By Rebecca Haithcoat
Hopsin ran away in January. Deeply depressed, he was on tour in Fort Collins, Colorado, when he decided he couldn't perform that night. Other rappers might booze it up, pop a Xanax or bed groupies to cope. But Hopsin doesn't drink, do drugs or cheat on his girlfriend. His only escape was to escape -- literally. So he removed his signature white, glow-in-the-dark contacts, tightened the strings around his black hoodie, switched off his phone and slipped out the back door of the venue.
"I pretended I wasn't Hopsin," the 29-year-old rapper says. "Something bad was going to happen at that show. I felt like I would've gone onstage and peed on all the fans or something."
For an artist whose bond is so strong with his fans that he takes them to Six Flags and tweets his followers for rides to the airport, this wasn't normal behavior. Hundreds of ticketholders would be left in the lurch, not to mention his team.
Still, he couldn't force himself to turn around. He stumbled upon a house under construction, went in and laid down. Eventually he called a local friend, who picked him up and let him crash at his house, where they watched Finding Nemo. "I know I messed up," he says, adding that he plans to make amends by throwing a free show in Fort Collins. "[But] it was the only night I went to bed peacefully on that tour."
The past year had been tough for the performer, who has a big national following but somehow remains mostly under the media's radar. After he and his girlfriend of two years broke up, his newfound Christian faith began to buckle. He sounded bleak in interviews, and at times, his Twitter rants were suicidal.
Thematically, his music often is turbulent. On his latest song, "Ill Mind of Hopsin 7," he wrestles with God in a voice tinged with Eminem-level fury.
But his career is clearly on the upswing. Originally signed to Ruthless Records, he left and accused its owner, Tomica Woods-Wright, of mismanagement. Hopsin subsequently founded the label Funk Volume with Damien Ritter, and it has been successful, having spawned XXL freshmen Jarren Benton and Dizzy Wright.
Hopsin himself received that honor in 2012, and he's an unqualified YouTube success; the fifth in his "Ill Mind of Hopsin" series has more than 41 million views. His latest album, last November's Knock Madness, meanwhile, reached No. 76 on the Billboard 200.
His fervent underground fan base appreciates both his fearlessness -- he has dissed Tyler, the Creator and Lil Wayne -- and his frank talk. Masturbation is a frequent topic.
Following his January meltdown, Hopsin seems to have gotten his shit together. On a sunbaked August afternoon, he chats about his new girlfriend, a woman he met on tour in Australia, and finally moving out of his mom's basement.
At his new rental in a bland but affluent suburb of L.A., he's comfy in a baggy T-shirt and American-flag shorts, relaxing on a lipstick-red leather couch. Xbox games are stacked by the flat-screen TV, and a cheesy tourist photo of his girlfriend and him superimposed against the Hollywood sign is propped on the mantel.
Tucked into a gated community, the house is modest. But it represents a step up from the childhood home in Panorama City he still inhabited until recently. Before moving into these new digs, he went online and Photoshopped in furniture and wall colors to create his desired aesthetic.
There have been some snags. After shrinking his T-shirts in the dryer, he has turned the upstairs banister into a clothesline.
"I spent $1,400 just on toothpaste, toilet paper, waters," he says, nodding at a Tupperware container of noodles. "That's the stuff that makes it feel like home."
When Hopsin (born Marcus Hopson) was a kid, his mother worked at a medical company and his father, who drank "enough for the entire family," was a security guard who picked up extra work in TV and film. Neither of their jobs brought in much money. Making matters worse, Hopsin was shy and had trouble fitting in socially. He says other black kids ostracized him.
"I didn't talk like them. They'd be, like, 'Look at this nigga, he act like a white boy!' Once I started skateboarding, I was all the way white to them," he says. At the same time, white kids still saw him as the "black guy." Throughout school, he was bullied extensively.
"I got picked on a lot, and being picked on makes you think, 'Why are they messing with me? What's the difference between me and these other kids?' My music is angry because of bullies. If they made me feel loved, I would not wear white contacts. I would not be this dark rapper."
So he kept to himself, skateboarding and disappearing into his basement to write raps. When he was 15, he tagged along with his dad to a casting for the Disney movie Max Keeble's Big Move and wound up an extra. By 19 he'd dropped out of school and was taking acting classes while working as an extra for $115 per day. The fast money allowed him to make mixtapes he hoped would land in Dr. Dre's hands.
Networking, he met Damon Elliott, who produced "Lady Marmalade" for Baz Lurhmann's Moulin Rouge. (More recently and less renowned, he rapped on the Billy Ray Cyrus-assisted "Achy Breaky 2.")
Elliott introduced Hopsin to Woods-Wright, the widow of N.W.A's Eazy-E, and Hopsin thought his career had begun. Wrong. "She didn't get me any merchandise. Didn't get me on tour. Didn't get me radio play," he told HipHopDX in early 2011.
But things proceeded apace after he linked up with his high school friend Swizzz's brother, former Goldman Sachs analyst Ritter. They founded Funk Volume, and after Hopsin's 2010 album Raw dropped, the label took off.
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Soon Hopsin was being heralded a YouTube sensation, a tag that has stuck. "The videos are a huge deal," he says. "Without them, nobody's gonna understand who or how I am." The clips' strong narratives and frequently hyperactive quality, plus Hopsin's acting ability, make them visually arresting.
Above all, his greatest appeal seems to be his honesty, which was on full display during his recent depression. This sprung in part from his disenchantment with his faith, following his brief involvement with a Seventh Day Adventist church. True to form, he revealed that struggle in "Ill Mind of Hopsin 7." "I like to let people know when I'm down. I'm emotional. I'm very comfortable with my fans," he explains. Case in point: the title of his song from this spring, "I Need Help."
Hung next to the fireplace is a fan's drawing of Hopsin clutching his head. It's reminiscent of Edvard Munch's painting The Scream. Maybe that was an apt representation of him in the past, but his mind rests easier these days.
"I get it out in my music. I found my outlet," he says. "It makes my life better. I'm good." Not living in a basement anymore seems symbolic. His Australian girlfriend plans to move in later this year. Meanwhile, he's spending most of the next two months on international tours. This time, he won't run away. Hopsin performs with Dizzy Wright, Xzibit, Jon Connor and more at the FVMILY Halloween Bash, Thursday, October 30 at The Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. For ticket information visit observatoryoc.com. See also: The Top 10 Rappers in OC 10 More of OC's Best Rappers Top Five Female Emcees in OC Follow us on Twitter at @OCWeeklyMusic and like us on Facebook at Heard Mentality.