Quarantines and music scenes don’t mix well. For instance, the killer show with Nur-D, the Glow Mechanics, and TOPO presented by Treedome Productions, slated for late March at Thesis Beer Project, has been postponed.
Despite the difficulties in finding face-to-face shows these days, many artists, including Nur-D, are creating digital shows. Matt Allen, the Cities-based rapper who performs under that name, planned a series of virtual shows he titled Nur-D’s Quarantined World Tour that featured performers like Yam House and the Gully Boys. The shows were streamed live on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Revenue from the shows went to support the Minnesotan arts community. By Thursday, they’d raised more than $1,500 for artists in need -- and you should keep an eye on the Nur-D Facebook page in case there are more.
We caught up with Allen on his quarantine routine, why he wants to be your seventh-favorite rapper, and the best and worst nacho toppings. Check out his latest song, Chi Chi, here!
What are your favorite ways to endure these times of social distancing and quarantine?
I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends over video chat. It’s fun and takes you away from your surroundings. If you’ve never played, now is a good time to get into it. Also, I have a lot of audio books I’ve been listening (to) while cleaning.
What gave you the idea for your virtual Nur-D’s Quarantined World Tour concert series?
I basically had the idea from those old Jerry Lewis telethons. I remember events like that would raise money for causes, and while some of them might have a live audience, most of their focus was entertaining and talking to the folks at home. I figured, why not do something like that? The people who would normally come to these concerts haven’t disappeared, they are just in their homes. Let’s bring the music to them.
The tracks on your "Songs About Stuff" record include everything from a children's choir and references to Harry Potter, to stripped-down guitar backgrounds and lyrics about adding zeroes to paychecks. What do you think holds your eclectic aesthetic together?
That's a real good question. I think it's twofold. I take a lot of time to make sure the music I make is the music I want to make. I can tell after 15-30 seconds if a track isn't going to work, and even if there is something wildly different in each track, it's connected by something intangible which is just ... "That sounds dope, I like it.” Second, I think that we as music listeners are a lot more eclectic than previous generations. With streaming and self-made playlists being the norm, people are listening to all sorts of styles and genres, one feeding into the other without even thinking about it, so when an album or a project comes out with a similar feel, it all sort of works together.
You work hard to keep your songs positive. Why is this so important to you?
I think it's because you get out of the world what you put in. I know the world we've inherited is kinda bleak more times than not. The news, so many hearts, heck -- they even turned Superman into this drab, colorless ordeal. I want to be able to start pushing things in the opposite direction. Not to say that being positive means being happy all the time. But the idea that whatever I do is pushing towards something better than yesterday is really important to me. I want to be remembered for that type of energy.
Before this Armageddon, you’d been playing big shows like Soundset, toured with people like Brother Ali, and won awards like placing in City Pages’ Top 5 Hip Hop Artists. What do you think has been the secret that helps you connect with your audiences?
I think the secret to connecting with any audience, big or small, is just to be yourself. I know that sounds kinda after-school-special-y, but I really don't know how else to say how important that is as a performer. If you're trying to be someone you're not on stage, you're going to have that nagging part of you in the background keeping you from putting on the best performance you can. Also knowing your work as best as you can helps a ton! The less you have to think about what word comes next, what song is up, what part is coming, the more you can focus on connecting with the people who came to see you.
You are a relative newcomer to rapping. Some accounts say you didn't start rapping until 2018. What spurred you to become a rapper in addition to a singer?
I have always loved hip-hop. I think "becoming a rapper" sort of just happened when I allowed myself to step into an art from that I had always loved from the sidelines but never engaged in. It was a way for me to express myself in a different way, to be silly and weird, all while staying true to myself. I think I am still becoming a rapper. I doubt that I have arrived yet. There is still so much more to this art that I have to explore and shape to what works best for me.
What's it like performing with the live Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Band versus performing with a DJ?
I think it's like the difference between hanging with a group of your best friends and hanging out with one of your best friends. Both are great and wonderful in their own ways, but they bring something different to the experience. When it's me and DJ Hayes, we really can get intimate with the audience. We have a lot more back-and-forth. I think there is a little bit more wiggle room for just changing the whole show up on a dime, should we feel the people are wanting something specific. It's so fun.
When you get the whole crew coming through it's just a wild party. We got guitar, bass, horns, my wonderful singers, there's a lot more pageantry, which I love. Plus it's a lot louder.
How do you think your Nur-D moniker both embraces and overturns the potentially negative reactions to "nerds?"
I think it just highlights turning weaknesses into strengths. It's no surprise that what was once considered "uncool" is now dominating so much of our markets today. But that wasn't always the case. However, because a few people saw the potential in these things and stuck to it, the world has shifted. I think that it's the same with Nur-D. I didn't see the value in that side of myself, others didn't see the value in me, but now I am taking this newfound respect and love for myself to the marketplace with confidence.
You say it’s your goal to be your fans' seventh favorite rapper. Who are the six they should like before you?
I have no idea. There are so many good rappers out there. But that's the thing, it doesn't really matter who they are, as long as I am on the list somewhere. That's the main point behind why I say that. The whole world is never going to agree on who the top three hip hop artists of all time are. However, they are a lot less picky about who they think the seventh is. I just want to push myself to maintain a spot in everyone's top 10 list.
How can people support you as an artist when your shows are postponed indefinitely or canceled because of the current COVID-19 pandemic?
For me personally, it can start as simply as streaming the music on all streaming platforms. I have music on basically everything, so that increase of plays does affect revenue. Then people could donate on Venmo and Cash App. Mine is nurdrocks. A lot of artists are taking donations right now. There’s Patreon, a monthly subscription service (where) you can be a regular contributor and get some fun content for yourself. We have set up a place where people can donate to artists on Venmo called @MNArtistRelief. Every penny is going to helping artists during this crazy time.
OK, time for the important questions. Who's your favorite pro wrestler? What's your favorite comic book? What topping is absolutely essential on good nachos? What topping should never come near a nacho plate?
Combo on this question, huh? OK, so answers are The Rock, C=currently "Superman: Up In the Sky,” cheese (duh), (and) probably Nutri Grain bars.
What's one essential dance move you couldn't live without?
Shoulder roll. It's perfect.