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Nur-D: Meet the rapper blending geek culture, activism, and pro wrestling to keep Minnesota hip-hop weird

Nur-D performs at The Current in 2019. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
Nur-D performs at The Current in 2019. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

by Marla Khan-Schwartz

August 26, 2019

If you ask Matt Allen, known on stage as hip-hop artist Nur-D, how he’d describe himself, he would tell you that he is "weird," "your seventh favorite hip-hop person," and then declare himself a "nerd." Vocal about his love for comics, professional wrestling, video games, ’80s hair metal bands, and superheroes, Nur-D creates his music around things that he considers nerdy, as well as his own life experience and value-based ideas.

“I’m a weird dude,” he says. “I’ve always been weird. I think it is because of some of the interests that I’ve held. Now, a lot of the stuff is mainstream — comic books, superheroes, and half of Comic-Con itself. All of our media is dominated by things that at one time were not cool for everyone to like: professional wrestling, video games, comics. I’m just an odd duck. I enjoy that about myself. Every artist is a little weird. Anyone who’s like, ‘I’m going to write about my feelings for a living,’ is a little weird.”

Prior to launching his career in hip-hop, Nur-D was part of a local pop-rock group called Black Genesis. “We weren’t like a heavy metal band or anything,” he explains. “But Black Genesis — we wanted to be like Genesis, but if Phil Collins was black. It was really dope.” Eventually, the group disbanded because members began to have different ideas for the direction of their music.

When Nur-D started to change his ideas and style in music and performance, he at first was apprehensive about his race defining what type of genre he should pursue.

“I think a lot of my hesitation after I did it, was that growing up in Rosemount, Minnesota, after moving from New York, and being one of 12 black people around, everyone assumed I was just going to do hip-hop because I was black,” says Nur-D. “Part of me was fighting that stereotype by doing rock ’n’ roll a little longer than I should have. You can’t just label me because I am black. I happen to like hip-hop and it’s not because I am black. It’s because I like it.”

Influenced mostly by gospel music and artists like Andre 3000, Childish Gambino, Jaden Smith, Chance the Rapper, Fred Hammond, and Jacob Collier, the emerging rapper began performing hip-hop for the first time in February 2018. A few months later, he was invited to perform at Soundset after winning Shut Up and Rap four times in a row.

“To be on the same bill as Atmosphere, Tyler the Creator, Wu-Tang Clan, and Erykah Badu — it was wild,” he says. “Just to know that people came by and said, ‘We were going to go to Wu-Tang Clan, but we stopped so we could see you instead.’ That blew my mind.”

After his performance at Soundset, Nur-D began paving his path in the hip-hop world by creating his own style.

“I was going to do hip-hop as hard as I could and how I wanted to do it,” says Nur-D. “I don’t do things the same way that everyone else does. I don’t want to be bogged down by any kind of genre constraints. If I want to do a ballad on my album, I’m going to do a ballad, and it won’t have any rapping in it at all. If I want to do a straight boom-back, no chorus, no hook, bunch of punch-line bars, I’ll do that too.

“I can be myself,” he continues. “I can dance. I can feel myself and how I look right now. I feel attractive about myself. It is funny because that is not traditional hip-hop. There are hard lines in hip-hop and I’m kind of wavy.”

Not only has Nur-D come up with a style of his own for his music, but he passionately implements his ideas and values about certain issues and life experiences into his songwriting and lyrics.

“I have a song, ‘42,’ about being young, black, and living on the white side of 42, which is the county road that goes right [through] Rosemount,” he says. “We were living on the white side. I remember walking home from school a lot. I have been stopped more times by the police walking home from school than I have ever been stopped in a car, just because I looked like I was going somewhere where I wasn’t supposed to be. I remember thinking, man, this is real.”

Placing importance on creating a platform for more community discussions and change, Nur-D also wants more conversations created around toxic masculinity in music.

“Music and art influences culture, which influences the lives of people, which influences everyone,” he says. “If the top-selling song is ‘Smack That Ho,’ that is going to trickle down into someone feeling it is okay to put their hands on somebody because we are acknowledging that. The person being paid millions of dollars up on stage is singing that they can do all of this stuff to women and they don’t care. It is hard to have a culture where women, men, and the LGBTQ community are important when all of the language that influences the culture says the opposite.”

As for his own feelings on personal worth and self-esteem, Nur-D reflects on his desire to embrace who he is and perform music based on self-love and body positivity.

“I am a bigger guy, which led to a lot of my music now being about that,” he says. “I was told in my formative art years, ‘Hey, you’re going to have to drop 40 pounds if you want to make this happen.’ This happened multiple times in the ‘industry,’ but it started when I was young and learning. I was insecure.

“My self-esteem is not built in me, it’s built in the things I have been able to entrust it to — that being my God, my friends, my fiancée, and my art,” he continues. “I don’t care if people attack me, because I’m like, I am weird, you are completely right, but I have all of these things.”

Besides his aspiration of being an advocate for musicians, Nur-D also supports organizations like Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ+ community, and recently performed at a benefit for Sota, a fellow musician arrested by ICE. He associates his brand with supporting these organizations and communities and is picky about who he will perform for based on their values.

“I have been very calculated as to who I associate myself with because if they are cool with this stuff, I am happy to do that, and if they are not, I just don’t feel like it is worth it,” Nur-D says. “Not just from a business perspective and bad marketing, but I don’t want to seem associated with something I would not be associated with on my own.”

Nur-D’s latest album, “Songs About Stuff,” was recently named one of the top 10 albums of the year so far by the Star Tribune. The album comprises songs reflecting his deepest feelings surrounding trauma, ups and downs, relationships, and what he describes simply as “stuff.”

“If someone asked, ‘What is Nur-D about?’ I would hand them this and say, ‘All the things on here — you will get a pretty good idea,’” Nur-D says about the newly released album.

Catch Nur-D at the Nordly Anniversary Party on September 6 at Du Nord Craft Spirits along with other local artists. You can also listen to Nur-D's recent interview and performance on The Local Show. This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Current and The Growler, a monthly craft beer lifestyle magazine covering the best stories in beer, food, and culture. Find this article online and in print in the September edition of The Growler.

Marla Khan-Schwartz is a writer for The Current's blog who has a specific background and interest in counseling psychotherapy, and public health emergency preparedness.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.