It’s a new day for Hopsin. Well, technically it’s a new night. During a recent interview in front of a Downtown LA coffee shop around 8 p.m., without the aid of his signature whiteout contact lenses, the rapper is talking about his future like he’s finally able to see it clearly for the first time.
“I was Batman, I was like ‘I ride alone, do everything on my own,’ that’s the image that I wanted,” he says. “I got that image but I feel like the Avengers will always be bigger than Batman.”
Setting aside the superhero metaphors, Hopsin is basically saying that professionally, it’s time for a change—one that feels like the polar opposite of his entire career as the Dark Knight of rap. A brief scroll through his social media (the foundation of his rabid fan base) shows the underground rapper putting his arms around mainstream emcees Ty Dollar $ign, and YG, two artists that he would’ve probably never approached, let alone embraced several years ago. He’s also decided to spend all of 2016 dropping nothing but singles, many of them including features and collaborations with other rappers—another thing Hopsin usually makes it a point to avoid. For years he’s opted to keep most of his manically gifted, hauntingly vivid tracks all to himself to show fans he didn’t need features to make a hot album. But new circumstances and new ideas about where his career is going forced him to reexamine that and open his door up to some serious local talent.
The two emcees he’s focused on collaborating with the most this year are Charm Brittian and Phora, who happen to be from OC. They also happen to know a thing or two about grinding and cultivating an independent fanbase. Brittian (a well-connected former model/reality TV star turned rapper) and Phora (the young, tattooed heir to the throne of West Coast indie rap) should make for some strong allies for a guy like Hopsin who looked around toward the end of 2015 and realized he had none.
Last month, Hopsin made headlines when he announced he’d be leaving Funk Volume, the label he started with co-founder Damien Ritter in 2009. Citing a number of issues with Ritter— being accused of not working hard enough to release new music and feeling his partner was demanding more and more control over the label—Hopsin threatened to leave. He eventually took to Facebook declaring that the label was “officially dead” and calling his former partner a monster. Even with his talented comrades Dizzy Wright and Jarren Benton on the roster, without the label’s co-founder and flagship artist, there seemed to be no point in continuing the label. In his path to a successful indie rap career that was already paved with roadblocks due to his stagnant deal on Ruthless Records at the start of his career, the implosion of Funk Volume was extremely disheartening.
“My career has been in the same place for the past three years and that’s not a good feeling,” Hopsin says. “Especially since I feel like I was around people that weren’t helping me become a better artist or giving me any tips or advice that was really helping me. So I just needed to redo the whole entire circle.”
This new chapter in Hopsin’s story was already in motion in the fall of 2015 when he met Brittian on the set for his spoof music video “No Words.” The two bonded briefly before Hopsin left to tour Australia and when he returned with plans to strike out on his own in 2016, he reconnected with Brittian—who is originally from Dana Point and got his first taste of fame on VH1 reality show Tool Academy in 2009. A rapper in his own right with a loyal fanbase and a boat load of famous friends, Hopsin felt this was someone he could trust and was well-connected in the hip-hop and different facets of the entertainment industry.
“He’s like a portal,” Hopsin says. “I was like ‘I don’t know who that guy is but I feel like he’s a portal to new things. I gotta link with that dude.’”
Though Brittian's sunny, love-sick raps showcase a different style than Hopsin, the two share a similar chemistry that could make for an interesting union. “I like to make the best out of everything that I do, surrounding myself around people that are positive,” says Brittian, sitting across from Hopsin at the coffeeshop during the interview sporting an afro blooming with stylish dreads. “The music I go for is always really vibey and it gives you a certain feeling. I want to put it more music that touches your soul.”
The plan of course is to start writing tracks together, along with Phora who is also usually a strictly solo emcee. The Anaheim-bred rapper with inspirational, true-life flows shares a knack for creating vivid, storyteller rhymes about his past, as well as viral videos and a cult-like fan base that help him sidestep the traditional path to success.
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“Phora’s a real cool dude, we've been friends for a few years. He has the independent game on lock,” Hopsin says. “We always talk and share each other’s stories about being independent artists. He takes what he needs from that and I take what I need.” Hopsin even makes a cameo in Phora’s latest video “Open Letter,” in which he kidnaps Donald Trump.
All of this points to the fact that as an emcee, Hopsin’s desire to grow his career as an independent artist won’t happen unless he has the right people around him to offer support and some sensational bars. His plan to release singles for the next 12 months is the kind of thing that says a lot about where the music industry places value these days. Cranking out dope tracks one at a time paired with well-produced viral videos to feed to a ravenous fan base will do a lot more than the age-old model of dropping an album and a few videos after the fact. On the flip side, collaborating with Charm Brittian, Phora and others can only serve to boost his creative flow and introduce these two OC-bred rappers to an even wider audience.
Hopsin has come a long way since that show in Fort Collins, Colorado that ended before it began with him walking out the back door and ditching his performance completely. But with a new manager, collaborators and aspirations to evolve, it’s the possibility for another creative breakthrough seems imminent, even if it won’t be overnight. “Now I feel more motivated,” he says. “I just had the wrong perspective on my career, now I have a different perspective...Right now we’re just planting seeds. I’ve been meeting a lot of artists and setting up a lot of collaborations. By 2017 you’ll say okay, I see what Hopsin was doing there.”