Steven Markovitz sounds sleepy when he calls my cellphone at 11 o’clock on a Friday morning.
The rapper/singer/MC known as Hoodie Allen explains he just woke up and has an hour to get to band practice. He has reason to be tired—he just released his third studio album, The Hype, and has been touring and making music full-time, nonstop, since the end of 2011 when he walked out of his job at Google.
The Hype is like and unlike Hoodie’s earlier projects including, especially, his first EP, 2011’s All American. The layers of pop culture references, the jokes, the stream-of-consciousness-sounding rhymes and flows that Hoodie is known for are all still there as with his 2013 mix tape and previous studio albums.
But there’s also a more grown-up sound to The Hype, an occasional R&B soulfulness in sung lyrics and a willingness to grapple with deep ideas such as commitment, disillusionment, self-improvement, and the complexities of relationships.
“It comes back to a root sound of mine and things I do stay in that box,” Hoodie says. “But a lot of [longtime] fans are resonating strongly with this album, feeling like it evokes some of those early early projects.”
Markovitz, 29, a self-described “Jewish kid from Long Island” came of age the same way many Millennials did: watching Adam Sandler movies, listening to east coast hip hop from the likes of Nas and the Beastie Boys, Outkast and Wu Tang, but also the pop-punk sounds of Sum 41 and Blink 182.
Hoodie’s debt to popular culture is significant, from his namesake to his colorful music videos to the perpetual shoutouts to films, TV and celebrities from the ‘90s through the ‘00s that permeate his songs.
“It’s my way to be tongue-in-cheek and put my own little Easter eggs in there,” he says, adding that he draws on pop culture for his lyrics in the same way he draws on musical influences: not imitatively, but unconsciously.
“The sounds and ideas I gravitate toward feel like come naturally,” he says. “I love a lot of the current music sounds, trap sounds, what people even call mumble rap I love, but if I was doing something just to ride a popularity wave, I wouldn’t have the fans that I have.”
The Hoodie Allen musical persona is enigmatic, or at least, not straightforward but it’s consistent: themes like friendship, sudden wealth and a circumspect approach to love bind together Hoodie’s songs. While he expresses a proclivity for models, pretty, heartless girls and “young Winona” (Ryder, presumably) lookalikes, a desire for someone genuine, “a smart one,” is usually there, even when, on the surface, it’s not.
In Lucky Man, the first track from his fist album All American, Hoodie describes being the type of guy who “hits the florist” in the morning for the girlfriend he partied with, and took home, the night before. In the very next song, No Interruption, that old-fashioned facade is gone: “she’ll be paying for the date,” he insists.
Similarly, in the song Fakin’ from The Hype, approaching Drake-levels of angst Hoodie describes how he’s “not that nice of a dude,” at least not to the ladies in it for the Instagram likes. But “oh my God, you’re a goddess, I’ll never break a promise to you,” he half-sings, half-raps on the album’s Mad. He’s parsing inadequacy feelings a woman rouses in him: “I feel unqualified, you Donald Trump me,” he says.
Then, in Play the Field, Hoodie’s ambivalent once again: “Let’s not get married, let’s wait till we’re older, if you really need that rock, Im’ma put you on a flight, take you straight to Boulder.” Or, is it true as he raps in All for Me “I love you like a French kid loves crepes”—or, is it just clever?
Hoodie’s ups and downs are endearing and his soul searching feels authentic. His musings on young adulthood, sudden fame and love or the lack of it are deftly delivered, couched in canny wordplay, catchy hooks and compelling beats. Hoodie Allen is talented, honest and his music is irresistible; expect his Raleigh show, like his songs and music videos, to be energetic, memorable and fun.