photo courtesy of Allison Rabel
by Kelsey Haugen
Allison Rabel is slightly disappointed that Amy Heidemann (of Karmin) beat her to the punch in becoming Nebraska’s own pop singer/rapper darling. But there’s no shame in being second to stardom, as Rabel, who describes herself as a spunky, outgoing, "little white-girl rapper from Nebraska," tries to make it big in Los Angeles with her jazzy, pop/rap songs and mash-ups.
For someone who never even dreamt of making a career out of performing, Rabel hit the ground running when music producers found some of her YouTube videos and started sending her Facebook messages about flying out to California.
"I’ve been asking myself, ‘Is it ridiculous that I maybe want to pursue a career as a rapper?’" says Rabel, a senior history major and journalism and gender studies minor at Nebraska Wesleyan University. "And then I decide that it is ridiculous, but I still want to try it out."
In June, Rabel received a message from Lawrence "Ready Red" Mcintosh, the president of A&R at The Senate Music Group, a Los Angeles production company with a stable of Grammy Award-winning producers and songwriters.
"All of a sudden I was in L.A., songwriting and doing demos, and (The Senate) offered me an internship and said I might be able to make a career out of it," Rabel says. "I had never recorded or even written a song before, but I learned a lot."
This first trip to LA came as a surprise to Rabel because until recently, singing and rapping had merely been hobbies for her. She said she has always loved singing, but she hasn’t been uploading her song mash-ups to YouTube for very long and discovered her talent for rapping only in her last year of high school.
"I was a senior doing a history project about three amendments, and I decided to make up a rap about each one," Rabel says. "(Students) loved it, and old-ass professors just ate that shit up. I got all A’s for my raps."
Years later, Rabel said she is still able to recite many of these academic raps she wrote in high school, as well as some of the more current ones from college. Rabel said she even breaks them out at parties and everyone loves it.
"Now it’s just a thing I do," Rabel says. "I rap battle people, and they never expect it based on the way I look."
Rabel sometimes participates in shows at The Bourbon Theatre for small crowds. But she doesn’t care about the size of the audience, performing is a means of relaxation for her.
"I just like to sit on a stool and perform — usually jazz music and pop/rap covers — in a laid-back atmosphere," Rabel says. "I get anxiety sometimes, but when I’m performing, I don’t even worry about that. I’m just in the moment."
This summer, NBC’s The Voice asked Rabel to audition, and she chose to do a song she thought reflected her style: a mash-up of "Look at Me Now" and "Colt 45." Although she only received a "maybe" from the judges, Rabel said it was all worth it.
"I was waiting and thought I heard Bruno Mars practicing, but found out it was Justin Bieber," Rabel says. "I waited around to meet him, but didn’t find him yet, so I went back to the studio. That’s when a producer was in the middle of doing a demo for Beyonce and needed a female voice."
Rabel was asked to try singing a few lines of the song, but the producer loved her voice and let her record the whole demo for Beyonce. After that, she ended up seeing Justin Bieber.
"The opportunity to meet him was the damn highlight," Rabel says. "I talked to him briefly and tried to be casual, but I couldn’t keep it together."
On Thursday, Rabel will be performing in LA as part of the Hollywood Music Summit, which will be filled with producers, agents and musicians.
"They put me dead last, so I have all this pressure and I’m freaking out," Rabel says. "But it’s a push in the right direction of being discovered."
Although she hasn’t been offered a record deal yet, Rabel is working with The Senate and taking the fast track to a possible career in music.
"The best part has been proving to myself that I can do it," Rabel said. "I went from being really pessimistic to a little optimistic. I’m still realistic, but I feel like I could have the potential to fit in in LA."
However, Mcintosh, who has worked with names such as Lady Gaga and Bieber, said "fitting in" is not exactly what producers are looking for; they’re looking for individuals who stand out.
"I think Allison’s potential as an artist is limitless," Mcintosh says. "She’s raw, yet very skilled and humble, yet very edgy. She’s also very believable — she can take any song, whether she’s lived the lyrics or not (and) bring the best out of it."
Mcintosh said Rabel’s future as a mainstream artist looks extremely promising.
"I enjoy every second I spend working with Allison," Mcintosh says. "I’m very lucky to have discovered her."
Kelsey Haugen is a former Hear Nebraska intern. This story originally ran in the Daily Nebraskan. Reach Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.