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Rae Sremmurd, newly announced SPEC-TRUM artist, was also part of the phone conference.

Credit: Courtesy of Kevin Cortopassi/Creative Commons

It may not be the Grammys, but mtvU’s Woodie Awards — where college students are invited to vote on their favorite music — are gaining a reputation as one of the hottest music award shows for up-and-coming artists. This year, the Woodies will take place on March 20 in Austin and will feature nominees from well-known artists like Sam Smith and Charlie XCX, as well as lesser-known groups like Bad Suns and Childish Gambino.

The Daily Pennsylvanian took part in a phone conference with two of this year’s nominees: SPEC-TRUM artist Rae Sremmurd and 2010 Wharton graduate Hoodie Allen.

Rae Sremmurd is a hip hop duo nominated for the “Artist to Watch” Woodie. The group is composed of brothers Khalif and Aquil Brown, otherwise known as Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy. The duo is known for its tracks “No Flex Zone” and “No Type,” which reached number 16 on the Billboard 100 and has over 145 million YouTube views.

Steven Markowitz, better known by the stage name Hoodie Allen, is a hip hop artist nominated for the “Co-Sign” Woodie for his single “All About It” featuring Ed Sheeran. After graduating from Wharton with concentrations in marketing and finance, he moved to Silicon Valley to work for Google as an account executive while working on his music at night. He quit his job at Google soon after to pursue his music career full-time.

Rae Sremmurd

Your sound right now is so popular. Looking forward into the future, how do you look to evolve your music and are you worried that that is going to cost you some of your fan base?

We have tons of fans that are going to evolve with us. ... We always will have our unique sound. It’s always going to elevate, and I think our fans are going to elevate with us.

Can you describe what it felt like when you found out you were nominated for an mtvUnot MTV Woodie?

It felt like I had a Woodie myself. ... It felt like I had just won the lottery. ... I spilled my Starbucks and everything.

You guys are very young men and just out of your teens. Would you say that you are confident around older industry players? Where do you find that confidence and how can you instill that in other young people?

That confidence comes from within. ... Where we’re from you’ve got to stand out. They throw you into the jungle with all of the other wild animals, and you’ve got to love it.

When you become older and life becomes less about partying and women, what do you think you’ll be rapping about?

Traveling the world ... and freedom and girls. I’m always going to talk about girls.

In your interviews, you’re always happy. Where do you get that happiness from? What is the key to happiness?

The key to happiness, man, is just know who you are, know your values. You’re on top of the world, things are going good, you’re looking good, you’re living better ... you go right out there and you keep that smile on your face.

Where do you draw the influence from your music?

Rock, heavy metal, you know where they screaming like. [screams]

You are from the same place as Elvis. Any artists that you look for to be working with or that you like listening to right now?

We really want to let things happen naturally ... but we are definitely interested in working with ... Bobby Brown. Definitely be interested in working with anybody. We just make music.

Hoodie Allen

You went from being an account executive for Google to becoming a rapper. How has your degree served you in the music industry?

I think the thing that translated the most is, probably was the way I look at the world and the way I’m able to think about myself as a business — from a marketing sense and how to really set up my album, my single in a way that can be most meaningful. That’s the biggest part of my real life experience in college that has translated to the music stuff.

Can you recall your earliest memory with music?

Going to a Britney Spears concert with my eight-year-old or nine-year-old first girlfriend that I had, and her dad had the hookup to ... Britney Spears and I was like, “This is crazy.” I was also nine [years old].

What is the magic behind a song? What makes a song great?

Sometimes it’s indescribable, but I think for me personally as a music fan, it’s how it makes you feel. Sometimes that can come from a great beat, or lyrics that really speak to you for some reason or another, or a great vocal performance.

What do you expect from your live show, coming up at the Woodie Awards?

A lot of live energy. Very punk rock meets hip hop, is what I would say.

If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be?

Ed [Sheeran] was a dream collaboration, honestly. I’m lucky to have him as a friend. If I were to pick someone else, I don’t know. I would say Justin Timberlake.

What would you say are your responsibilities as an artist? Do you feel yourself as a role model and does that influence your music?

I do put a lot of value into wanting to be a positive influence in the stories that I try to tell and convey. That message is one that is supposed to be positive, is one that can be followed. A lot of it is, I’ve had a bit of a non-traditional past to where I got now, and a lot of it is in line with taking chances and doing some things out of the ordinary and having faith in yourself, so those are some elements I’m trying to promote. So I think in that sense, our responsibility as artists is to feel passionate about something and communicate that to people so that they can be their best as well.

How did you get hooked up with Ed Sheeran?

He’s been a buddy of mine for a couple of years now. Every time he’s in New York, we hang out, so it was a very casual thing, where we decided instead of going to the bar, let’s go to the studio and let’s make a song. And “All About It” is that song.

As an artist who has had success without any major backing, what is your biggest advice for independent artists who want to enter the industry?

My biggest advice would be to not rush out something that you don’t really believe in 100 percent, because I think in the day and age we have now, it’s very easy to make music and it’s also very easy to share music, and you only get so many first impressions. So my advice would be to treat yourself like you’re always making that one impression and put out stuff that you believe in, that you spend time on and find ways to really support it, passion-wise and financially.

Do you have any plans for a [new project]?

I’ve just started working on something. ... It’s in its early stages and I’m always trying to give people some free music, so you can expect a mixtape-type project on the way.

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