Hoodie Allen offers his music for free
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To most businesspeople, Hoodie Allen seems crazy.
The Long Island rapper followed up his first album, "All American," which debuted in Billboard's Top 10 last year and reached No. 1 on iTunes without the help of a major label, with a new mixtape, "Crew Cuts," that he released, again by himself, last week. But instead of taking advantage of his growing popularity to boost sales, Allen decided he needed to give back instead.
He made "Crew Cuts" -- featuring the hit "Fame Is For ----," which already hit the Top 10 on iTunes hip-hop charts -- available on his website, hoodieallen.com, for free.
"Even though I gained a lot of fans with 'All American' who were only accustomed to downloading stuff that's on iTunes, there are a lot of fans who started with me who were used to only getting things for free," Allen says. "I didn't want to become an artist who only releases products for sale. ... It's not really all about the money."
Allen, 24, says he's just as proud of "Crew Cuts" as he is of "All American," and fans have reacted to it. The first afternoon it was available, it was downloaded 40,000 times from his website, and discussion about it made #CrewCuts a trending topic on Twitter nationally. The marked growth both stylistically and in his rhymes on "Crew Cuts" is hard to miss, especially on "Fame Is for ----," which, despite its distinctively radio-unfriendly title, could easily fit on mainstream pop radio next to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis or Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z.
However, Allen, born Steve Markowitz, says he believes in the way independent artists, in hip-hop and other genres, build their fanbases by offering new material regularly and alternating free releases with commercial ones.
"Hopefully, I made some good songs and someone will want to use them on TV or a movie or somewhere else," he says. "It doesn't always have to be about a kid taking his mom's credit card and having to spend money."
"Crew Cuts," which also features collaborations with up-and-comers Chiddy and G-Eazy, gives Allen a reason to hit the road again on his biggest tour yet. "This is our first bus tour, the first time we won't be driving the van ourselves in the middle of the night," he says. "It's exciting. We've added a keyboardist this time, so we'll be able to do things that before just weren't physically possible. Now, I can do a greater show."
The bigger show will match the bigger venues on the six-week tour, which starts this week and ends on April 13 at Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan. "When I tell my friends that I'm playing there, they just can't believe it," says Allen. "It's a weird reality check."
Reality is, though, Allen is on the edge of something big. The success of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, whose "Thrift Shop" was No. 1 on the singles charts for four weeks without the benefit of a major label deal, shows that what Allen wants to achieve is possible on his own.
"Independent acts have been able to build fanbases that are now just massive," he says. "That lets them do really amazing stuff."
Allen points to the success of Grammy winners and platinum sellers Mumford & Sons as an example of how independent acts have erased every music industry barrier now.
"It's the new normal," he says, laughing about all the media coverage that seems surprised about the success of indie artists. "We're not there yet, but maybe in a year or two, the paradigm might shift."
The naysayers who see the major-label system maintaining its power? "We scare the ---- out of those people," Allen says. "I was surprised before. Now, I'm just stoked by the reaction of the fans."
Allen says he has already started working on his next album, which he hopes to release later this year. The excitement about "Crew Cuts" has spawned interest on iTunes, where sales of "All American" have jumped so much it rebounded into the Hip-Hop Top 10.
People are more than happy to pay for Allen's music.
"It's all building momentum -- I've been building good will," he says, adding that he's aiming for the No. 1 spot again with his next release. "I'm ready to bring it to the next level."
WHO Hoodie Allen
WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m., April 13, Roseland Ballroom, 239 W. 52nd St., Manhattan
Hoodie's musical neighbors
Hip-hop's legacy of party-starting and humor goes back to its roots, though, in recent years, those with a more serious approach have dominated. Hoodie Allen is one of a growing number of pop-leaning rappers -- many handling business themselves, without a major label -- finding crossover success by tapping into a more lighthearted style. Here's a look:
MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS
SOUNDS LIKE Think Eminem with a hipster vibe and a social conscience, championing thrift stores instead of designer boutiques.
HAILS FROM Seattle
BEST KNOWN FOR "Thrift Shop," the recent chart-topper about secondhand shopping
SOUNDS LIKE SoCal laid-back grooves and clever rhymes
HAILS FROM Los Angeles
BEST KNOWN FOR "Corona and Lime," a Top 25 ode to the good life
LABEL Big Bad/Feel Good Entertainment
SOUNDS LIKE The second coming of De La Soul
HAILS FROM Philadelphia
BEST KNOWN FOR "Mind Your Manners," an international hit about individuality featuring up-and-comer Icona Pop