In 2013, it’s possible for a thugged-out, goon-turned-rap artist to coexist with someone like Hoodie Allen. Originally hailing from Long Island, New York, the 24-year-old received excellent elementary and intermediate education, excelled at one of the nation’s top universities, and worked at the world-famous Google before he embarked on a full-time rap career. This indie talent, with sing-song hooks, catchy punchlines, and clean-cut image, has garnered a solid fan base that’s more real than most artists signed to major imprints. Strictly through touring and social media (Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube), Hoodie Allen’s official debut, All American, was able to land at number 10 on Billboard charts, selling nearly 90,000 copies to date. And his numbers continue to grow, as YouTube views pile up, merchandise sells out, and show venues get bigger. Just admit it suburbanite Wu-Tang fan, your sister and girlfriend love Hoodie. You’re just hating ’cause he’s getting it. —Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)
Tell me how you started rapping.
I’d come home after school and I’d stay with my folks when they were working. I would write these songs. I listened to everything that was coming out of Rawkus Records and even like Atmosphere. I started out super underground, backpack shit. I would try to fit as many syllables as possible and use as big of words as possible. I really grew up doing hip-hop pre-YouTube. The rapmusic.com, I was on those boards, getting feedback, all that shit. I was like 13 or 14 making my first songs. I didn’t show it to anyone, it was just for me and it was very personal. It sucked. It’s hidden online somewhere, but under a different name. That was my background and I loved doing that.
What did your friends think?
They’re my friends, right? So, they loved it, and it’s the hottest shit ever to them. At the time, being a white rapper wasn’t cool. It wasn’t saturated, so it wasn’t like there were five of us sitting around the lunch table freestyling. No, it was me, and maybe a few other kids on Long Island. We’d go play like stupid shows and open up for Collie Buddz.
Tell me about your childhood.
My whole family is from New York City, and we moved out to Long Island when I was born. I have a weird background. Before high school I went to school with like 10 other kids in my grade. It was like a gifted program sort of thing. It was very diverse. I was the only Jewish kid there, it was every background and just really, really smart kids, really challenging.
How were you like in high school?
Because of that school, I was always in classes with kids who were older than me. So I was like the 15-year old with all the 17-year old kids. Not great for the game. The girls view you as their little brother; all the dudes are bigger than you—not the ideal situation. It was one of those things where I had to work harder to make friends. That’s why I played football and soccer in school. School was easy, so I was always trying to be involved doing other stuff, like music and sports and clubs and all that jazz. But, I definitely wasn’t a cool kid. I was already an outcast coming in from this other school.
So, you were two years ahead of everybody?
Basically, I was done with high school in three years. This is a weird story. They were like, “Why don’t you just graduate?” And I was like, “Why don’t I just stay around a year and hang out and not jump into college and shit?” So, I stayed around, and that was one of my big years. That’s the year I made my first mixtape. I was hanging out with friends who were the complete opposite of me—the kids who’d skip class, go smoke in the parking lot, go get bagels during the day, and loiter around the lunchroom. I didn’t have any class so I could just be with them and kick it, but I was definitely not a badass. I was just following their badass tendencies.
You went to an Ivy League school (University of Pennsylvania), and you were part of the prestigious Wharton School. What kind of aspirations did you have?
Truly, my aspirations were always music. The education was something I was going to do regardless. It was great and I loved being there.
Did you have pushy parents who wanted you to become an investment banker?
Well, that’s where most of my friends are now from school, but I had parents who were like, “Whatever you want to do, I’ll support you, but you better fucking graduate. You better get that degree.” So, that was our agreement from day one. As things went on in school, management companies were coming up to me saying I should drop out, and they’re going to be putting me on the road, but at the time I’m like, “That sounds great, let me do that,” but my parents were like, “You’re not doing that.” I wanted to do it, and it was frustrating. If I don’t do it now I’m going to be old as fuck and nobody’s going to care. But the truth is, once I finished, things started popping off. Everything happens for a reason.
Were you in school with very money-oriented guys?
It was tough, man. Those people, I just didn’t fuck with. I stayed away from them, but they do exist. What you realize when you get to a school like that is that the hardest part is getting into it, really. Once you’re there, you can become who you want to be and you have time to explore what you want to do. I would take the bus from Philly to New York to go record in some fucking bedroom in Brooklyn. I missed out on a lot of partying and all that shit. I think it’s so funny when people just naturally assume and put a tag on it like, “This is frat, this is college,” ’cause I was avoiding parties to go work on music. You can’t just be drinking and accidentally writing a song. Maybe some people can, but I can’t.