In House With Tito Lopez: Rapper Talks ‘Earth Tones,’ Debut Album & Mississippi Roots
Las Vegas is for party rockers. Tito Lopez, a 25-year-old rapper with roots deeply grounded in Mississippi, rests his head in the City of Sin. But his initial reason for moving into the heat of the West Coast two years ago wasn't to throw back shots on a daily basis or bed busty women with dollar signs in their eyes. He needed a "lifeline" out of his small southern town of Gulfport, Miss., and a friend offered him one in the form of a job. Though his forte is rapping, a record deal wasn't on the table -- inspecting houses was.
However, in 2011, the Capitol Records signee scored a recording contract. Not bad for a kid who once pressed up CDs of his songs and sold them to fellow students in high school. As he looks back on those memories, a smile creeps across his lips. Lopez, a self-described underdog, has always been a go-getter. He made a name for himself as a rapper despite Gulfport's less than stellar creative outlets. "What's dope now is that they're having more open mic, hip-hop things that they didn't have when I was coming up," he tells The BoomBox.
See Photos of Tito Lopez's In House Visit With The BoomBox
Far from his mom, dad and younger brothers in Mississippi, there are some Dirty South staples Lopez misses in addition to his family. There's the food of course. "I had to put my manager and some of the people from the label on to Zaxby's," Lopez states. "It's chicken, like crack cocaine chicken. I used to think it was just in Gulfport. My town is very small, it's only like 60,000 people. But to us, [Zaxby's] was a big deal."
A conversation with Lopez isn't forced. Talk to him and his words flow effortlessly, much like the lyrics in his songs. The hip-hop artist doesn't fake the funk -- on and off his records. "It's regular nature for me to speak on real life," he admits. "I can't participate in lies."
Listen to "The Blues," an introspective track that embodies southern-flavored production, guitar licks and all. On it, Lopez spits verses about what life is like walking a day in his shoes. "Right now I don't have the mansion, the cars and the girls," the gifted lyricist reveals. "That's kinda a common thread in hip-hop. It's all bullshit to me. I know some of these dudes and they don't got it like that. To me, it's just my conscious. I can't look in the mirror and lie."
While that tune seems to be on the gloomy tip, Lopez is no Debbie Downer. He's happy and feels blessed to create music that doesn't conform to what's heard on popular radio. "Me, I like challenges," he says. "Who has the balls enough to put out a song and talk about what they don't have?" He's also geeked to travel the country performing for fans alongside fellow Mississippi native Big K.R.I.T. on the Live From the Underground tour, which is now in its second leg of performances.
"Being on tour was the greatest thing to happen for me," Lopez explains. "It gave me more of a recharge. You can be sitting around in yo crib making songs like 'The Blues' and think like, 'Who is connecting to this? Maybe these kids don't want to hear that no more.' Until you go on tour and all these people come up to you like crying -- they've done it to me -- and be like, 'This underdog thing, I love it.'"
His forthcoming debut album, The King's Speech, rests on that foundation. Many of the songs he'll feature aren't about popping bottles in the club or flying in private jets to exotic locales. Lopez is deeply vested in creating lyrics with more substance. "Earth Tones in Winter" is proof of that. Featuring soul crooner D.J. Rogers on the hook and spoken word poet Kepra, the rhymer delivers lines around his unyielding "grind."
Lopez explains that the vibe of the beat sparked the song's title. "I started the second verse off with that line," he states. "The beat sounds like an earth tone beat. Like if you're familiar with Common and J Dilla and stuff like that, it sounds like one of those type of beats." However, the effort was also in tune with his favorite season. "I just like that whole October through December feeling," Lopez shares. "That's like red leaves and orange leaves, you wear earth tones during that. That's how the beat made me feel."
Bearing such a royal name on his debut opus, The King's Speech, fans and critics may have preconceived notions of its meaning. Lopez isn't trying to put himself on a pedestal though. He's just a film buff with a message to deliver. "I love movies," he discloses. "Anytime I name something after a movie, it's gotta be a reason. I didn't [name my album] 'cause I'm a king.
"It's because if you watch that movie [2010's 'The King's Speech'], [actor] Colin Firth, he was a king and he had to give the speech and get his words out but he had a speech impediment. Now, I don't have a speech impediment but that's basically all an underground rapper is trying to do is get his words out. For the whole movie, [Firth is] just trying to get his words out and be heard. That's all I'm trying to do."
Message heard, loud and clear.
Watch Tito Lopez's "The Blues" Video