Nur-D’s comic-book hero analogy #1: “I felt like Peter Parker in Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man 3’ movie, when he gets the black suit and walks around acting like he’s all cool and badass. It just made him look all the nerdier.”
Matt “Nur-D” Allen didn’t have to look far while browsing the long aisle of new issues at Source Comics & Games in Roseville — his favorite store — to think up a comparison to his short-lived rock band.
“We were trying way too hard to be cool, and it was obvious we weren’t,” he said of Black Genesis, which called it quits in 2018.
That’s when the 29-year-old Rosemount native decided to embrace his nerdiness, like Peter Parker putting on his old red superhero suit again. It’s also when he finally decided to step out as a rapper, a talent he avoided showing off earlier, he said, “because I didn’t want to do what was expected of me.”
“As one of the only black kids growing up in Rosemount, everybody expected me to rap and beatbox,” he said.
Two years since his transformation into the fun-loving but mindful rap star Nur-D, Allen has unexpectedly turned into one of the most buzzed-about newcomers in Minnesota hip-hop.
With a melodic flow and hopeful, gospel-infused outlook à la Chance the Rapper, he won Go 95-FM’s Shut Up & Rap contest four weeks in a row in early 2018. That led to a slot at the Soundset festival before he even had enough material to fill it.
Allen has since gained critical accolades for his infectious debut album, “Songs About Stuff,” issued last June. He won City Pages’ Picked to Click newcomers poll in November and opened for Brother Ali on tour in December. Now he’s headed back to First Avenue to top the club’s annual Best New Bands showcase Saturday.
As swiftly as Nur-D has come into vogue, what’s more remarkable is how proud he is of not being cool.
“Songs About Stuff” is loaded with stuff straight out of his, yep, nerdy lifestyle. His fantastical references to comic books and video games — and emotional lines about body positivity and family drama — actually seem way more real-life than the usual male rapper machismo that still dominates mainstream hip-hop.
“One of the reasons I didn’t become a rapper to begin with is because all you ever heard on the radio were guys saying how tough they are, how big their [genitalia] is, how much women are into them,” he said. “That was never my thing.”
• • •
Nur-D’s comic-book analogy #2: “Superman is more relevant than ever. His nemesis is this crazy-rich, super-capitalist billionaire who bullies people. He was an outsider, an immigrant kid raised in the middle of America. He was rooted in this old world that he never really knew, and he adapted to his new world and set out to help it.”
Allen said he grew up “on the white side of Highway 42” in Rosemount (a southern Twin Cities suburb) and actually felt pretty comfortable there. However, reality would rear its ugly head every once in a while.
“I’d hear things like, ‘I can’t date you while my grandma is alive,’ ” he said. “They would say it to my face, which almost made it worse.”
A single child, he credits his mom for “working her keister off” to provide for him, but he said she struggled with mental health issues amid the demands. He didn’t even meet his dad until high school.
Those uneasy relationships with both parents are powerfully explored in “Sincerely Yours,” one of his album’s most riveting tracks and a reminder how — even with his fun-loving, sometimes cartoony persona — Nur-D very much has a serious side.
He also showed off that side in “Take My Picture,” a highlight from 2018’s “Mixtape 2: Electric Boogaloo,” which recounted his insecurities of growing up a plus-size kid.
“Men don’t talk about self-image issues at all,” he said. While proudly latching onto the Lizzo-led positivity movement in hip-hop, he notes that “guys also need to be told to love themselves the way they are. I never heard that growing up.”
No wonder Allen sought escape in comics, superheroes and video games as a kid. He also found solace in music. While hip-hop was a big part of his upbringing, so was gospel music and — go figure — ’70s and ’80s classic rock.
On the gospel end, he said, “We went to church anytime the doors were open. I had that music in me, the cadence of it, the hands in the air, the call and response.”
As for the hair-band influences, celebrated in his song “Feelin’ the Kiss,” he credited/blamed that on the fact that KQRS 92 was often the only FM radio station with a clear signal that reached his exurb. But he also loved “the pageantry” of bands like Kiss, Queen and Def Leppard.
“They had the cool costumes, the big hair, the over-the-top music videos,” he said. “They were basically the comic book version of rock ’n’ roll.”
• • •
Nur-D’s comic-book analogy #3: “I loved the Flash growing up, because I was a slow kid and he was fast. But I identify with him now because he found a lot of different ways to be a superhero with only that one great ability.”
Allen understands now he was meant to rap, but he said, “I think my broader role is to be an entertainer.”
He’s also taken on side projects, including a musical he hopes to stage, as well as his own comic book series. He also has another big endeavor coming up: In April, he will marry his fiancée, Sarah, who he said encouraged him to give up a full-time job with an orthopedics clinic so he could tour.
“I’m all in: full-time musician,” he proudly noted, but added with a laugh, “There’s a danger I might wind up playing video games all day every day.”
His budding success as Nur-D should prevent that. He’s working on a festive mixtape with ample guest collaborators alongside a new album that’s more personal. He’s also been ramping/amping up his live band, adding a horn section that makes his uplifting songs all the more buoyant.
While some of his bandmates also played with him in Black Genesis, Allen said there’s no chance of him going back to being a faux rocker.
“I learned not to care what other people think, and to make music that’s for me, about me and true to me,” he said. “There’s a freedom in that, and I’m finding it really, really exciting.”
So are the rest of us nerds.