Allan Kingdom – Northern Lights

Allan Kingdom - Northern Lights

Allan Kingdom – Northern Lights

In 2015, Allan Kingdom had the kind of year most musicians salivate over. The 22-year-old St. Paul, Minnesota wordsmith witnessed the explosion of his acclaimed mixtape, contributed a standout hook to Kanye West’s “All Day,” and took center stage at West’s Brit Award performance. An MC who, according to Complex, possesses a “unique, experimental sound and unbridled creativity” struck chords with listeners across the Midwest as he hustled his way to a Grammy nomination for the show-stealing hook of “All Day.” As 2015 concluded, the world’s eyes latched onto Minnesota’s adopted son. In response, Kingdom celebrated his landmark year by releasing another free mixtape, Northern Lights.

No track signifies the tone of the album more than its opening track, “The Ride,” in which Kingdom freely pushes into new sonic and lyrical territory. “The Ride” is littered with casual meditations on existence, sex, and angst. Over a cloudy syncopated synthesizer progression, Kingdom raps “Go’n/You can throw the first stone/If you couldn’t do what you vowed to/Cause you didn’t know what you was s’posed to/Promise, I found/That the innocent never be conscious.” Kingdom displays a compelling willingness to open himself to the listener as he employs his sing-song cadence to confess: “I don’t get it, so silly/Ranting to you ‘cause you’re in my room though/Just because you fire up my hormones.” There’s self-doubt, honesty, thoughtfulness, curiosity, confidence, youth. Combined with Kingdom’s delivery, a skipping articulation of every raspy flat-voiced phrase, Kingdom is as refreshing as ever. But “The Ride” also showcases a new Allan Kingdom who has grown into a more mature and ambitious artist. Self-harmonizing during the hook, Kingdom spits “Ye told me drive slow, but ain’t nobody say homie fly low/So now I’m bout to take you high as ever/While whispering just stay you, but change too.”

Several other standout cuts from Northern Lights reveal Kingdom’s development. There is a new deep-house feel to Kingdom’s production. “Fables,” with submersed bass and snare underlying an eery vocal sample, finds Kingdom stressing that he hasn’t changed in his journey from obscurity. Ominous electronic production infiltrates Kingdom’s sound throughout, emphasizing his determination and hunger on tracks like “Northern Lights,” his wariness regarding fame and fake friends on the particularly house-esque “Renovate.” The synth samples, digital harmonies, and syncopated bass patterns lend themselves perfectly to headphones and ensure that Kingdom remains as inventive as ever; see the experimental, Kanye-Radiohead inspired “I Feel Ya.” It’s nice to hear a young MC so willing and able to switch up his sound, and most of the mixtape is probingly unorthodox.

Kingdom’s self-portrayal is as intriguing as his production. Northern Lights illustrates an MC determined to keep hold of himself as he steps out of the Midwest into a world of fame, fortune, and balmy temperatures. He is proud to blow-up, eager to “make it big,” determined to conquer the world with his message. At the same time, Kingdom refuses to relinquish elements of his character that make his music so inviting. His style, his identity, his introspection, his lifestyle, his individuality, his home—where the lights come from the sky more than skyscrapers. He is incredibly clear in saying that he won’t sacrifice his soul for anything, even a monster career.

Of course, Northern Lights isn’t perfect. “Believe” sticks out from the rest of the album. While the production is inventive, it sounds a bit out-of-place, and sometimes a little corny lyrically. At other instances throughout the tape, Kingdom seems thematically repetitive. Navigating the double-punch of fame and existential worry clearly weighs heavily on his shoulders, and at some points this threatens to overwhelm us. Luckily, it never does. It remains a source of sonic intrigue.

Northern Lights, like Kingdom’s prior work, is curious, vulnerable and at the same time unabashedly lively. He’s fierce and determined, without losing track of his place in the cosmos; uncertain but confident in finding direction. This new album is no step backwards. It is a mark of growth in the evolution of Allan Kingdom, the rapper-poet whose uniquely voiced reflections now include fame, fortune, and lush production. As the album title indicates, Allan Kingdom’s star is just beginning to shine.