opinions like mine, which is probably the reason why it’s available for free in its entirety on YouTube. Allen’s approach seems to be working; since its release in late February, the EP has tallied close to 150,000 downloads so far (and counting).
The two lead singles from Crew Cuts that have brought Allen some attention so far, “Fame is For Assholes” (featuring Chiddy) and humor-tinged “Cake Boy”, capture only a particular side of the rapper’s personality, and shouldn’t be confused as a portrait of what he has to offer overall as an artist. The two tracks simply help give credit to the big-shot “womanizer” side of his rapper persona by featuring the perfect amount of brashness and skilled wordplay to boost his legitimacy in the eye of purists, and it works. The tracks also showcase his talent for genre-blending with their catchy backing beats; when asked about musical inspirations, Allen references a wide range of artists as influences, from Andre 3000 to Blink 182.
But there’s also another Hoodie that’s featured throughout Crew Cuts in tracks such as “Let Me Be Me ” and “Good Intentions,” that give him a well-needed dose of complexity. At the core, Allen is still the contemplative up-and-comer who’s just happy to see where his bustling life takes him. Fame is still something he’s sorting out, along with the criticisms and misimpressions that naturally follow any industrious hopeful’s musical career.
“All those things are based on what I look like and not what I sound like,” answered Allen when I brought up common criticisms about his music. “It’s easy to judge things on the surface, and I don’t really care to change those people’s opinions either – I’m very happy doing what I’m doing, and I’ve found my fanbase.”
When I was done listening to the EP, I was immediately reminded of another unfairly misunderstood musician: Kanye West, who Allen cited as a direct influence to the production of Crew Cuts. “I wanted to make my own College Dropout – wanted [Crew Cuts] to be more musical, to show a little more depth, a little more pop,” he said. The musical influences by West are definitely there production-wise throughout the mixtape, but like West, there’s no denying Allen’s talent and unique identity as an emcee.
Near the end of “Let Me Be Me,” the track samples West in “The Morning,” from the recent GOOD Music release Cruel Summer, in which he and other successful hip-hop artists from his record label contemplate their artistic reputations in light of some of their upper middle-class backgrounds and the luxuries that come with notoriety : “Naaw man, mad people was frontin. Aww man, made something from nothing.” With Crew Cuts, Allen proves that he’s more than what people think of him.
2013 is set to be a busy year for Allen: an extensive tour featuring 28 dates around the country starts this month, and he also plans to release a full-length album for fans by fall. In the meantime, he’ll also drop free music, so keep your ears open.
What do you think of Hoodie Allen and Crew Cuts? You can listen to the entire mixtape below, or download it for free at Allen’s website.Tags: Blue Profile, Crew Cuts, ep, Hip-Hop, Hoodie Allen, mixtape, music, rap