“It's kind of nice to know that you have a community that has your back.”
Matt Allen, the man behind the stage moniker Nur-D, wants to cordially invite you, and another 1,500 of his closest friends, to First Avenue’s Mainroom Friday night for the release of his new album, “HVN.” The album release show will be the first time he’ll see his name in bold atop the flyer on the iconic star-studded wall, which for a self-described “Minnesota boy,” brings palpable excitement.
“It's really going to be a community affair, and I’m just beside myself — I'm so excited.”
Allen, born in the Bronx and brought up in Rosemount, wasn’t always one of the biggest rising stars in the Twin Cities hip-hop scene. In fact, he says he hasn’t even always been a hip-hop artist.
Allen’s music career began in high school choir (“My high school choir teacher, Mr. A., is still so supportive of my music career, and that's so hard to get elsewhere”) and progressed into the dawning of various rock bands — e.g. Three Man Trio, Saving Vinyl City (“which in my opinion, is the best name”) and Black Genesis, “which sounds really metal," Allen said, "but it actually was just as if Phil Collins was Black."
Allen said music has always been a part of his life — culminating in adulthood as part of those first groups — but he never felt he fit the mold standard for rock ‘n’ roll at the time.
“If you wanted to do rock ‘n’ roll, if you wanted to do pop, rock or anything like that, you had to look a certain way. And that just was the standard. That was the norm,” he said. “I was already Black, and being a plus-sized Black person at that, the genre just wasn't designed for me and the people who look like me and the people in my band to thrive. It just didn't exist.”
The transition from rock to hip-hop came naturally for Allen, who realized his love for the genre after performing at open mics “in secret,” initially hoping to bring more publicity to his band. But as the bandmates eventually went their separate ways, Allen went forward with hip-hop — and never looked back.
“I fell in love with it,” he said. “I just went all in. I said, ‘If I'm going to be a musician, this is kind of like my Hail-Mary pass.’”
In the end — or rather, just the beginning — Allen’s instincts proved him right. Now, with multiple collections of music under his belt, he says he believes “HVN” takes his artistry to a new level.
“It's been such a labor of love and musical time — it's some of the best stuff I've ever made. I want people to hear this music and be like, ‘Yo, this is something real special.’”
“HVN” comes on the heels of recent projects born out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 murder of George Floyd. Two of those projects, “38th” and “Chicago Avenue,” were departures from his earlier, self-described “less controversial” work, but Allen admits having fans “hear my heart on that” gained him more than he lost.
“I think a lot of people have the misconception that rap is somehow this dangerous art form of dangerous people,” he said. “And while some people profit off of that, it really is a storytelling tool for a lot of people who are marginalized and oppressed.”
He added, “If I were to curtail my voice, and deprive myself of myself for your benefit, I would be doing us all a disservice. It's not that you're not ready yet because there's some sort of deficiency in me, but there is a deficiency in where you are at with your empathy; with your ability to hear tough stuff, your own fragility.”
Of course, Allen’s music is only one piece of a larger puzzle in the fight for social justice. Following the deaths of George Floyd, Daunte Wright and Dolal Idd, among others in recent years at the hands of police, Allen joined with community volunteers to provide support in the form of aid, resources and education on behalf of the organization Justice Frontline Aid.
“As a musician, I felt that it wasn't enough just to write music about it, which is a very powerful thing to do,” Allen said. “But I felt as if I had the opportunity and the space to do more. And so I did. Frontline Aid was a result of the fruits of that labor, not to mention all of the other amazing people on the team who put their heart and soul into it all the time. It makes it easier for me to be able to do music stuff because I know there's so many people fervently working towards making that dream of a better community a reality.”
Allen says “HVN” is a sort of epilogue to his work during the worldwide uprising in 2020 — a continuation of the effort to write honestly and find his ever-evolving voice.
“I made two whole albums about everything that went on during the uprising, as well as just general feelings of being a Black person in a white space,“ Allen said. “There is something powerful about what we all went through, so to be able to be honest and find the voice to ask those questions, and to really wrestle with some of that stuff is a tool that artists should be using in times like these.”
Nur-D will be joined by local acts Sean Anonymous ft. members of More than Lights, Ka Lia Universe, Bayo and Mickey Breeze in the First Avenue Mainroom Friday, Aug. 19. The show begins at 8 p.m. and is open to fans 18 years and older.
To get your tickets, visit First Avenue’s website.
Nur-D will also kick off KARE 11’s first-ever live music event at the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday, Aug. 25.
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