What a difference a viral video can make. This past summer a clip of relatively unknown Mississippi rhymer Tito Lopez hit the net. His lyrical skills couldn’t be denied but his audience, legendary hip hop producer Dr. Dre, among a room full of amazed onlookers, is what really caught viewers’ attention. Turns out the moment, captured on a grainy camera phone, came as a result of an impromptu run-in with Dre at a Los Angeles studio. Since then Lopez has ridden the wave of exposure that he’s garnered as a result of the video. As he prepares to release his debut album, The King’s Speech, BET.com caught up with the self-proclaimed “Voice of the Underdogs” to talk about his Hispanic roots, his relationship with Dr. Dre and possible contributions to Dre’s Detox.
How many people have asked you about how you got your name?
Everybody. Including about 15 today.
Well don’t be mad at me for asking again... How did you get your name?
Lopez is my real middle name. Tito has always been my nickname since I was a baby. My pop's name is Tito. That’s his nickname. So since I was born I’ve been little Tito. I always knew that my rap name was gone be something with Tito in it. So my full name is Antonio Lopez Mouring. I knew I was going to be a rapper since I was young so I was like I’m either going to be Young Tito, or Little Tito or something like that. I went through a million name changes and then when I was in high school my girlfriend at the time was like, “Use your middle name. That’s like exotic. Use that for your rap last name.” I like the way the O’s flow together. Tito Lopez.
So do you have Hispanic roots?
My great-great grandmother is Hispanic. So my great grandmother is half. And then my grandmother is like a quarter. Then there’s my mother and by the time you get to me, I’m just Black.
What part of Mississippi are you from?
I’m from Gulfport, at the very bottom. Right by Biloxi by the Gulf of Mexico, 228 area code. My city isn’t that big so it’s not like a whole lot of places to go. David Banner, he’s from Jackson, Big K.R.I.T. is from Meridian so nobody [in hip hop] has ever been from my city. Brett Farve was born there though.
Most people know you from the viral video of you rapping for Dr. Dre. How did that come about?
I’m signed to Capitol Records and my manager lives in L.A. They flew me out one time to see the building. All of a sudden, Steve (my A&R) was like “You want to go meet Dre?” I’m like “Hell yeah! What I’ma say no?” We drove over there and I was just supposed to go over there to meet him for like 10 minutes, just to meet him. I was just supposed to play him a couple of songs just for him to hear. We was just talking about basketball and all that because he’s a down to Earth dude and I was just like I’ll rap for you right now and he was like ‘Ok cool.’ Turn on the beat, I just start rapping. He was like ‘Hold up. Stop. Ya’ll got to see this’ and he called Stat Quo and all them in there. I rapped again and that’s what people see on the clip. Somebody and I don’t know who it was pulled out a phone and recorded it. I’m so glad they had the presence of mind to do that. Because it’s like from that point on, through that little clip people started paying attention to me.
Dr. Dre has another artist that he’s co-signed, Kendrick Lamar. Have you gotten a chance to meet him?
Absolutely. That same night that’s on the video of me rapping he was there. He came through and we just chopped it up. That’s actually who Dre is working with the most. Kendrick is his artist and his man. It’s not me. When I meet people I’m expecting Hollywood, but Kendrick was the most humble down to Earth person. He’s a real dude and I’m a real dude. We shook hands and just listened to music and he was like “Yo you dope” and I’m like “Yeah you dope too!” [laughs]
Any plans to do music with Kendrick?
Not at the moment. At the moment I can’t lie and say, ‘Yeah we gone do a joint album’ and all that. I just met him that one night but I’ll tell you this, Kendrick is one out of a handful of these new school rappers that I want to work with.
Have you met K.R.I.T. yet?
Yeah. In November of 2010 Sha Money, who’s from Def Jam called me to do the Def Jam cypher. I still wasn’t signed I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go and so forth. He wanted me to go over there and do this cypher s**t. Now I already knew of K.R.I.T. and he had heard of me. I think like my basketball team had played his basketball team in high school so it was like crossing paths but not really knowing him like that. When I got to New York I had just finished doing my spot on the cypher and he was there to perform. I was just there to spit some verses. I just stepped out for a minute to get some air and he pulled up. We swapped numbers and hollered at each other. He was cool as hell, very down to earth.
What happened with The King’s Speech? Are you still planning to put it out?
I’m probably going to call the album The King’s Speech now and not the mixtape because I didn’t put that mixtape out. I just put some songs out from it. I put them on this new mixtape called The Lost Files. I don’t want to turn into a mixtape artist. A lot of cats are touring off of mixtapes and getting famous off of mixtapes and if you do it too much, when you drop your album it’s kind of like, that’s the end of the road. You don’t want to get lost in that so I was like, let me just go back and find these eight million freestyles that I’ve had for years, that’s been killing people and put some of those out because instead of me trying to catch up to everybody, I’m confident enough to feel like everybody should be catching up to what I’ve been doing.
Why do you call yourself the Voice of the Underdog?
My manager [Wok] gave me that name when he met me. The Voice of the Underdog. A lot of people think that Dre gave me that name because he says it in that video “The Voice of the Underdog.” Nothing against Dre but my man gave me that name. Dre was just saying it. It’s not nothing that I planned it’s just the point of view that I rap from. All my old music, even when I’m bragging I’m speaking from an underdog’s perspective. I used to get picked on and teased and all that when I was young. I was just like the nerd or whatever, I guess. I just started writing raps to myself and sticking to myself. As I grew older I started rapping and started being more open and people started saying I was cool but I can’t speak on nothing but ya’ll didn’t want to pick me for games, ya’ll didn’t want to date me, girls wouldn’t give me no play, now look at me. I’m up here I’m doing this, I’m doing that and that’s what gives me my drive. It’s kind of sad to say but most people who have that drive and work ethic and vision stems from something that they mad about or something that kind of hurt them to make them want to show everybody.
So while you were in the studio with Dre, did you hear anything interesting? Are there any details you can give us on the status of the Detox album?
I’ma say this and I’ma have the same answer every time. I worked with Dr. Dre. He has incredible music in that studio and I do not know when the album is coming. I think a lot of the mystery got lost when there were all these leaked records and people started doing all these references, it just killed it for the mystery but Dre ain’t stupid. Every time somebody says ‘I wrote all these records on Detox he scrap what they doing. So I don’t know nothing about Detox. All I know is I worked with Dr. Dre on some music, I don’t know where it will end up but it was great music and I had a great time. That’s all I can say.
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(Photo: Dave Clark)