When Lex Allen dropped the 2015 track “This is Our Year” featuring members of his New Age Narcissism collective, the song instantly became prophecy.

No one in Milwaukee music made more noise in 2015 than the New Age Narcissism collective. They quickly became a street-festival circuit favorite, including the first hip-hop act to headline Summer Soulstice.

But NAN is not merely a hip-hop outfit. While Allen has lent his gorgeous pipes to WebsterX’s experimental raps, Allen favors a soul-pop blend.

As the members of NAN were riding high in 2015, Allen was dealt a major blow when his mother died. As his 2016 track “Mama’s Boy” suggests, her death has weighed heavily on the young singer.

However, Allen has bounced back from his mother’s passing, channeling her selfless example to improve his attitude and forge ahead. He has since been appointed to the board of directors at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, continues to perform, and is working on a new album with producers in Los Angeles and Milwaukee.

With each new year, Allen continues to progress and grow, never losing the momentum he and NAN generated a couple of years ago.

In fact, today you can hear an altered version of “This Is Our Year” on local TV and radio, as Allen has adapted it for the Milwaukee Downtown BID’s 2017 commercial campaign.

Growing up fast

Allen is a middle child in a family of 11. That might sound like the recipe for a wild household, but as Allen recalls, “my mama didn’t play that.”

“Maybe there was a little bit of chaos … when she wasn’t home. Growing up was a lot of fun. There were so many different personalities, crazy energies, crazy fights over the dumbest stuff.

“I used to love planning excursions. I would take my little brothers and sisters on bike rides on the Oak Leaf Trail and we’d scare each other at night.”

In school, Allen was the class clown. He would plan mischief so that he would be sent to the office right before the secretaries were going to lunch and he’d join them. Allen says he wasn’t very interested in being a kid.

“I definitely grew up fast. We all did in our house. You were given the tools of life right away. Living in a low socioeconomic area with a lot of crime, you had no choice really. You can either get swallowed up by the streets or you can grow up and move out as fast as you want. So for example, I knew how to ride the city bus all across town by the age of 10.”

Allen’s biggest musical influence was his older brother James, who is a DJ. He used to organize James’ CD and vinyl collection, discovering the likes of OutKast, Prince, Aerosmith, and Earth, Wind and Fire.

On his accelerated path to adulthood, Allen managed to move out of his parents place and into James’ house at the age of 16. Shortly thereafter, Allen had his own car and was working door-to-door sales.

“I knew what I wanted at a very young age. I knew I didn’t want to be in a bad neighborhood. I knew I wanted to be on stage. I knew I wanted to see the world. And i just wanted to go for it.”

‘Identity issues’

After graduating from Bay View High School, Allen moved to San Francisco for a relationship. That lasted three months and kicked off “four wild years of partying.”

“During that time I learned a big lesson about the company you keep. I can’t say it was a bad time because I enjoyed myself. But it was a lot of faced paced sh*t and growing up. I think that’s why I now embrace my childlike spirit so much. They say do one thing that your inner child would love every day, and I do, and it makes me a happier person.”

Allen began singing with his school choir and recorded his first song at the age of 19. The track received positive responses. He linked up with “this weird hip-hop group” that was “really homophobic.” Allen, who is gender fluid, quickly ended that relationship.

Allen then joined a pop punk band called Goodnight Skylight. He says that they initially wanted to embrace his sexuality but once he did the other members became concerned about how audiences would react.

“I had a lot of identity issues with my sound for a while. But I really enjoyed that era. I learned to not let anyone control my sound.”

Frustrated following two unsuccessful musical starts, Allen took to the Internet in search of his next collaborators. He posted an ad to Craigslist and received a message from Gabby and Jason Kartz of the band Faux Fiction. The trio worked on songs that would eventually appear on his impressive 2014 debut, Anonymous Vibes.  

At the same time, Allen was working at Voice of the Fatherless Child. He was acting in their stage play and performed in their breast cancer awareness show. He also recorded the heartrending cancer awareness song “Breathe Easy.”

‘Familia’

In 2013, Allen worked with Derek Rickert on a video for his song “Mirror Mirror.” While editing at Rickert’s place, Allen noticed another video Rickert had in the pipeline — WebsterX’s “Desperate Youth.”

Allen was intrigued and messaged Sam Ahmed (WebsterX) on Twitter. They eventually teamed up on the song “Renaissance” along with rapper D. Bridge.

“The rest is history,” says Allen of teaming up with members of Fresh Cut Collective and forming New Age Narcissism.

“That got me much more excited to be a part of the music community here. From there I learned about so many more people.”

Since joining forces, New Age Narcissism have performed collectively and as individual artists, opening for major national acts and headlining their own local shows.

“Everyone (in the collective) has vision, everyone has their goals set, so when you’re around people who are goal-oriented, you focus on yours but you still help them with theirs. They offer unfiltered love, guidance and realness.

“Even outside of the NAN family, meeting new people like Sista Strings, Zed Kenzo, Queen Tut, Paper Holland — all these people are artists and you can’t take that away from them.”

Progress

I was lucky enough to met Pamela Allen one night outside of Hotel Foster. She was warm, excitable, and so proud of her son. She even busted out a shoulder shimmy.

“She was a caregiver, basically an in-home nurse for people with disabilities. I’ve never met such a selfless person. She would take people in even if they did her wrong. She would forgive so fast.

“When she passed so many people that I didn’t know messaged me on Twitter and inboxed me to let me know she helped them through a hard time. It was really beautiful.”

Allen’s mother set the tone in their house for an accepting attitude towards all people.

“A lot of the openness I have I think comes from having two gay sisters and one gay brother, and everyone else was straight.

While the environment in Milwaukee hasn’t always been welcoming to LGBTQ+ artists, Allen feels there’s been a lot of progress since he was in high school.

“I would say we’ve come a long way considering the fact that I can stand in front of a group of straight dudes at a house party in Kenosha wearing a crop top and get the whole room to sing ‘Bitch you fabulous!’

“It’s about the music now, I don’t think people give f*cks about who you’re making out with. It feels really good and it feels like the beginning. They’ll be more of us and I’ll be here to help them. Like Taj, I love that girl. She’s amazing. We actually have a song coming out called ‘Venus & Serena.’”

A ‘click moment’ in L.A.

Since the release of Anonymous Vibes, Allen has maintained his fans’ interest with a steady stream of new music, including the playful and clever 2015 Social Me Duh EP. His 2016 single “Cream and Sugar (ft. WebsterX)” has received consistent radio play and its accompanying video is fabulous.

Allen’s latest offerings reflect his range, from dance track “Keep It Movin’ (Prod. Q the Sun)” to heartfelt piano track “Mama’s Boy” to pop anthem “Never Look Back.”

For Allen’s upcoming full-length project, he has flown out to Los Angeles for several studio sessions with Seann Bowe and Lenny Skolnik.  

“Seann is an amazing writer, very talented and super smart. The first time we went out there, we walk in and there’s a platinum record from Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, Selena Gomez, and I’m like, ‘Where am I?...I guess this is what my life is now.’”

Allen considers L.A. to be his “work home,” but maintains that “Milwaukee will always and forever be home base.”

While out in Los Angeles, Allen experienced a fan encounter on the street that he describes as a “click moment.” He was walking out of a venue on the Sunset strip when a man called out his name. Thinking it was the whiskey messing with his mind, Allen didn’t respond. The man walked towards him and said, “You’re Lex Allen, right? I follow you on Instagram. I listen to your music!” Allen was stunned.

It was an inspiring moment for Allen, who has struggled with doubt. These encounters, the guidance of his mentors (Amy Watkins and Michael Damond), assistance from his manager Tom Carrillo, support of his peers and family, daily affirmations, and long-term goals have given Allen an edge, putting him in a unique position among Wisconsin musicians. He could very well breakthrough on Top 40 radio and possibly bring home a Grammy.

As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and an advocate for the arts — Allen can’t wait for the MSO to move into the Grand Theatre — the young singer is poised to take his career to new heights.

ON STAGE - Allen will perform as Beyoncé at R-E-S-P-E-C-T: A Celebration of Women in Music at the Majestic Theatre in Madison on Saturday, July 29. The event is a revue style benefit for Planned Parenthood.  

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