Independence in hip-hop has become as much a marketing ploy as it is a means for survival, but one of the more recent artists to prove that you can be major without a major label deal is Hopsin.
The Los Angeles native and former XXL Freshman made a name for himself off the strength of his "Ill Mind of Hopsin" series and independent albums like Raw and Knock Madness, both of which helped establish him as one of the bigger stars on the indie rap circuit. The rapper was initially presented as the franchise player of Funk Volume, the independent record label he co-founded with partner Damien Ritter in 2009. Hopsin seemed primed to lead a roster that included artists like Jarren Benton and Dizzy Wright—both former XXL Freshman as well—into similar territory occupied by fellow West Coast indie powerhouse TDE.
However, following the release of Hopsin's last studio album, Pound Syndrome, things would begin to go awry between him and Ritter, causing Hopsin to declare that Funk Volume was "officially dead" in a social media post in early 2016. He ultimately severed ties with the label in March of that same year. While Hopsin admits that the relationship with his former partner is a strained one, he looks back on his time with the label fondly. "Well, Funk Volume had an amazing influence and I look back at it and it was really dope," Hopsin shares during a visit to XXL's Manhattan office. "It was crazy to see that we did get the XXL [Freshman cover] three times in a row and we were touring around the world and we had it going on. Sad to see that it ended the way that it did, but sometimes, shit happens, but I hope it inspired other artists to kinda do the same thing."
After extricating himself from his business dealings with Ritter, Hopsin started anew, founding another independent label, Undercover Prodigy, in the wake of his departure from Funk Volume. The move is indicative of his belief that his pursuit of being a mogul is far from over. "I always had a vision of building an empire like Funk Volume and I will do it again. We're gonna have this conversation again and it's gonna be two or three artists that got the XXL cover again and it's just gonna be a whole new birth of something new that currently doesn't exist so it's coming," Hopsin says when looking toward the future. "I do know exactly how all that happened, so I do have the blueprint of it all in my head so I don't have any fears of I don't know how to do that again. And the game has changed ’cause now it's the SoundCloud rapper era, but I can always find way way [to the top]."
And if Hopsin's recent moves are any indication, particularly his partnership with 300 Entertainment, that ascension may be coming sooner rather than later. The signing, which comes on the heels of several new music releases like "The Purge" and his controversial video for "Happy Ending," is one that coincides with Hopsin's fifth studio album, No Shame, out now.
With all of the new developments in his life and career, XXL sat down with Hopsin to speak on his departure from Funk Volume, how the fallout affected him personally and professionally, finding a fan in Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, what we can expect from his forthcoming album and why he has No Shame in the aftermath of his evolution.
XXL: You recently released your music video "Happy Ending," which created a bit of controversy after it was removed from YouTube. What was your response to that?
Hopsin: Well, I know a lot of people, they were looking at the song and the video like what the hell is this? What is Hopsin doing? He's gotta be joking. But I'm not joking, I actually get happy endings, like, I go to these massage parlors. I don't do it all the time, but I went to my first one when I was 19 years old and in my neighborhood, they're just there. And it's not a thing about race or anything; it's just a thing that I've done so I think people probably think I was making the song as a joke, but it's literally my reality. It's what I do.
So I was literally enacting what was going on in my life. And I wasn't gonna make it, like, a serious song. I could've taken the serious approach, but I didn't wanna do it that way. It's a happy ending, so let me take the whole theme and make it happy. And in the video I just acted out everything that I said in the song, so I can somewhat see how people can kinda be shocked by it ’cause it's a lot to take in. I'm fully naked in the video and it looks halfway like a porno.
The whole vibe of the song is not like anything I've ever released and I'm talking about the Asian massage parlors. And the Asian people, of course a lot of them don't feel too happy about it, but it's my reality; it's something that I've done. And at the end of the song, I say, "I got no shame in my game," which is true and regardless of however people think about it it's existed and it will continue to exist and the issue isn't me talking about it. The issue is if they wanna put a stop to it then shut ’em down in my neighborhood. So all I did was make a song about my life, period, and this is hip-hop and this is what I do. And I can see that that song was too real for people because they didn't know how to process it. They're just saying what is this, and yeah, I'm just that real.
And I also wanted to be the first rapper to come out and openly admit that. I don't know if any other rappers have admitted anything like that, but I speak to so many rappers where they're always like, "Yo, my nigga, don't say this. Don't tell my wife. Don't say this." And I was like, you know what? I'm free, I can say whatever I want. I'm not tied down to anybody. I'm just gonna make a song about it and do it. And I know low-key, every guy was like, yeah, my nigga, he talking about it. But hey, the way media is today and the internet is, everybody wants to be overly judgmental about every little thing, so it is what it it. But if I offended any Asian people, I'm very sorry. That was not my angle on it. That's not what I was trying to do, I was just reflecting a situation that I had been in and everything that I said in the song is what happened and, yeah, I don't see anything that I did wrong.
What did it take on you and your team's part for YouTube to clear the video? It got taken down, but then it got put back up. So what changed?
Oh no, whoever posted the video up, it will probably get removed soon. I didn't put that up, somebody stripped it from wherever. iIt's just floating around the internet now.
So it's the same exact version of the video with no edits?
No edits, literally the same exact video, but it's the same video but it's not on my channel. I just know people keep posting it. But it made it onto a bunch of porn sites, which I feel that's an accomplishment. That's pretty dope to know.
That's a different demographic [laughs].
It's just some different shit so that's pretty cool, but it's not on my channel and I know it will probably get removed from other channels soon if people are re-posting it.
Did you make an effort to get it back on your YouTube channel?
I just kinda let it go for the time being just because I have so much other stuff going on and I would never want to piss off a whole race of people and the Asian community isn't really happy about it and that's not the type of attention I want on myself. And I don't want people to think I'm a racist man because I love everybody and I have love for every type of culture. So it's just one of those things where you live and you learn and sometimes I learn about myself and sometimes being too real is too much for the world to take. Everyone claims they want realness, but when you're really, really real, it's too much. You can't be that real.
Another song you released a visual for is "The Purge." What was the inspiration behind that track?
Well, the song, I just wanted a song that I could actually perform that would be dope live and would just have the crowd going wild with lots a good energy. You know, where it just has a good beat and a dope raw edgy vibe. So that was the intention to give people something to bop their head to and get hype too. And also just flexing on the lyrical ability. It's been a minute since I had done any fast-rap type stuff so I wanted to do that and the music video.
I'm a big fan of The Purge movie so I kinda wanted to reenact a bunch of different scenes from The Purge. And also put my own little spin on it and just sprinkle Hopsin into it so yeah, I just wanted a crazy, wild video.
Eminem is a rapper you've been compared to in the past and his freestyle at the BET Awards got a lot of attention. What was your reaction to it?
It doesn't surprise me because he's done things like that when President Bush was in office and yeah, that's Eminem to me. That's Slim Shady. That's the person that I fell in love with so I thought it was dope. And it was very ballsy of him to do that, especially him being White and he's pretty much standing up for other races and really, when he did that, he really took on the face of other races.
And I feel like that was as direct as it would've gotten in hip-hop to call out Donald Trump. Like, I know YG and Nipsey, they made the song and it's a dope ass song, but the way Eminem did it, it's like you didn't expect it either. It's like, "Let me do it at this awards show, right here where you have to hear it," and yeah, I think he used his platform for a good cause.
Some people took issue with the praises he received, alleging it was so well-received due in part to his race. Do you think that criticism is fair and what are your thoughts on it?
To be honest, I think if Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole or Chance The Rapper, if they were in that same situation and they wrote something like that, I think it'd have the same exact effect. Now that's not taking anything away from Eminem's lyrical ability, but it's just the fact that it was at the award show and you just expect normal rap shit. And I can see the average person, especially older White men, they're not paying attention to this stuff, but when you're spitting an a cappella, like, "I'm calling you out and this is what I'm saying," and bam, bam, bam, you're forced to listen. ’Cause Eminem didn't rap over a beat when he did. It was just a cappella and he was very aggressive with his delivery.
So for that guy to say that that's the best rap that he's heard that's political, I can say Eminem is dope, but there are lots of good political rappers out there but the way that Eminem chose to do it, there's also gift in that. Him going, "I'm gonna do it right here at this moment in time," but yeah, the guy [Keith Olberman], he probably doesn't know hip-hop too much, but I think the African-American artists should take leaps like Eminem did as well because, to be honest, when I saw that I thought no Black guy would've done that.
I feel they would've wanted to, but they probably would've felt they'd make a fool of themselves, but Eminem being White, it was definitely a power move. But yeah, whoever that guy is, I don't know much about that, the guy who made that comment that made that comment, but he doesn't know hip-hop, clearly, if that's what he thinks.
The Rock recently posted a Instagram video of him working out while listening to your music. What was your reaction to that?
I've been following The Rock [on Instagram] for a very long time and I'm just a big fan of his work ethic and he's very inspiring and motivating. When you see him on set and making his live stories about what he's doing and what he's working on and how he's always just moving around and even the way he plays with his fans. He pretends he doesn't fuck with them and then he drives away from them, then drives back, he just seems like a genuinely cool guy.
And it was one of those things ’cause I don't have too many that I look up to nowadays now that I'm an adult, but he became one of those people and for him to have been playing my music—and he's done it a couple times. I've seen him in another video working out to it—and it made me go holy shit. What if he thinks like me? Like what if he views the world the same way I do? We may have something in common. That's crazy. And when I reposted his video, he followed me on Instagram as well. So I was like holy shit. And then my business partner, Jamie, she was like, "You should message him," and I was like, "I'm not messaging The Rock. He ain't gonna see my shit." And then she was like, "Just do it. You never know." And then I said, "fuck it." I [wrote to him on Instagram], "Hey, man, thanks for the support on my music. I'm glad you support it." And then he had seen it, but he didn't respond for a minute and I was like, "Ah, The Rock left me on seen," and I was salty. I just felt stupid I was like I shouldn't have hit him up. Now he probably thinks that I'm some over-the-top fanboy and I was like, "Damn," but then he responded maybe like 30 minutes later.
I guess he just read it and then responded later. And then when he responded, I was just like holy shit and he said he's a big fan of my work and he loves how I'm keeping everything edgy and raw, but still having a real message behind what I do. Dude, The fucking Rock follows me, you can't tell me nothing. Any time someone says, "Yo, what you do? I be like, "Shut the fuck up. The Rock follows me, bruh. The Rock follows me."
That's almost like a platinum plaque and a dope fan to have.
Yeah, it pretty much is.
You have a new album out, No Shame. What's the direction of the project?
Yeah, I have a new album called No Shame and it's an album about pretty much things that have been going on over the past two years in my life. It's a lot of controversial stuff on the album that I'm speaking about, just a lot of heartfelt things, a lot of anger, aggression, sad songs. And then there's some dope songs to vibe out to as well, but it all paints a picture of what's been happening over the past few years in my life and how I've hit, like, a downfall.
I've changed into a whole different person now and there's a lot of things that I've done that people may not agree with, but I called the album No Shame because I own up to everything that I've done. I don't regret what I'm saying. There are some things on the album that are gonna make people go, "What the fuck did he just say right now? Who would say that?" But I don't say anything that I feel any other person doesn't think. I just say it because it's my music. It's my artwork, you know, I just paint these pictures of what goes on in my mind and it's also therapy for me to create music because I don't really have much else in my life. So whenever I'm feeling a certain way, I just go straight to the studio and put it all down. But this album, it's a dark album, for sure.
Listen to the album on Apple Music
You mentioned that you hit a downfall. Would you care to elaborate on that?
I would say it stems from me kinda losing a relationship that I had with a girlfriend in Australia and a bunch of other crazy stuff. And then, you know, also me being kinda down from my last record label coming to an end, Funk Volume. So that's pretty much where the dark stuff comes from. I don't wanna fully say everything right now because I don't want things to come out too soon ’cause I don't wanna show all my cards, but over time, I will be painting the picture of everything that's been going on.
It's just right now would be way too soon to pull the mask off. The album is very revealing. I've made a lot of songs that have inspired people and my music has been therapeutic to me, but it's mostly been therapeutic to others. They tell me, "Yo, your music kept me from doing drugs. It made me stop doing this and stop doing that. It made me become better," but I've always felt that in my personal life, I haven't had much to make me feel better. So I resorted to things to make me feel better that people may not have agreed with and that may not have fully aligned with what I preached in the past.
And as I said, I have no shame. That's why the album's called No Shame, and "Happy Ending," for one, that's why everyone is so shocked that, but the fact is that has been going the whole time. Even when I was making those songs, because when I'm down, those are the times I go to those places, but there's been other things on the album that are gonna shock people just as much and they're gonna have something to say but it's my life and no one has to listen to me. It's not like I'm forced in everybody's face. I'm one click away from getting me the fuck out of there that easy and never see me, but yeah, I'll elaborate later in the future, but I cant right now.
You also spoke on some changes that you made. Do you care to speak on that?
Well, I've become a colder human being now. My mentality on a lot of things... I'm not as happy as I used to be. I view the world as if I almost think the world is against me and I feel like nothing I ever do is right so I'm just at a point where I'm 32 years old and I feel I have nothing but my music and my music career. And even then, every single one of my fans is extremely judgmental about what I should and should be doing with my life and you know, I don't have much.
So when you're in that space of not having family and people trying to tell you how you should live and how you should be, it pushes you into a place where you just become a savage on all levels—where your tolerance level for bullshit is a lot lower. It's like I'm walking around now and I know I'm a asshole now, not to everybody, but I know..
You can turn that switch on.
And I own up to it and I don't have shame in doing it because I now know, sometimes trying to be a nice guy, when you're trying to play that role, people are still gonna screw you over and I realized if you really wanna accomplish life, sometimes you have to take an aggressive approach and just say I'm the boss of my god damn life and if you don't like the way I'm living, then get the fuck away from me, period. So that's just the way it is now. So the look in my eye is a lot colder than it was a year or two ago.
Are there any guest appearances the fans can look forward to?
These are just people that I've worked with in the past that I know. There's a guy from Australia, his name is Joey Tee ("Panorama City"), I did a song with him. There's another guy that works in Los Angeles, his name is Eric Tucker ("Black Sheep"). I did a song with him as well. And there is another guy, I believe he's from Los Angeles, his name is Micheal Speaks ("Marcus' Gospel"). I have a song with him as well. And these guys, they just did choruses on certain songs. And I have one beat ("Black Sheep") that was made by Harry Fraud who's from out here in New York. So that's pretty much all of the features.
So there's no rapping features?
’Cause it's my life, it's too personal. There's was no room for no one else unless someone was gonna be talking about my life.
Who did you work with as far as production on this album?
I'ma type of person, some of them happen organically. A couple of them did. Like the guy Joey Tee, I have a relationship. He's a really cool dude and an amazing singer and I flew him out from Australia to Los Angeles and we just vibed out and it just happened off of comfort, you know? We didn't plan what collab we were gonna do, just chilling and just creating and a few good songs came out of it.
And a similar case with the dude Eric Tucker that I know. He was recommended to me by his cousin that I know and yeah, I just like whatever's good. I'm not biased towards like, you ain't famous, you ain't got a million Instagram followers, I can't fuck with you. I'm not like that because I didn't wanna fully take the business approach with collaborations on this album. I just wanted to make whatever's good, whatever fits, let's make it happen. I don't care if he has one follower and has no fan base or he has 20,000 or a million. It doesn't matter.
You mentioned Harry Fraud. How did the two of you connect?
Well, this song, it actually came about in 2015. When Funk Volume was ending, I was in a space where I was trying to expand and try new things and work with producers cause I wasn't fully doing that as much back then so I flew out to New York and met up with Harry Fraud and I went to his studio in Brooklyn and we just chilled and vibed out. He played some beats and I said, "Yo, I fuck with that one," and he kept playing and I just thought of a little hook, went in the booth and laid it down.
And I told him I was gonna come back later and I'ma write some verses to it but I ended up rerecording everything in my studio and he sent me all of the stems for the beat. I just put a little mix on it and I also added a couple outros to the beat. But yeah, it was a dope beat and it captured the Hopsin vibe pretty well and I'm sure we're gonna work in the future.
Other than Harry Fraud, who are some of the other guys you've been working with on the production tip?
There's these dudes I worked with, they're from Florida, but I think they're in L.A. right now. They go by Track Burnaz. I worked with them a few times, but there's not a song on the album that's with them, but I have stuff for the future. We just create. We linked up a couple of times and we just vibe out. So I really fuck with them. I don't really fuck with many producers. Actually I worked with Scott Storch this past year and I wanna get back in the studio with him again, but there's nothing from the album from Scott Storch or The Track Burnaz.
So you did the beats on this album yourself?
Yeah, I produced everything on the album, except the Harry Fraud one.
How do you approach your writing and production and how do you separate the two?
Yeah, my approach is usually the same. So, it starts off with an idea, I think of a vibe. There's a song on my album, it's the last song, it's called "Marcus' Gospel." It's like a gospel song; it has a gospel feel to it. But I was surfing on YouTube and something just randomly popped up, some gospel song and then a few other ones played and it was just kinda stuck in my head, just the way the beats were. And I was like, damn, I've never rapped over something like this before or even made a beat like that so it would be dope to do something like that.
So then when I got back to my studio, let me get in that gospel vibe, that churchy-type feel. So it just started with the idea. I knew the kind of vibe in my head and I sort of had somewhat of the tempo. I just started playing the keyboard, laying stuff down and then I got a nice vibe out of the beat that I liked and then I exported it into my recording program and then I just started laying down the verse and came up with the hook for it. But it usually starts with the idea of the vibe that I'm going for, then I make the beat, then sometimes I write the hook first and record the hook first or sometimes I do the verse. It just depends on how I'm feeling, but then the song just comes together like that. But I always think about the concept first. I don't ever write a verse first. I don't do verses first, I need the beat in order to write the verse.
How will this album differ from your previous releases?
It's just very revealing, but you can also see how I've expanded in music as well, as far as my skill level. From lyrically to production-wise, to choruses and everything, you can tell I've enhanced everything about me where I feel this is just the album that represents me well. ’Cause there's been a couple of albums in my past that were kinda iffy and I even knew they were kind of iffy when I was making them, but this one, I put a lot of work into it.
I put a lot of time, I thought about everything, I tried to organize it to the best to my ability as far as the tracklist goes. You can just tell that everything has just kind of been enhanced. The album is fully Hopsin—everything that you've ever wanted. A fan favorite is "Ill Mind of Hopsin 9" that is on the album. The goofy Hopsin is somewhat sprinkled in the album. My real-life heartfelt stories are in there, my aggression is in there—all those things— and even my playful, bouncy stuff is in there as well. So it's a good balance. But overall, everything is kinda dark. There's no over-the-top happy stuff, aside from that "Happy Ending" song.
What would you say was the most memorable studio session or moment you had while recording this album?
Probably for the intro of my album. I don't wanna reveal what that name is because that's gonna tell a lot but the intro of my album, that one was very memorable because that one, I was just in the zone and I got super emotional when I was recording it and I just remember I was really in the zone when I was making it. Just so everyone knows, the album starts off with a bang right away.
I don't mean like a hit song bang, I just mean where it's like whoa! Right when you put it in, you're like, "OK, that's where he's taking it on track No. 1? It sets the tone so people know, ’cause I wanna show people where I snapped at. I want them to go through the process and be like, "Damn, this is where he snapped at and it makes a lot of sense and now I see what this album is about to be." Because what I'm talking about in the song, everyone's gonna hear it and be like, "If I was in that situation, I don't know what the fuck I would've did." But yeah, the first song was probably the most memorable.
[Editor's note: The intro to the album is "Hotel in Sydney." In 2016, Hopsin was arrested in Australia and pleaded guilty to assault after an incident in a Sydney hotel involving a woman.]
You've been on your grind for quite some time and aren't considered an XXL Freshman in rap anymore. What would you say is the biggest lesson you've learned thus far?
Biggest lesson that I've learned is having a very strong team around you who's considerate of what you're doing and genuinely cares about your well-being as an artist and cares about the moves you make. Ultimately, everybody's gonna have some selfishness. Everyone's gonna have their ultimate ending goal of what they wanna be, but those people didn't get where they're at by being fully selfish, like it's just about me.
Dr. Dre, there's points where he had to be like, "I have to help this artist to help me become the Dr. Dre that I wanna be and I need to go hard with this artist in order to do that." Same with P. Diddy. You have to contribute that way to be that great person in the end. And sometimes, the music industry is very tricky. It doesn't always go the way that you planned it, but now I keep a strong eye on the people who are around me to make sure we're all interested in the same thing. That's what's most important.
You can be a wack rapper and have an amazing team and have an amazing career. You can be an amazing rapper, a horrible team and have a horrible career, but that's also pushed me into a space where I've had to do everything on my own. Not everything, but if I was dependent on a producer... I try to do as much as I can so I know if everything fails, if everyone around me is like we don't wanna fuck with you at all, I at least know that I'm able to keep 60 percent from what I do on my own. So I make myself unstoppable in a sense. I don't wanna ever feel like, damn, if they leave, I'm done.
What would you say the next level is for you in your career in 2018 and beyond?
In the music industry, I guess I'm excited by little small dumb things, I guess. I'm excited to hit a million followers on Instagram [laughs]. I don't know why. It's just one of those things to know I'm excited about that I'm also excited about I'm very close. I also want to do a tour where most, if not all the shows are sold out, where I just announce the tour and it's all sold out, you can't even get in no more, it's too late.
So that would be dope. I've never had one of those. I've sold out lots of shows, but I've never sold out a tour. To me, that's like winning a Grammy. That would be like winning 50 Grammys if I did that. So yeah, we just gotta put that work in and see what happens.