BISMARCK, ND (KXNET) — Matt Allen, more commonly known by his stage name NUR-D, is one of the biggest up-and-comers in the Minneapolis music scene. Since the beginning of his hip-hop career in 2018, Allen has had a meteoric rise in the industry, appearing not only at conventions (including GenCon) and music festivals, but also performing alongside artists like Logic, Tyler the Creator, and the Wu-Tang Clan.
To both an outsider and an insider, the journey seems to be rather fast-paced… so what is it that kickstarted his career, and what does Allen hope to accomplish with his music? KX sat down with Allen to find out.
With such a huge rise in popularity so quickly, it might be startling to some that hip-hop is actually a rather recent addition to his musical exploits, having gone through moments with Gospel, Choir, Rap, and even Rock.
“Music has always been a part of my story,” began Allen. “My grandfather played piano and organ in church, and I spent a lot of time with him when I was really young. My mother was a praise and worship singer, as well, so I would sing alongside her. I was in choir in both middle school and high school. Did a little bit of band, too. Not to toot my own trombone, but I was decent. Hip-hop was sort of a new thing for me — I listened to it, and used to hang out with my brother and his friends when they would rap after school. I wanted to do rock and roll originally, but it wasn’t until a little while, about eight years later, that things clicked — with the genre at the time, in Minnesota, a big, black, guy frontman wasn’t something they were willing to pick up. But when our band eventually called it quits, I started doing this hip-hop stuff in secret. I went to open mics in secret because I wasn’t sure people were going to like it. Eventually, they had to retire me from those contests because I kept winning, and the rest is history.”
With two family members heavily involved in the Gospel genre, it may come as a strange decision that Allen’s passion fits more into the likes of hip-hop — but he believes the two styles of music are a lot more intertwined than most would think.
“There is a lot of overlap between hip-hop and Gospel culture,” Allen explains, “ever since the 80’s, really. Church and especially gospel culture have their roots as black art forms, like hip-hop. A lot of people experience the same things and grow up listening to the same hymns, and that’s why I think it translates so well. They may not be brothers, but I’d say they’re cousins.”
Hip-Hop, as a whole, brings ideas of tough lives and hard times through music, having originated in the south Bronx in the 1970s. Many of the world’s most renowned hip-hop and rap artists (including Cardi B, J Lo, Slick Rick, and Big Pun) can trace their origins back to the area, and most groups take at least some inspiration from it. For Allen, though, there weren’t any major ties to the area during his growth as a musician. Ironically, he claims, that serves as one of the most unique aspects of his hip-hop style, as it allows him to approach the same experiences in his own way.
“When I started doing hip-hop,” Allen continues, “I knew that I had a different perspective than some of my peers in the same genre. I was born in the Bronx, but I was raised for the most part in Rosemont, Minnesota — a very small town and mostly suburb area. One of my songs, ‘Black Kid, White Town’, was themed after that. I just had a different experience, I really didn’t have the same experiences or elements as some of my rap peers had been speaking about, or live in the same areas where a lot of hip-hop comes from. I had a very different way of getting to the same genre, and some of the stuff I rap and talk about are different. And that’s for people who feel a little different… those who are running on a different track than everyone else, or at least don’t feel like they are. It’s been a conscious effort, but it’s also something that just happens based on who I am and what comes out of my heart when I’m writing.”
During his tours, Allen recounts not only working with other hip-hop artists but also boasts other incredible exploits — including concerts with fellow MN musicians, crossing paths with the likes of Mister Wives, Lizzo, and Brother Ali, and even performing at Paisley Park for a virtual tribute to Prince during the pandemic days. As for how he managed to make his way into these situations, NUR-D believes it’s a mixture of luck, skill, and sociability.
“Honestly, most of it is luck. Being in the right place at the right time. But a lot of it is also being receptive, or being willing to talk to people… you’d be surprised how many people will say yes if you just ask them. How it really came about, though, was that there were people who were in my corner and willing to help me out. I was invited onto Soundset, the same bill that Wu-Tang Clan, Tyler the Creator, and Jaden Smith were on. I only had two songs at that point, so I had to write four more to have enough for a full set. I also didn’t have a DJ t the time, so Lizzo’s DJ, funny enough, ended up spinning for me. After that, things sort of fell into place. To me, it’s being willing to say ‘okay’ to things you’re not quite sure about. I didn’t know that GenCon existed until someone asked me to do it. Keeping yourself open is important…. and being nice, too, is especially an important thing to remember. I’ve gotten more gigs by being nice and having my name passed on than I’ve ever had by cold-calling venues. People really appreciate kindness and professionalism.”
Another major aspect that is often overlooked, he claims, is the ability of fans to help share the songs they love and the artists they care for to help them grow in both the number of people they can reach and the number of lives they can touch.
“The people that are famous, and the biggest artists, are only that way because you’ve made them that way. You don’t have to wait for someone to tell you that they’re cool. As an artist who’s coming up without a PR team or label, just connecting with the fans, being honest, raw, and vulnerable… you control who gets played. If you and all of your friends went wild for an artist who had all the bells and whistles, you can make a star. When you ask me, ‘how did I get here?’, it’s because of fans. Amazing, awesome fans from all around the world who gladly share the music. And any artist can do that. If you want a musician to pop and do well, talk about them. Say things, tell everyone, follow them, and bug people about them. That’s how things get made.”
(Image Credit: NUR-D)
More important than the gigs and songs, though, is the message behind them. While positivity is a huge focus, the slogan for NUR-D’s music is “hip-hop for everyone who’s ever felt a little different” — and by transcribing his feelings into song, Allen believes he can help people feel connected and less alone as they deal with difficult situations.
“I think that music speaks to a portion of our being that can’t be accessed through just speaking, that because it is an inherently emotional art form, that allows it to penetrate some of the walls we might have up during conversation and reading. When you focus on positivity — and that’s not just happy music, mind you– it means that the music is taking you in a direction that will end with you feeling better than when you started. Focusing on that really opens up the heart to talk about issues that artists really should be speaking about… really pushing past walls and playing a song that tells people, ‘hey, it’s cool to love yourself, it’s okay to be sad, let’s take that time and be sad together’. I think it allows us to be more connected. And connection is a huge portion of my own music. I know that with a lot of the things in my life that I’ve gone through, it’s helped a lot to know I’m not the only one going through it. Even if I’ve never met and will never meet this person, I’m not alone in these feelings. When I make music, I really do hope there is this connection, that people don’t feel as alone, that there’s a way to the next step, or that other people are searching for a way to get there too.”
Adding to his thoughts on music is the idea that it can be used to not only help connect individuals and help them know they’re not alone but to convince them to challenge their ideas of social situations and climates.
“Connection and challenge go hand in hand –especially since the uprising in 2020. It’s been a lot of ‘hey, we’re going to talk about this harder issue or wrestle with this concept. You can trust me, because we’ve been vulnerable together and connected, and now I’m going to ask you to look at something a little differently. And I’ve been blessed to say my fans have followed me on this journey as we push towards a little more co-habitation on this planet.”
Although Minnesota is his home, NUR-D will soon be visiting North Dakota to bring both music and activism to Minot State University. To begin his visit, on September 22, Allen will be debuting the documentary ‘Black Kid, White Town’ for the first time outside of Minneapolis– a story about his upbringing and rise to popularity against the backdrop of the boom of the recent boom in social justice.
“The documentary chronicles the struggles and extreme world that is being a Minnesota artist during the uprising,” explained Allen. “It’s fantastic, and the director did a great job. It’s one of the wildest things because we just started out trying to make a documentary about making music in Minnesota at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. And then, there was a huge left turn in being able to follow that movement. It was like being able to watch history before your eyes.”
Following the premiere, he will be available for question and answer sessions after the documentary, and will also meet with MSU students the next day at Ann Nicole Nelson Hall to discuss his experiences as both an entertainer and an entrepreneur. The event will conclude with a full concert, featuring him and his band on Friday, September 23, at 8:00 p.m. Admission is free for students and minors, and $10 for all others. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m., and opening acts begin at 6.
For more information about NUR-D, visit his website, and check Minot State University’s event page to stay up-to-date on his North Dakota visit.