Rapper Allan Kingdom on what it means to be an artist from St. Paul

Allan Kingdom and DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip in Studio M
Allan Kingdom and DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip perform in Studio M on Wednesday, June 21, 2017.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"I am from Africa, I am from Canada, I am from so many states," Allan Kingdom raps in the song "Don't Push Me." It's a song that sheds some light on Kingdom's journey; born in Winnipeg, Canada, to immigrant parents from South Africa and Tanzania, Allan Kingdom (nee Kyariga) moved to St. Paul, where he would find an underground hip-hop community that would help him launch his career.

It didn't take long for Kingdom to make a splash. Shortly after he began performing live in the Twin Cities, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver caught one of his shows. Recognizing something special, Vernon brought Kingdom out to his April Base studio in Eau Claire to meet Kanye West, who was visiting to collaborate on new material. For Kingdom, the meeting felt predestined.

"Kayne had already heard my music," he says, nonchalantly. "So it was natural."

Kayne was in the midst of creating a new album, and Kingdom sat in the next studio at April Base preparing all of his songs and beats. It took a couple days for the two to meet, but when they did, Kingdom got what many artists only dream about — a high-profile and influential artist taking an immediate interest in their music.

Allan Kingdom performs in Studio M.
Allan Kingdom performs his song "Know about it" in the studio on Wednesday, June 21, 2017.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"He was listening to beats from somebody else, he was going through the whole folder and was like nope, next, next, next, next ... Then I was supposed to play my music next. I plug up my laptop, play him the first song, it plays all the way through and he's like, 'Cool, I like that.' Then I played him every idea through. Then he says, 'Well, how much of it can I use?'"

Kanye ended up using Kingdom's melody and voice in the song "All Day," which was taken from a song Kingdom wrote in his bedroom when he was only 17. The song was initially leaked in August of 2014 with rapper Travis Scott on the track, but in March of 2015 the track was then officially released with Kingdom on the track instead. The song was performed live at the 2015 BRIT Awards for the first time, and it was there that Kingdom first connected with a global audience.

After a successful tour, Kingdom came back home to St. Paul, digested everything and gained more of an understanding of his artistry. He recognizes that it took a lot of work to develop a voice distinctive enough that it could be instantly recognized by other talented artists.

"You have to carve it out. It's like making a sculpture, you carve it out," he reflects. "I don't try to do anything that's not for me. I try to think about my unique voice and what exactly I can do to make it even more me."

Even with all of his recent success, Kingdom remains dedicated to his hometown of St. Paul, proudly representing the chilly winter climate with his label, So Cold Records. But what does it mean to be an artist from St. Paul?

"It means you have to create your own definition of what that even is. I've had the blessings and opportunities to help carve that out for whoever else that wants to be on the same path that I took. Mainly I feel like this means finding your own thing," he said. "I think that any other artist that come out of St. Paul or Minneapolis have to find their own thing. That's going to be expected now. You have to be you if you're coming out of here."

"If you're from the West Coast, New York, or down South, you have an aesthetic and a sound that's already there in place for you, so you can just step into that. When you come from a place where there hasn't been a global representation of it, then you've got to create that on your own."

DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip spins tracks for Allan Kingdom
DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip spins tracks for Allan Kingdom in Studio M on Wednesday, June 21, 2017.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"As we work more and more, we get closer and closer," adds DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip. "He trusts my creative vision and vice versa. It's really beautiful because we're both growing together at the same time."

Allan Kingdom and DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip (yes, with 10 i's) visited The Current's studio to perform songs from his debut album LINES and chat with the Local Show's Andrea Swensson and MPR News host Tom Weber as part of the Summer Music Series.

Hear more sessions from the Summer Music Series on Friday mornings at 11 a.m. on MPR news; and on The Current's Local Show Sunday evenings at 6 p.m.

Songs Performed:

"Don't Push Me"
"Know About It"
"Loner's Anthem"

Hosted by Andrea Swensson and Tom Weber
Produced by Julie Siple
Engineered by Michael DeMark
Visuals by Evan Frost
Web feature by Erianna Jiles

More from the Summer Music Series:

Manchita performs emotional new solo EP

Reina Del Cid talks about her musical evolution

Soul singer PaviElle talks musical heritage

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