Q+A: Tito Lopez
A candid conversation with the Gulfport MC.
by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
Who is Tito Lopez?
That seems to be the popular question among the hip-hop community, and for good reason. Hailing from the forgotten city of Gulfport, MS, Lopez is starting to create a buzz thanks to his warmup single, “Mama Proud,” which has been getting heavy rotation on both MTV and BET. The young MC is bringing honesty back to the game—a trait that has been lacking for quite some time.
Today, rappers from the south are known for club hits with catchy hooks and bass-heavy beats. But Lopez isn’t your ordinary Southern MC. The 24-year-old with the Latin name and East Coast flow is cut from the same cloth as legendary artists like Scarface and Eminem.
Lopez first got recognition when a video of him rapping for the legendary Dr. Dre went viral. But the truth is, he has been putting out work for years and is just now getting the recognition he deserves. Lopez combines his penchant for honesty with a flawless delivery and hard-hitting lyrics to provide listeners with a breath of fresh air and authenticity at a time when the genre needs it most. Expect to hear much more from Lopez as he puts the final touches on his debut album and gears up for what promises to be a very busy summer.
After he dropped by the SLAM Dome for a quick verse, I sat down with the “Voice of the Underdog” for an in-depth, very candid Q+A, discussing his plans to take over the rap world and his love for Michael Jordan.
SLAM: For those who are unfamiliar, what can people expect when they listen to Tito Lopez?
Tito Lopez: They can expect honesty, and bringing back the art of the verse. I remember when I got my manager to start listening to me, he said, ‘Your hooks are cool but your verses are the shit,’ and that’s what made the legends back in the day. So what you can expect from me is lyrics, man. It’s gonna shock you, that’s my whole point.
SLAM: When you say honesty, I listen to a song like “It’s Hard” and it’s a breath of fresh air. Is honesty an aspect of your music that you take pride in?
TL: I hear that term a lot—“breath of fresh air”—and it never gets old. It’s so stale out there, everybody knows something is missing in hip-hop today. Everybody has a complaint—’You need to do this, you need to do that’—and I don’t really know what to say is missing, so I just go out and do it instead of talking about it.
That honesty stems from people like Eminem and Outkast and dudes like Biggie that say, ‘Heartthrob? Never, black and nasty as ever!’ that’s what people love. I love to put that in music because I don’t think anything holds weight anymore when you hear, ‘I got all the girls, I got all the clothes, I got all the cars,’ why am I listening to you then? I got my little braggadocious stuff too, but I take much more pride in being honest. You’re supposed to be an honest person. Everybody loves it, so I can’t be mad at it.
SLAM: There’s only so many songs you can make about girls and clubbing and cars, but when it comes down to it, you have your single that gets airplay, but the rest of the album what are you going to talk about? With you, your content is so much deeper, but do you think you’ll have that crossover appeal?
TL: Absolutely, and I assured my label (Capitol Records) that too when they signed me. It was so dope to have the conversation, I said, What happens is, a lot of these guys feel like crossing over is wrong and that’s how you end up with that “Backpack label” and I will never have that label.
Pop doesn’t mean anything but popular to me, I want to be the most popular rapper on the planet! I have fun too, I think the legends can balance it out. You got Jay-Z saying, ‘I ain’t crossover, I brought the suburbs to the hood.’ You got “I Just Wanna Love You” and you got “Renegade.” If you can’t balance it out, you don’t deserve to be well-respected. I definitely have, I guess what they call “crossover appeal,” but I just appeal to everybody. I know I do, because I’m just me.
SLAM: Linking up with Dre, not many people get that distinction, what was it like working with him?
TL: If you love music, period, it’s an opportunity you can’t turn down. Everybody asks me about it and I’m not tired of answering because that’s my biggest connection and a way to prove my merit. He’s not my mentor—it’s not a teacher-student type of thing. He saw me off the top rapping, and what I say about myself is, I’m a veteran in a rookie’s body. I’ve been rapping for a long time, it comes easy because I’ve been making mixtapes for years that never got any recognition. I got a whole catalog of shit that’s on the Internet somewhere, people can go find it.
When he’s in town, or we’re in the same town, he’ll call me and say, ‘Tito come down, let’s work.’ It’s not some, let me teach you, it’s more, I respect what you’re doing let’s make some music together. I’m 24 and to me, that’s a pat on my back, that he respects me and says that I can rap.
My mom and everybody asked if I was nervous, I couldn’t be less nervous! I was just sitting there like a fly on the wall, and I noticed nobody was around, so I said, Let me just spit for you raw and give you that feeling. That’s what I do, I rap, why would I be nervous? If you asked me to fix a computer or something, then I’d be nervous, I don’t do that. I rap! I don’t give a damn who’s in front of me, and I always felt like whenever you’re around someone who is more successful than you, they always got this aura about them. People always say, OK, you got 30 seconds to impress me. I hate that shit. No, you got 30 seconds to listen—if you have that confidence. I didn’t feel like it was Tito Lopez in front of Dr. Dre, I felt like it was Dr. Dre in front of Tito Lopez, and he respected it.
SLAM: You’ve worked with Organized Noize as well, is there anybody else out there that you’re interested in working with?
TL: When I got to work with Organized, that was like the pinnacle to me, I got to work with the whole Dungeon Family and that was a big thing for me. That was even bigger than Dre, because coming from the South—I always loved Dre—but they brought lyrics to the South and they even made me a little part of the Dungeon Family when I left, like an honorary little bro.
I would love to work with Eminem on a song, I would love to work with Lauryn Hill—I love her. Straight up, I’m not in the interest of doing it (collaborations) right now. I just look at the world in a different way, I’m looking at it to be legendary, nobody else is looking at it like that. If you come out and you pop and you already got Jay-Z and T.I. and Jeezy and all these people wanting to work with you, of course you’re going to throw them on your album—not me.
Let me do me first. Let me get my weight up first, my whole album will have no guest appearances, I got so many words to say. My second album, maybe I’ll have one or two guest appearances, somebody legendary and nobody else. Like Jay had the Blueprint and only had Eminem on there.