- Steven Taylor
Hoodie Allen (Steven Markowitz) is on a two-month world tour in, which started Oct. 10 in Columbus, Ohio. It's the biggest jaunt of his career, yet he shows no anxiety. Not that he should; over the course of his wholly self-guided career, he has seemed incapable of making a bad move.
Markowitz, 29, comes from humble beginnings as a Jewish kid from Long Island, and says his interest in hip-hop started with Outkast's "Ms. Jackson" and Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise." The urge to create his own music was innate. "When I was about 11, and before I really understood what I was doing, I was writing songs, or what could amount to songs," he says. Eventually, his efforts became more focused, and his voice developed, informed by the smorgasbord of music he found through Napster. "It caught me off guard how much I liked it, so I used the internet to find everything else that Outkast had done and found myself very involved in learning about all these new artists and all the old artists from before my time."
After graduating high school, Markowitz attended the University of Philadelphia, where he studied marketing while churning out his unique brand of alt-pop-infused hip-hop and rhymes that capture the nihilistic party vibe of young, uncertain collegians. "I put out an EP and two mixtapes during my time in college and I started to see a little bit of traction pick up," he says. With some initial seeds planted and contacts secured, Markowitz wrapped up his degree and secured a job at Google. In 2011, when the Pep Rally mixtape increased his momentum, Markowitz took some meetings with record labels. Ultimately, he elected to stay independent, realizing he didn't need a label in order to pursue his muse. "I decided to take a leave of absence at Google," he says, "and haven't looked back."
His self-released breakthrough EP, All American, premiered at the No. 1 spot on iTunes in 2012, establishing Markowitz as a genuine new voice in American hip-hop. His first full-length LP, People Keep Talking (2014), reached No. 8 on the Billboard 200, with the track "Act My Age" landing in a trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming. He's collaborated with Ed Sheeran, and toured with Fall Out Boy in 2015. His next album, Happy Camper (2016), hit No.1 on the Billboard rap and independent albums charts. So a world tour supporting its aptly titled successor—the newly minted and still self-released The Hype (hoodieallen.com)—makes perfect sense.
In many runaway success stories like this, it's not uncommon for artists to forget that if nobody's listening to their material, then they don't get to keep making it. Markowitz strives to ensure that the bond between him and his fan base remains sacred. "I wanted to interact with fans differently than a lot of the stars that I grew up listening to," he says. "I wanted to be very open and communicative. I thought there was no reason not to invest in every person who came along to listen to my music."
All artists can give a quick online shout-out to their fans here and there, but a scroll through his Twitter account (@HoodieAllen) reveals someone who genuinely sees his fans as people. In place of platitudinous expressions of love and gratitude, he goes to great lengths to recognize his fans' support. Before The Hype was released in late September, Markowitz chose three random fans who pre-ordered his album, hit them up via social media and flew to their hometowns so they could spend the day together riding go-karts and playing mini-golf. "I went to Cincinnati, Indiana and Arizona to spend time with three very different people," he says. "You can't lose sight of why you're able to do this, and I love being able to go play a show and know the first 20 people in line."
Considering the way Markowitz combs his Twitter and Instagram accounts for people to reach out to, it's a safe bet that he's made a few connections with fans in Salt Lake City. In an age where it's possible to take the reins of one's own career, an artist must endeavor to do it mindfully. Staying engaged with fans can only lead to more authentic music and a genuine bonding. "For me, the fan interaction is how I still feel so connected with people year after year," he says. "It all comes down to the fans."