In an industry increasingly populated by mercurial artists, Allan Kingdom exists in his own lane.
The Minnesota-via-Canada rapper chooses to handle more facets of the creative process than most artists can lay claim to. “Most of the time when I let someone else do something creatively they don’t get it done the way I have it in my head,” he explains. “Control is essential in maintaining the purity of your vision.” Writing, producing, directing his visuals and even managing himself, Kingdom possesses the kind of 360-degree thinking of his former mentor, Kanye.
It was after jumping on stage with Ye at the 2015 BRIT Awards to perform their Grammy-nominated ‘All Day’ that the 25-year-old Saint Paul lyricist really made a name for himself (at least this side of the Atlantic, anyway). Since then, Kingdom has carved out a space of his very own in the hip-hop sphere, toeing the line between groove-laden funk and progressive rap.
Born in Canada to a South African father and Tanzanian mother, Kingdom was the first of his family to be born outside Africa, but also found it tough to assimilate into his Canadian school. This outsider status would propel him into the spotlight. “I try to go to Tanzania every year,” he says. “Many people don’t know Swahili is my first language, so my culture is a strong part of who I am.”
The Midwest-raised artist has never let himself be cornered creatively. As well as his solo work, he recently paired up with French composer Sebastian on his ‘Thirst’ album; a perhaps unusual link-up, but then Kingdom has always been genre-agnostic. “I was familiar with his work and respected him as an artist and vice versa,” he explains of working with the Ed Banger affiliate. ‘Yebo’, the result, collaboration sits firmly in the dance music orbit but is anchored by a hip-hop flair.
2019 has seen Kingdom drop a steady stream of singles, which have marked a sonic shift, embracing sounds from the southern hemisphere and mining his East African heritage. The self-produced ‘cudi buddi’ pops with the bounce of a Mustard instrumental while ‘sugar’ oozes Prince – one of the many influences in his sonic palette. Kingdom’s next full-length ‘I Don’t Do This For Money’ – the follow-up to 2017’s eagerly-received ‘LINES’ – is firmly in the works for an early 2020 release, and he promises it to be a blend of “classic Allan Kingdom vibes with the more experimental and African vibes I’ve been working with lately.”
His latest project is a link-up with Billionaire Boys Club on their first physical release: a limited edition vinyl pressed onto hot pink, it’s part of BBC’s Boys of Tomorrow initiative. “The unheard track on side A, ‘Wow!’, is what I like to call an inspirational banger,” he explains of the record, of which only 200 will exist. “The video for that is also self-directed and edited.” On the flip is fellow Thestand4rd member Spooky Black and previous collaborators Gloss Gang. “These are some of the more standout features from my catalogue,” he says, adding: “I don’t have too many features in my music so every time I do it’s because of a special creative connection.”
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