He may be signed to Capitol Records, but Tito Lopez approaches his music and brand with the passion of an indie artist. Driven by his long-held underdog spirit, the Mississippi rapper jokes that he’s still grinding like an artist with only two fans. But considering his major label deal, elite MC-ing skills and connection to Dr. Dre, Tito has the opportunity to make a huge impact on a new generation of hip hop fans. The release of his mixtape The Hunger Games was a good start, and his upcoming Live From the Underground Tour with Big K.R.I.T. and Slim Thug will allow him to continue building his movement. With the music video for his Organize Noize-produced single “The Blues” premiering tonight (August 28) on BET’s 106 & Park, Lopez spoke with BET.com about the new video, ghostwriting in hip hop and working with Organized Noize.
BET.com: Your song “The Blues” has gotten love on the Internet for a while, what were you trying to say with the video?
Tito Lopez: I actually shot it in Gulfport, Mississippi, just like I shot the “Mama Proud” video. If anybody knows... Mississippi, that’s the home of the blues. Muddy Waters and B.B. King and all that comes from down there, down in the Delta. So I wanted to take that type of funkiness and put it to hip hop. Organized used to kick a little funk, so I knew they could do it. And the video basically is just showing the struggle. Just showing that even with a deal or whatever, everything ain’t all sweet. And everything ain’t what it seems… I was watching hip hop and everybody’s songs is about what they got, and bragging. And I brag too, but I wanted to see if anybody would do a song that’s talking about their struggles and their problems and how they broke. Most people can relate to that (more) than this other sh-- out here. And I didn’t see nobody doing it so I did it.
From the Cadillac to the Blues influence it all has a very Southern feel.
Yeah I’m in an old school Caddy in the video, driving around. Another thing I wanted to do — when I dropped “Mama Proud,” they couldn’t tell I was from the South. Everybody was like, “You don’t sound like you from Mississippi, you don’t sound like you from the South,” just ‘cause my accent may not be extra heavy. So with this one, I wanted to give ‘em no question. It sounds very Southern and I just wanted to dispel that notion.
Speaking of sounding Southern, the song was produced by Dungeon Family legends Organized Noize. What was it like to work with them as a Southern MC?
They were absolutely legends and idols of mine. The whole Dungeon Family, from Organized Noize, to my DJ and another one of my producers Mr. DJ, who was OutKast’s DJ, just the whole Dungeon Family, man. As soon as I signed my deal, they asked me who I wanted to work with, and they was pretty much the first people I said, was Organized Noize. We went down to Atlanta and chopped it up with them for over a month, almost two months, and just chopped it up like a family. And when they saw I wasn’t a fake, I knew every line from Cool Breeze to Backbone to Slim Calhoun, they opened up the doors for me… I feel like they legends but they still underdogs. Even though they did “Waterfalls,” all this classic OutKast, Goodie Mob — even though they did that, there’s kids out here that know nothing about them at all, even in Atlanta. So there’s people that don’t know about how classic that is. I just wanna help them by bringing them into the young people's eyes. They legendary, so let me show everybody how legendary they was. That was even bigger than working with Dre or anything for me.
You’ve been in the studio writing for Dre, has he used any of your bars yet?
Nah, not yet, honestly. I be listening— the “Three Kings” verse and the “Recipe” — but nothing’s come out that I’ve written. But we’ve worked on a few things on a few different occasions. They’re mostly all for Dre, but nothing at the moment. I would be the first to let ‘em know (laughs)… I was listening for it. I heard the “Three Kings” and “The Recipe,” just to see if I wrote anything. But nah, nothing I’ve written has come out.
You’re signed to a major label but your sound and approach are more comparable to indie artists who have a true passion for their art.
I think everything can be looked at as Ying and the Yang, gift and the curse, black and white. I’m signed to Capitol Records, which is damn near like working from ground up as an indie because even though it’s a major label, it’s a legendary label — the Beatles, Nat King Cole and all these classic people was here — but as far as like hip hop, you probably taking it back to Hammer and that’s about it. So I wanted to go to a situation where, because there hasn’t been much hip hop here, I get a whole lot of freedom. I don’t see anybody that even would drop “The Blues” and “Mama Proud” in this market today. Nobody would really drop that so the gift is that I get a whole lot of freedom.
How are you using your major platform to get across your indie message?
I also want to dispel the notion — how it’s looked at today by fans, if you’re on a major label, it’s commercialism. Just talking about nothing and more for commercial. And if you’re on an indie label you’re making good music with a purpose and a message. And I kinda feel like I agree with that to an extent, but I just want to try to make a challenge and be like, “OK, what if I make some stuff that has some substance and a message?” I would be indie but I wanted that push of a major label to put it in people's faces. I ended up here because I wanted to take what an indie artist does and put it out on a major scale.
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(Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images For BET)