It’s been roughly three years since Hopsin raised eyebrows with the release of his Raw album—a project that essentially re-established the Panorama City, California native via his Funk Volume imprint after an initial run with Ruthless Records. Those with even a moderate interest in Hip Hop’s day-to-day news cycle have since seen his impact: bolstering the roster by signing Dizzy Wright and Jarren Benton (with the former landing the same vaunted XXL Freshman Class honors as Hop), the occasional beef and overall increased expectations.
So after all this time, exactly what is inside the ill mind of Hopsin? It turns out to be a hell of a lot. Knock Madness essentially serves as Pop-tinged Horrorcore of the highest order. It’s an inclusive affair fueled by catchy hooks, accessible production and subject matter that is either sophomoric or deeply emotional. Hopsin’s raw technical ability to bend multi-syllable bars at his mercy and selected moments of social commentary keep things from bordering on flat out shtick.
The key to enjoying Hopsin’s latest may ultimately lie in the listener’s ability to know when to suspend their belief in reality and just enjoy the ride. On “Bad Guys Get Left Behind” Hop warns, “I’m known to hate / I use foul language to motivate / I know I’m dope okay / But Hop ain’t real, it’s just a role I play.” It’s a role he plays for the duration of the album, but by the time that disclaimer is issued, Hopsin has already spilled his guts over lost love (“Tears To Snow,” “Good Guys Left Behind”) taken Hip Hop at large to task (“Fiends Are Knocking”) and threatened to make competition “deep throat a dick ‘til it’s poking out of your butthole” (“Who’s There”).
And yet, even during the moments when his subject matter is about as appealing as the contents of a used air sickness bag, Hopsin displays technical precision on a level few can reach. Take the following couplet from “The Sinister” for example:
“This is war gentlemen / My flow is filled with more venom than George Zimmerman / In his car chillin’ with a loaded 44, tucked into his draws fidgetin’ / Itchin’ to find a brand new casket to stuff niggas in…”
Similarly, “Rip Your Heart Out” can stand next to Eminem’s “Rap God” as one 2013’s best examples of multi-syllable, staccato rhyming exhibitions. There’s an economy of words as Tech N9ne and Hopsin both speed up and slow down their respective flows to prove there are no Busta Rhymes-styled, nursery rhyme tactics being employed. It’s a rare moment where both style and substance are perfectly married.
Die-hard Funk Volume supporters get everything they want and more with Knock Madness. The vulnerability displayed on the tracks about Hopsin’s breakup, being treated like a well-compensated commodity and contemplating his worth as more than just a rapper probably won’t stop overzealous fans from bumrushing him in public with their smartphones in hopes of pictures.
But casual fans and savvier listeners may ultimately find Hop’s latest frustrating. The level of awareness displayed about Hopsin’s own influence, Hip Hop’s current watered down, buddy-buddy culture and society at large are poignant. But they’re seemingly squandered with empty punchlines about analingus, decapitation or moments where the production sounds like an ‘80s power-pop ballad. The fact that Hopsin overcomes those flaws to make what still amounts to a very solid album is a testament to just how skilled he is as a bar-for-bar emcee. “I Need Help” finds Hop rhyming, “I’m trying to be Marcus and Hopsin, but I get depressed when the two intertwine.” Hopsin’s no longer gazing at the moonlight, and his ability to honestly mine what’s going on between himself and his Rap persona makes for great theater. When he strikes the perfect balance between shock value, raw emotion and his immense skill set, that moment may yield a classic album.