We have a candid conversation with Hopsin about the problem of substance abuse in the music industry & how he deals with the issue of identity.
“My last album, ‘No Shame’, there were a few touchy subjects on there that destroyed me as a person… I had to rebuild my soul, I was broken, totally broken. I couldn’t continue to be Hopsin.”
With his controversial content and ability to get a reaction out of his opposition, Hopsin was signed to the record label Ruthless Records in 2008, before establishing his own label, Funk Volume, with Damien Ritter in 2009. His debut album, ‘Gazing in the Moonlight’, marked the start of his successes, followed by his iconic second album ‘Raw’, in which he disses the likes of Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, Drake and Rick Ross. This was something of a genesis for his controversial persona and give-no-fucks attitude. Between his style and notably chilling contact lenses, Hopsin established a memorable character that started to, slowly but surely, make him a household name in underground hip hop.
California-born rapper Hopsin met with Rachael Bailey before he stepped on stage at his recent sold out show in Dublin which took place in Voodoo Lounge in collaboration with Stylistic Murder and Street Smart Presents. He discusses the burdens of identity loss and creative droughts that can often stem from a life of fame.
LA has a deep history of hip hop and rap culture. Do you feel that growing up there affected your music?
The LA scene didn’t have any kind of direct impact on me. Obviously, Dr. Dre is a big inspiration, but it was just music in general. A lot of East Coast rap, but mainly all different stuff. I was never a “West Coast rapper”. I don’t affiliate with that, I’m not plugged in with that.
I think you can hear that in your music as well as your affiliation with a variant of styles. Were there any music role models that made you think, ‘Fuck, I can do this too’?
Well, there was Eminem, Big L, Canibus, Ludacris… They’re artists that really made it dope and fun [laughs] and I was like, ‘You know what? Okay. I really really like doing it the way they’re doing this, and maybe if I work at this I could possibly become like them’.
And do you think you took separate elements of these very different styles, put them together and threw your own stamp on it?
I definitely did, from Method Man to Busta Rhymes, just little pieces from everybody to create Hopsin. And there’s been other inspirations along the way too. Those are just a few artists that inspire me.
Skateboarding and rap didn’t originally go hand in hand – why do you think there is such a strong link between them now? Do you think that rappers like yourself have had a strong influence on that?
Well, me personally, I was a skateboarder. Growing up I didn’t see skateboarding and rapping combined. I was already a skateboarding rapper, so it wasn’t me being fake, but there was a time I was like, ‘I’m going to showcase myself skateboarding in a video and rapping’. I think that other people in the industry, other rappers in the past before me, they touched on it but they weren’t really skateboarders, they did it as a marketing tool. I was actually doing it… Maybe I did inspire people though, I don’t really like to claim things, you just never know. Maybe I did influence it, who knows?
There is an element of punk music in skateboarding and rapping. Do you think punk ever seeped into your creativity?
Oh it definitely did. When I first came out, like rock music, punk music – I wanted to be like a punk skater rapper guy. I don’t really know what it means to be punk so I’m going to sound like a poser now… I had lots of skull rings… I wore the contacts too because I wanted my eyes to look creepier.
"Fuck rap, fuck this social media stuff, I’m just enjoying myself as Marcus Hopsin and finding the people that make me happy, the things, the animals, whatever. Really just understanding myself more."
What have been your biggest obstacles? What setbacks affected your music most and how did you overcome them?
The biggest obstacles that I have found are when you come out with a good song and it blows up, goes viral, everybody knows it – it’s an amazing feeling, but it puts the fear into you because you think, ‘I have to top that’. In ‘Ill Mind 5’ was one of those moments where it was really groundbreaking for me and it’s like, ‘How can you top that?’.
I can only talk about that once. I’ve done it already, I can’t talk about ‘Ill Mind of Hopsin 5’ again. People will say, he’s already done that.
A few artists stumble across things like that where there’s a juicy topic that no-one’s ever talked about; there’s a dude called Joyner Lucas and he has a song called ‘I’m Not Racist’. I think he totally took the racism situation in the world and made it into a song and I just don’t think there is another artist that can do a racism song like that again. It’s like I had a song called ‘Ill Mind 7’, I’m yelling at god, and it’s like what more can you yell at? What’s this serious? Do I make a song about saving the animals? I’m not an artist like J Cole, he can make a variety of different songs and he won’t get judged for them, but I would get judged for them. They want to hear me start drama, controversy, and I did that to myself… Sometimes I want to make normal songs, and I make those kind of songs in my last album did, but they get slept on. They want to hear me talk about drama. That’s the obstacle.
To overcome it – The best thing to do to overcome it is don’t listen to anybody; let go and don’t read the comments. What I’ve done is made the mistake of looking at vloggers and seeing what they’re saying about me, reading the comments that hurts my feelings, then going back to the mirror and thinking, ‘Dude, they’re fucking right, I fucking suck’. Then I go out, create some bullshit, then that crashes too and I’m like, ‘Who am I? What the fuck is going on?’.
You lose yourself so much, then you reach that point where you realise you’re caring about what people think too much. That’s why, I’m listening to everybody else. The difference between the me two, three years ago versus the me years before that is that I didn’t give a fuck what anybody said about me. I just didn’t care. I said whatever, there was no filter on me, I just did it. When I got bigger, I started touring more, I started thinking more. I was like fuck, I can’t just be thinking that. As of lately I think I need to channel that again, but I need to be a bit like that again.
Over the past few years I was off and on with my contacts lenses, because I was having an identity crisis. But then I thought, ‘This is who I am, this is who I’ve been, and this is what makes me comfortable’. I need to process, I’m not like the mainstream writers, not Kendrick or J Cole. And sometimes you want to be like that, like Kendrick or Drake, but you remember that you’re not, you have to remember that my stuff sells too. Artists like myself, we can beat ourselves up.
You’ve never taken drugs or alcohol. Do you think this has been difficult in the industry that you’re in?
No. I know who I am. I know what I stand for. There’s nothing that can shake that, no matter what. All the people in this room, this city, I dont give a fuck what they do, because I know who I am. I think that anyone who would feel that is because they’re insecure about what they do. Some of my friends, local buddies, they ask what if Dr. Dre invited you to his house, if they offered drugs and you really admired them, would I say no?
I always say no. I’m myself, my skills are going to get me there. I don’t want someone going like, ‘Oh he’s cool enough to do this drug or smoke, then he deserves this treatment’. I want people to say, ‘He’s dope for what he is, we like the talent, and that’s what it is’.
Here are my rap skills that I worked on, here’s what I do, if these don’t impress you then that’s your problem.
You see artists being ruined by this stuff in the industry all the time. It’s good that you know your identity and you stick to it.
What’s crazy is a lot of artists that I know who are successful are like me. I know some of these guys talk about doing drugs, but they don’t do it as much as they say. The heavy-hitters who are smart don’t do that, it’s the dumb kids that do. The new rappers do it, they all gang up together in a studio all fucked up not even making a song. All you guys do that and I’m over here, totally sobre, building an empire.
Can you tell me anything about new music you have in the pipeline? What can we expect and is it totally different from your old work?
I got lost. My last album, ‘No Shame’, there were a few touchy subjects on there that destroyed me as a person. That’s why I’ve been active all 2018. I had to rebuild my soul, I was broken, totally broken. I couldn’t continue to be Hopsin. It got to a point where trying to rap wasn’t with me sacrificing my happiness and trying to find my happiness because I actually got destroyed. So I came out of it, thank God, over the past few months I broke out the depression I was in for the last few years so I was really just trying to gather myself again, you know? I’ve been taking lots of vacations a lot, I never took them at the early stages, I was all working working, working, but now I’m just enjoying planet Earth. You know?
Fuck rap, fuck this social media stuff, I’m just enjoying myself as Marcus Hopsin and finding the people that make me happy, the things, the animals, whatever. Really just understanding myself more. That’s why you go on my Instagram and my social media and I don’t post as much. I need a break, I’m just stepping away from it ‘cause I’m rebuilding myself at the same time. I will be back and I will be stronger. I still make beats, I make a beat a day, it’s still there, but I’m just taking it slow going at my own pace.
In that situation when I make an album like that, some people have mixed feelings about it. But it’s the situation of my life. When I make an album, I produce everything, its just me and my paintbrush, you know it’s…
It’s raw. That’s how I’d describe your music.
Thank you, I appreciate that. It’s just my work and it all comes from my heart and my stories and some people say these beats are out of date and I say, ‘This is me. This is my art, this is my life’.