On Friday afternoon, I had the distinct displeasure of seeing Hoodie Allen live in concert. My current educational haunt for the semester, Cornell University, hosts an annual event called Slope Day which sees almost 20,000 hugely inebriated students descend upon the namesake slope on campus to rock out to whichever hit-or-miss acts the Cornell Concert Commission has decided upon for this year’s festivities. 2013 saw the announcement of a show featuring Kendrick Lamar (a cause for massive celebration on my end and general dismay elsewhere) with University of Pennsylvania alum Hoodie Allen in support. I’d vaguely encountered Hoodie Allen during my time at Penn a couple of years back but didn’t have a very good conception of what he was all about circa-2013. Interviewing fellow Philadelphian rap duo Chiddy Bang a few years back, I recall production-half of the band Xaphoon Jones decrying Hoodie’s shtick, implying that he was pretty much biting Chiddy’s style and that top-charting successes on Hype Machine and elsewhere across the blogosphere were more a testament to Hoodie’s prior employment than his talent: “The kid used to work at Google.” That said, I walked towards his opening set on Friday with an open mind and with ‘No Interruption’ as my only, brief and recent introduction to the man otherwise known as Steven Markowitz.
In a way, I was destined to be disappointed. ‘No Interruption’ is a pretty good song. The track is basic, built around some very light key work and a thick bass beat that sounds so derivative that I can’t be sure I haven’t heard it before in a 2Chainz/Drake/Ace Hood/[insert any club rapper here] song. Still, Hoodie does an admirable job of doing something that most don’t: he appears to recognise his limitations and accordingly doesn’t play up the thug rap card. Instead, borrowing on what is clearly the sound of today for the lead single from last year’s iTunes chart-topping ‘All American’ LP, Hoodie imbues what could easily have been a darker song with the kind of shimmering, pop-tastic quality that only a kid who attended an Ivy League college and then worked in marketing for the biggest search engine on earth could. ‘White rap’ is an interminably charged term and although characters like Logic and Macklemore are breaking down traditional demarcations on the regular, there remains some part of hip-hop which is exclusively cordoned off for the African American artists who birthed it. Hoodie runs far, far from those boundaries, instead indulging in rap-singing that none of those legacy artists would ever care to attempt. The chorus is probably the most impressive manifestation of this embracing of realities, the kind of pop nicety whose melody gets stuck in your head for days on end.
Even with all the good intent and recognition of his place in the music industry in the world, nothing could mask the fact that on Friday, playing to thousands of heat-stricken, thirsty late-teens and early-20s, Hoodie Allen could not perform live. All that is charming about ‘No Interruption’ – the higher-register vocals, the looped samples, the lame-but-cutesy bravado lyrics – fell flat when a Hoodie who patently spends significant time in the studio tweaking and re-tweaking was unable to reproduce those highs, his band over-complicated the most simple of beats and lyrics were delivered not by Hoodie but by a disembodied, recorded version, only brought back to the present by arbitrary ‘yeahs’ thrown in by the real-life lacklustre star. What Hoodie Allen does on record is largely too sacharrine and self-aware for my tastes but I was willing to suspend disbelief if he could deliver his pop vision live. ‘No Interruption’ is a very good pop song but only that memorable chorus was identifiable amidst a live performance punctuated by trying too hard, invariable failure and a garbled stage presence. The success and continuing existence of the Hoodie Allen moniker today is indicative of the fact that there is certainly a market for this sanitised hip-pop out there. When a seemingly simple reproduction is butchered as it was on Friday, however, Hoodie risks losing that peripheral audience he desparately needs if he is to graduate from cultural oddity to mainstay.
Hoodie Allen – No Interruption