Just last night, hordes of young would-be musicians across America had vivid dreams about sold-out concerts, chart-topping sales and mobs of adoring fans. Well, rap sensation Hoodie Allen is living that dream. There are also armies of fresh-faced college graduates, diplomas in hand, eager to make something of themselves in the daunting, often-cruel world of business. Hoodie Allen conquered that goal, too. And it’s pretty noteworthy that one man, at just 25 years-old, should be able to accomplish so much in two seemingly separate worlds.
It must have come as quite a shock to Steven Markowitz’s family when, two years ago, he announced that he would be leaving a promising, highly-coveted position at Google to focus on cultivating a career in rap music. But the 2010 graduate from Penn’s ultra-prestigious Wharton School insists that his loved ones were always supportive of his decision. “My family has faith in me,” he tells PW. “I don’t really jump into things without having a plan.”
Markowitz comes off as self-assured, and in truth, he’s got reason to be. Self-release a Billboard-charting record and perform alongside the likes of RJD2, Chiddy Bang and Das Racist—not to mention nab over 250,000 Facebook “likes” without a label behind you—and you’d be bursting with confidence, too. His early days listening to Little Brother and Atmosphere and rapping at house parties as a teenager in Plainview, Long Island led to the epiphany that he “wanted to do music as my career,” Markowitz says. And it was around that time that he settled on the Hoodie Allen moniker, a playful allusion to his Jewish, New York upbringing.
As a student at Penn, working with then-partner, producer Sam Obey aka Obey City, Markowitz released The Bagels and Beats EP, and a follow-up, Making Waves. After that, Obey bounced, and Markowitz began recording with current beatmaker R.J. Ferguson, who he met in a marketing class. That collaboration resulted in the 2010 EP Pep Rally, yielding the hit single “You Are Not a Robot,” which was the most popular song on The Hype Machine. “Near the end of my time at Penn, that was the first time I ever had a song that really broke through,” Markowitz says. “At least in a blogosphere sort of way.”
But despite the promising musical career, when offered a job as an account executive at Google, a company that can receive over 75,000 applicants in a given week, Markowitz felt he had to give the business world an honest try. “It was important for me to finish school,” he explains, “and it was important for me to feel like I had my profession in place outside of music.”
But eventually, Markowitz—whose average day started at 7 a.m. at Google and then shifted to music from 6 p.m. until the wee hours of the morning—realized his unsustainable, double-identity lifestyle was burning him out. He finally decided to quit his day job in 2011, releasing the mixtape Leap Year as an impromptu ode to his “leap of faith and not knowing exactly how it’s going to pan out.”
Perhaps the most impressive facet of Markowitz’s story, aside from his brand of upbeat frat-rap itself, in the same vein as Chiddy Bang, is the fact that he’s both artist and manager. “[With] the economics of [a record label] and the work flow of it, I haven’t found a situation where I’d be better off being with a big company rather than doing things myself,” says Markowitz. “At the end of the day, I have to be the person who works the hardest for myself. Any manager or agent or label has tens or hundreds of people, and if they strike out with one person, it’s okay because they have other things. I’m not so affected by the amount of work that it would deter me from being independent.”
Part of his business, then, is growing a fan base, a skill at which Markowitz almost notoriously excels. For his part, he dismisses the notion that there’s anything particularly praiseworthy about his social media success. “I connect with the fans by putting in the time to connect with the fans,” he shrugs good-naturedly. “It’s not really rocket science. I’ve got 130,000 tweets or something. And a heavy percentage of them are replies to people.”
As Markowitz looks to expand his Hoodie Allen brand with recent releases like August’s acoustically-inspired Americoustic EP and Crew Cuts earlier in the year, it appears that those business and marketing classes are paying off—even if not in the way others envisioned.
Just a few years ago, he was enjoying Electric Factory shows as a plain ol’ spectator: Today, he’s looking forward to rocking from its stage at Saturday night’s gig. “It’s crazy to play there because I went to so many concerts there when I was at Penn,” Markowitz says. “I’m excited to come back.”
Sat., Nov. 23, 8:30pm. $25. With OCD: Moosh & Twist, Mod Sun + D-Why. Electric Factory, 421 N. Seventh St. 215.627.1332. electricfactory.info
PW's Music Issue 2014