Only a small number of rappers who rep Mississippi make it out of the state, the best known of them being David Banner, of Jackson, Mississippi, who managed to make a name for himself on a national scale in 2003 with his breakthrough single “Like a Pimp.” However, for others like Soulja Boy, Nate Dogg and Rick Ross, who were born there but call other cities home, their Mississippi roots are nothing more than a little known fact or footnote on their bios. In the last couple of years though, a lot more attention has been paid to the sparsely populated and often overlooked region thanks to the arrival of Big K.R.I.T. and, more recently, Capitol Records signee Tito Lopez.
When BET.com last caught up with the rap rookie, he was finishing up his debut album The King’s Speech. Now that he’s done recording, he’s switched into promotion mode, releasing the video for his first single “Mama Proud” as his musical introduction to the world as a young up-and-coming downhome country boy trying to make his way in the rap game. In short, Lopez is a country boy committed to making timeless music, who’s not beholden to materialism or other trivialities that often plague rap. However, his raw lyrical skills and reputation for delivering mind-blowing freestyles, have come to somewhat outshine his music, a problem he's fortunate to have.
“The real rappers that could really rap, we get put through the ringer more than the wack rappers,” Tito says of the constant requests he gets to freestyle. “But if I start complaining like ‘I gotta spit every time I go?’ then I have to just ask myself the question in my head, ‘Would I rather be going in there known for a song and nobody don’t even really know me and care about my skills or would I rather people want to hear me rap and like to do it?’”
He has a point. After all, it was the infamous video clip of him freestyling for legendary producer Dr. Dre that got him much of the attention that he has today. And just last week his freestyle over Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre's "The Recipe" track, during a visit to Los Angeles’ Power 106 Sway in the Morning's "Five Fingers of Death" freestyle segment, got the bloggers typing and the search engines revving up in pursuit of his name once again. There’s no doubt about it, Tito Lopez can spit. However, now that he’s proven his skills he just has to follow through and deliver the music.
“Yeah, they talk about me rapping more than my music but I ain’t mad about it,” he explains. “The first time most people saw me I was with Dre and I was really spitting, you see ‘Mama Proud’ and I’m really spitting. I’m putting myself out there for it. I’m setting myself up.”
Lopez plans to drop another single and a mixtape, The Hunger Game, in the coming months. In the meantime he’s also taking a proactive and very personal approach to getting people to know who he is, opening the door to his mind in his weekly Venting Sessions.
“That’s something that I do pretty much every week,” he says of his stream of consciousness raps. “I used to do it under the radar for years. It amazes me sometimes, I look to the sky and think, ‘How did I get to this point?’ I just cut on a hook and rap about my problems or whatever I want to vent about. I’m just speaking my heart, speaking my feelings.”
During his most recent Venting Sessions, titled “Pressure,” Lopez talks about getting adjusted to his rising fame.
“I’m handling it well,” he says. “It’s not no huge thing to me because at the end of the day I’m not no huge star or celebrity. The only thing about me that because pressure or discomforting to me is personal. I don’t get much personal time or really get to see my family at all. When I go back to Mississippi you know I never want to leave.”
Lopez traveled back to his hometown of Gulfport (the second largest city in the state, with a population just over 67,000) for the “Mama Proud” video shoot. The video prominently features scenes from his old stomping grounds and the home he was raised in. For Lopez, that’s what this is all about, paying homage and making his mother proud.
“I told my mom before I was 23 I was gone move out of Mississippi and I did,” he shares. “I told her by the time I was 24 I was gone have a deal in place and really getting the gears moving and I did. Now that I’m 24 I told her that by the time I’m 25 I’ll be somebody and like kind of famous out here and that’s in August. And check this out, I went to McDonald’s the other day and the girl was like ‘You look like a rapper I know. You look like Tito Lopez. You should look him up. He’s dope.’ The funny part is I told her ‘Yeah that’s me.’ And she didn’t even believe me!”
The Hunger Game is set for release on June 14.
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