Remember the Saw movies?
The seemingly endless franchise is supposedly about motivation. Well, it’s mostly torture porn, but motivation is in there too. Jigsaw is a killer, that much is obvious. The message behind his killings, and the painful predicaments where he places his victims, is that hesitation or missteps in life can come back to haunt you.
To be sure, Hopsin is not Hip Hop’s first killer emcee. The “Rap maniac with the hooligan eyes,” has independently caught the attention of the web with self-directed horror-rap videos featuring the occasional 360 flip. His newfound success comes after a frustrating spell at L.A.’s legendary Ruthless Records. A place where he grew to despise label-head and Eazy-E's widow, Tomica Woods-Wright.
Just as Jigsaw has a method to his madness, Hopsin’s wild image masks a morally awake lyrical paradigm. One where he isn’t afraid to sacrifice a few whack rappers in the name of Hip Hop. Like the original Saw films, Hop’s YouTube videos are quickly approaching cult status. As he readies for his first tour, he hopes his views will means crowds. At a time when Los Angeles is producing more up-and-coming scary-skate-rappers (see: OFWGKTA) than rays of sunshine, the Panorama City native, has elected to ditch the machine and star in his own motivational movie.
The self-proclaimed “undercover positive rapper” spoke to HipHopDX about what it means to be raw, how much he hates Ruthless Records, and why he needs to sport colored contacts in his videos.
HipHopDX: How has the response been to Raw?
Hopsin: It’s been a lot better than I thought it would be. I had high expectations for myself but it happened in a different way that I didn’t expect. The people who actually know about it are saying it’s one of the best albums of 2010. I put my all into it.
DX: What do you think it means to be a raw rapper today?
Hopsin: I think raw is always just, raw. The definition will never change. It means raw talent. You’re not scared to say what you feel. A lot of rappers today aren’t raw. The ones that are don’t get the proper shine. Raw is shredding emcees up, how Canibus was back in the day. The old Slim Shady [era for Eminem], that’s raw. DMX. That raw aggression, the I-don’t-give-a-fuck style. Tupac had it. A lot of rappers had it. A lot of rappers these days don’t have it. In their opinion a new definition of raw has evolved but it’s not really raw though. I don’t really know anybody in the commercial world that’s raw anymore. In the underground, Yelawolf is dope. There’s a dude named Promise and Jokerr.
DX: I heard a lot of names dropped on your album. How do you incorporate taking shots at rappers in your tracks?
Hopsin: For one, this is all entertainment. I’ve been in this business since I was a kid. I knew the ropes and how everything worked. I’ve seen a lot of things, I know what my limits are. There is a slight risk of me getting beat up or whatever but I’m willing to take it. [The Lupe Fiasco mention] is just a skateboarder shot in “Sag My Pants.” I can do what I want. I’m a human being on this planet. If somebody doesn’t like it, they can stop me. I’m not trying to be a bad guy. I see these people coming in the Hip Hop world claiming things that they’re not and destroying Hip Hop. They want to fuck up a whole cult of people. Hip Hop is very big. For them to come in and just try to take it over, involve it with corporations, making money and all that. Picture someone going in and talking dirt on The Bible; making a whole new religion and rewording it. Saying “I’m the definition of The Bible,” means someone’s going to have to play Jesus and bring shit back to how it was. I don’t mind sacrificing myself in the name of Hip Hop because I love Hip Hop and it got me through a lot of hard times in my life. You can’t get through hard times listening to these dumb rappers because they’re all talking about money; not how to get by in life or how get where they are. They start the story off from the ending, with them being rich. I’m just in my basement. I’m rapping in my basement, in my boxers with my little cheap microphone and making videos on my little camera. That’s all it is when you break it down. I’m just trying to make the most of my life doing what I can and playing my cards right.
DX: You’re multitalented. There seems to be a new trend coming into prominence within Hip Hop with skating and being able to make your own videos. Along with being able to rap, how do those three things work in unison to define you as an entertainer?
Hopsin: Well skateboarding is just dope. I’ve been doing it for about 13 years. I’m not a pro or anything. I just like to throw it in there for the sake of the old me who never made it in skating. I do have a few good tricks, I’m not a horrible skater. Just showcasing myself as a whole, I skateboard, I draw, I do a lot of things. It adds more shock value to what I am as an artist. As far as videos go, I’ve been working on sets since I was younger. I got to see a lot of directors do their thing behind the camera. I was an extra, I wasn’t a star or anything. Mainly I got to see how these directors work and I naturally picked things up from being on those sets. I invested in my own little film studio. I got a camera, I got a white screen, a black screen, and a green screen. I got it all. It allows me to fully link my music in with the visuals. If I hear a song, I know exactly what I can do visually to get a point across. Everybody can understand me more. That’s why I like making my own videos. It allows me to see the bigger picture in songs. I started doing them because no one else would do them for me. The same with beats.
DX: A lot of what your talking about, working as an extra and what not, comes from being in L.A. On one of your songs you talk about how it’s hard to “become something unique” where you’re from. The quest to be unique in L.A. is daunting, how do you navigate that landscape?
Hopsin: In general, it’s hard to make it in L.A. because everybody is doing it. Then the actual area that I’m living in, Panorama City, is even harder because you have no connects. The stars are so close to where I live, but they are so far because you have no idea where they are. They’re right there. You can’t find them and you can’t seem em. Nobody knows anybody. We all just know each other in this little neighborhood. Some go to college, but usually everybody just gets a job at Walmart, McDonalds, CVS, or Walgreens. They have a kid and that’s their life. They don’t know how to get out of that. a lot of people bullshit out here too. They say they can do things and they don’t. How the hell can you be anything when now one gives you the time of day?
Then you go, “the internet, ah ha!” YouTube. Facebook. I realized I can start my own shit up without going through these people. I’m my own man. I’m my own boss. I make my own money. I do what I do and I’m loving it. I don’t even have to leave my basement to make money. It took me ten years of rapping to figure this out. Solid dedication. The internet has changed a lot. You don’t need anybody.
DX: Are you at an advantage or disadvantage of being from L.A.?
Hopsin: It doesn’t really matter. I could be in a little shack in Africa, or in a treehouse, with the same results. L.A. hasn’t done shit for me to be honest. They sleep on me. Nobody cares about Hopsin in L.A. Nobody even knows my name. Nobody shows up to a show. I don’t really care about L.A. I rep the west coast because I’m from here but I’m not here to be friends with these west coast rappers. I’ve been here for a minute and people have been exposed to me. They just ignore me. I’m not here to play the same games as the music industry. I’m doing this shit on my own.
DX: What’s the deal with the contacts you wear in your videos?
Hopsin: I started doing this back in 2004. The reason I did it was because I used to go to a lot of showcases. There’s so many African American rappers. We all show up in a white t-shirt and some blue jeans with a chain on. We all look the same. No one can really remember your face. People remembered my songs but they didn’t remember my face unless I explained to them what song I did. I didn’t like that so I went through a whole cycle of things to try to stand out. I tried dressing different. I tried cutting my hair funky. I did a lot of shit. It took years and years for me to find that right little niche that worked. I tried these contacts on, just fucking around, and for some reason I liked it. I felt like I was always a wicked-type rapper. I thought the contacts would definitely get the point across with shock value. I eventually started wearing rings, got my ears pierced and my eyebrow pierced. All that stuff adds to the image. The fact is, they won’t give me the time of day unless I look like a complete idiot. They’ll be searching on YouTube and see some crazy mother fucker with white contacts and be like, “what the hell is that?” It’s marketing. The contacts draw them in to pay attention to what the hell is going on. I was taught from being in the entertainment world that only the fools get noticed and succeed. You gotta be willing to make a fool of yourself. You gotta let it all go and not care what people think.
DX: Contrary to the shock and awe aspect of your style, you have some unexpected lyrical content on your album. You talk about turning down sex and criticizing weed smokers. Can you speak on that side of you?
Hopsin: I’m a good guy. I’m not a bad guy whatsoever. I don’t like death. I’m a very level person. I got a cool personality, I’m outgoing, I like smiling. I’m a real person. I just happen to know how to rap and I happen to hate wack rappers. That’s why I get that aggressive side towards talking [about them]. As far as all that conscious stuff, sometimes I just sit here and listen. All these rappers are on the radio promoting alcohol and kids listen to this. I’ve had to stop talking to girls because of drug problems or alcohol problems. They’re all brainwashed. I’ve lost friends to all of these things. Why are they promoting this? They’ll say I’m a negative rapper. I’m not negative. I tell it like it is. Yeah, I cuss a lot, but that’s just talking. There’s no real action to that. But when they hear “shots, shots, shots” or “I smoke so much, I’m higher than whatever” they want to go do that. They want to be like Lil’ Wayne, they wanna be like Drake. They want to be like all these people they idolize. There’s no real people to idolize these days. You can’t look up to Lil’ Wayne or Drake and then get where they are, because they trash the whole route to get there and just give you the ending. They tell you the story of the ending, when they completed their journey. They throw little thug shit in there. Try really doing what Lil Wayne does or any rapper that claims this shit. Try living that lifestyle of being a rapper and see what happens. I guarantee the outcome will not be the same. You cannot be a hardcore gangster, kill motherfuckers, smoke a lot of weed, get lazy as fuck and then happen to be at the top of the Rap game. No you can’t. They're bullshiting. They didn’t do all that. You can do those things, drinking and smoking, but the way that they project it is wrong. You actually think you can make it with this Hollywood mentality that you downloaded from the radio? Come on now.
They’re not beneficial to society and I don’t like that. My image is wicked, yeah, but when you actually listen, you understand that I’m a nice person. I’ve had my heart broken a few times. I lash out at girls who I thought were pure-hearted but they weren’t. I’m an undercover positive rapper. People listen to my music and they get motivated. I scream on tracks for them, so they don’t wind up killing [someone]. I’ll yell at a bitch for them so they don’t have to hit their girlfriend like I used to do. People have told me that they wanted to commit suicide but my music stopped them from doing that. I’m glad I can contribute something to society even if it’s just ten people.
DX: When you were coming up was the road to becoming a successful rapper equally as misleading as it is now?
Hopsin: No. Before there were actual real songs and they were motivating. I used to listen to Eminem a lot. Yeah, he talks about drugs, but he made things like 8 Mile . Yeah he made me want so say “fuck school,” but at the same time he made me want to be my own person, make it in life and do what I want to do. It’s still a positive message. Even Ludacris had long-term positive messages and it was dope. It put you in a real solid zone.
DX: People tend to equate your style with an earlier Eminem. How did he influence you specifically?
Hopsin: He had a huge influence on me. Along with Michael Jackson, they are probably my two biggest inspirations for life in general. 8 Mile was very inspiring. I think every emcee in the world can agree. I'm not a white rapper, but it’s deeper than that. Just being on your grind and trying to make it. Things just get in your way. I didn’t get the vibe that he was a thug or he was trying to be a thug. He came up with a formula where you can be yourself and shred emcees. There was a place for normal people to get into the rap game.
DX: What’s next for Funk Volume?
Hopsin: I have an album coming out in early 2012 called Knock Madness and an album called Haywire 2 that might be coming out this summer or a little after summer. I’m hoping to start new music after I get off tour. I’m going to 30 dates across the country. It’s my own individual tour. It’s called, “The I Am Raw Tour.” My label-mate SwizZz is going to be on the tour too. This is my first time being on tour, I want to get the feel of this thing before I go big with it.