Three years ago while finishing his undergraduate degree at University of Pennsylvania, Steven Markowitz put out his first mix-tape under the pseudonym Hoodie Allen. Since then he’s put out two additional mix-tapes and finally this year’s EP, All American, his first collection of completely original work.
Despite being far from the typical Hip-hop star, his popularity is undeniable and he’s running up the charts. All American hit #1 on iTunes and #10 on Billboard, and he’s selling out shows all across the country, Canada, and the U.K.
Growing up in New York, you must have been exposed to a variety of music. Who are your favorite acts, and how have they influenced your music?
I don’t know how many local influences I have. I grew up loving Outkast and Little Brother. I guess the Beastie Boys were pretty legendary for me. Their use of sampling definitely inspired me. Paul’s Boutique is one of my favorite albums.
Your songs can vary from rap to pop. Do you consider yourself a rapper or a singer/songwriter? What was your experience with music growing up – did you play instruments, sing in choirs, etc?
I’m somewhere in between. Rap is my most used medium but I don’t think I approach music like a rapper would. I did sing in school but I was mostly and always have been focused on writing since a young age.
What has it been like to create your own tracks instead of using samples for All American? Have you been in contact with anyone whose songs you’ve previously sampled?
It’s been very liberating. I feel like I get to show off a little more creatively. When I started this all, I just wanted to get the attention of the artists I was sampling because I was a huge fan of them.
You went to a university with a great reputation and worked for Google. How difficult was is to quit that? How receptive were your family and friends to your choice, have they been supportive?
It’s easy to choose doing what you love when there are people out there supporting you. My fans helped make the choice less difficult. My family and friends are very involved and I feel lucky for that.
Currently you’re unsigned. Are you shopping around labels, or do you prefer the independence in not having one?
I don’t really care too much either way now. My fans are the only people who will be with me forever, all else comes and goes. If I could find the right partner to work with who gets what were doing, then I think a label could make sense.
Your fan base is relatively young, how do you handle that? I know at least for your Oakland show, you’re playing an all-ages venue, do you try to make yourself accessible to them?
Every venue on the tour is all ages, I make that a priority. I love having fans of all ages but it’s especially cool for me to have young fans. I hope to be a role model for kids who want to follow their dreams.
Recently you began calling and answering fans’ questions on Ustream and you also maintain a very active social media presence, how to do you manage that while writing?
It’s tough. I just don’t sleep, I guess.
Despite your mix-tapes and previous EP, you managed to hover under the radar until “James Franco” last summer. Now since the release of All American you’ve been thrown in the lime light. How are you handling it?
For me, nothing has changed. Just more great kids hearing my music and that’s all I want.
Most of what you write about is fairly relatable. Do you base your writing on real people and situations or characters you create?
Pretty exclusively, I write from a personal place.
What can we expect from you on tour? Will you be mixing it up, or do you plan on sticking to more recent material?
Expect a party for an hour and a half. It’s a mix of all my material and more.
Catch him this Thursday (5/10) at The New Parish in Oakland, tickets are still available (but it will likely sell out).