By Kris Atienza
BU News Service
Voices overlapped as guitars were tuned at BU Central in anticipation for the Boston University Music Network’s third open mic night. Away from the chatter and music sat one student in the back of the room with headphones in and seemingly in his own zone. Other than asking if there was an auxiliary cord for him to use when he would perform, the student watched respectfully; taking in the talent of other performers as the night went on.
Zander Allman casually walked up to the stage, plugged in his phone, took the microphone in hand and greeted the audience with a simple:
“Hey, I’m Zander.”
As a relatively skinny guy with mixed Asian and European roots, you wouldn’t think Allman fits the stereotypical mental image you’d have of a young aspiring rapper. But suddenly the beat started and the switch flipped. On stage wasn’t simply Zander Allman anymore, now you were hearing verse after verse being said with such confidence and emotion that no one in the audience could really ignore. You were getting to experience an original rap by BlankOddest.
But what is a 19-year-old aspiring rapper from Los Angeles doing in Boston?
Other than satisfying a change in venue for the west coast native, Boston is providing Allman, who goes by Blank, with a chance to grow. The aspiring rapper is a sophomore English and Economics double major. An odd combination to some, but Blank explained: “English is to practice the craft and Economics to manage the money.”
Blank has been writing poetry since 2nd grade, when he was inspired after reading “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein to immediately pick up the pen and start writing. It wasn’t until 8th grade for his rap career truly to begin. He watched “Notorious,” the film about Christopher George Latore Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls. After seeing that he and Smalls shared the same birthday of May 21st, he went right to the computer and googled the rapper. Blank clicked on the song “Hypnotize” and as soon as he heard the beat, he had finally found the perfect combination of his love of poetry and music.
As he grew in his love for rap, soon it became obvious to Blank that it was what he was born to do. He considers himself “lucky” to be somebody who discovered his passion so early in his life. From casually reading “Lunch Poems” by Frank O’Hara while hanging out around BU to constantly thinking of the next verse to write, he is always working on perfecting his craft, even if he sometimes feels a little nervous.
While he still feels some nerves right when his name is announced, Blank has got a naturally strong stage presence that people can’t ignore. I can only guess that Blank’s approach to rap is what sets him apart from all the other aspiring rappers I’ve ever seen before. He disagrees with the current popular trend in modern rap where “rappers just mumble words to a beat.” He seeks to bring rap to the level old rappers like Smalls and Tupac brought to the genre. He wants to see rappers not only using meaningful lyrics, but also being someone who inspires change and influence on others.
“I don’t see the audience as an audience,” said Blank. “I see them as individual people. I see each person and want to connect to their soul. I think that’s why I don’t stay scared. I just want to show them what’s up.”
Seeing an artist who genuinely wants to be on top because he wants to inspire is refreshing compared to those who only want fame for the glory. Even in the first meeting I ever had with Blank showed me how different he was from other rappers. From the first time I saw him on the stage, I assumed his stage presence was the only version of who he was. He completely took me by surprise later by politely asking me if he could get the footage I got of him rapping. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a young performer make an obvious distinction between who he was as a person and who he is on stage.
I wasn’t the only one who was impressed with the level of growth Blank has made in his rap career. According to longtime best friend, Harry Gilboa, since his introduction to rap, he’s made significant progress in developing his art over the years.
“He knew nothing at first,” said Gilboa, who has known Blank since the rapper first got interested in the art. “He’s got the right instincts. He’s got a powerful presence. He’s even got it down to a science and he figured everything out on his own. Once he flips that switch, it’s incredible.”
Just from talking with the aspiring rapper, his natural stage presence, his strong passion for his craft and his determination to make it to the top is undeniable. Emily Moos, who hasn’t known Blank as long as Gilboa has, is just as confident in his ability to go far.
“I’ve never seen anyone that passionate before,” said Moos. “When he raps, all of him is in it. You can tell it’s such a huge part of him. He’s evolved so much in the year and a half I’ve known him. I can see him going far because he’s the type of person that once he’s passionate about something there’s nothing that stops him.”
With one mixtape already out in the world and another one soon to be released, Blank is certain that BlankOddest will soon be a name people will know.
“They don’t know it yet but I’m coming,” Blank said with a grin. “I’ve dreamt of stadiums full of people. I’ll be scared when I first see it, but I know I’ll be fine once I have that mic. Doubt me or don’t doubt me. Either way, I’m going to be there.”