“This is all I ever wanted to do and it worked out,” says Tito Lopez, who is getting ready for a big show in Santa Ana, California. The Mississippi MC has phoned in to chat about his latest mixtape, The Hunger Game, the success of his radio-friendly song “Mama Proud,” as well as the status of his upcoming debut, which is “95 percent done.”
After gaining the stamp of approval from Dr. Dre and securing a deal with Capitol Records, his schedule has been hectic, but he embraces it. “Everything I’m doing now is a starting point. I plan to be here for a long time,” explains the rap rookie, who is currently on tour with fellow Mississippi native Big K.R.I.T.
Critics have praised Tito, who amassed a following with his 2010 mixtape King With No Crown, for being a breath of fresh air in a stagnant hip-hop culture. As he continues to grind with hopes to cement his legacy among the greats, the most important thing this lyrical maverick wants people to know is that he truly honors his craft. “I don’t take this for granted at all,” says a humble Tito.
The “Voice of the Underdog” spoke to Rap-Up.com about rapping Public Enemy lyrics at two years old, his emphasis on lyricism, Dr. Dre’s co-sign, and the sports legend that inspires him. Touch down with Tito.
1. When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue a rap career?
Pretty much when I was born, it was in my blood. I was saying Kool Moe Dee and The Treacherous Three’s “Wild Wild West” in the high chair. Then when I was like two or three years old, I was rapping “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. I even watched the movie, Do The Right Thing. I was like five when I started writing my first rap and I used to look at Kris Kross, and they were kids, and I felt like I was a kid so I could do it. It was way before most dudes. By the time I got to high school I was selling CDs already in the cafeteria.
2. Being from Mississippi, did you feel the odds were against you?
Absolutely. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else actually, but where I’m from, we didn’t have a whole lot of people that you could look up to. Of course [David] Banner is the O.G., the first one to crack nationwide. But I just wanted to be somebody who became that voice for people to be hyped about. Of course [Big K.R.I.T] is out here doing his thing too and I’m out here doing it now. When you come from New York you got a million people to be proud of, when you come from Atlanta you got a million people to be proud of, and L.A. and so forth. When you come from Mississippi, it’s the underdog state. That’s why I call myself the underdog, because it’s natural. So I definitely feel the odds are against me, but I just make it more of a reason to go harder.
3. Hip-hop fans have embraced you as a true lyricist. How important is that to you?
It’s the most important. I’m mainly in this game for respect, that’s all I want. I think it’s dope too that I get that title as a lyricist because it’s not something I’m trying to do on purpose. That’s just how I know how to rap. If you’re a real artist, you’re supposed to go through your phases of trying to find yourself. I really got something to say, I can’t get across everything by telling you which way to move your leg and shit like this. I really have something I want to get across, but it’s not dictionary rap.
4. So many of your fans have gravitated towards your song “Mama Proud.” Can you describe the recording process and how it came together?
It’s actually a way simpler process than you would think because I didn’t intend for it to be a mama song or nothing like that. With me, the beat just told me what to say. I think the whole song is genius. It’s a double-edged sword; it’s hard and light at the same time. I ain’t talk about my mama one time. If you actually listen to the song except for the hook I say, “I just want my mama to be proud of me and then on the verses I go back to talking my shit.” It’s really telling you who I am, that’s why we put that out first.
5. Dr. Dre called you the “Voice of the Underdog.” How did that feel and what’s the best compliment a fan has given you?
Oh yeah, that’s great. That was totally by accident. It’s great having the co-sign from Dre and from anybody who can prove that they can do what they do for a long time, but I put the same amount of merit on some kid from up the street telling me that he likes my shit. Most of the compliments are that I’m real hip-hop. But there’s one that I just seen, somebody said I had the storytelling of Scarface, the flow of Big Boi, and the passion and lyrics of Tupac. That was dope to me as a mixture.
6. Following the buzz of your mixtape The Hunger Game and the success of “Mama Proud,” you kept the momentum going with “The Blues.” Why did you decide to make it the lead single off your debut?
I picked that first single because again I’m going out on a ledge for what I believe in. I followed up a lot of buzz with a song like “The Blues” because “Mama Proud” was supposed to be a warm-up. And that’s what makes me feel confident about what I got coming. Ya’ll have no idea what’s coming.
7. How far along is the album and what should fans expect?
I’m like 95 percent done. I got plenty of stuff so I could be done with it now but I’m just trying to put the finishing touches on it. I just want it to sound perfect and be satisfied with it. I’m starting to establish myself in the fans’ eyes as a rapper’s rapper so they want to hear that. They are going to expect me to really have substance. I got plenty of that, that’s all I have. I just want to make sure it’s right for me.
8. What’s it been like to tour with Big K.R.I.T.?
It’s been incredible actually because this has been my first nationwide tour. This shit has been dope because we get a good response everywhere we go. It’s perfect that he named his album Live From the Underground because that’s the perfect name for this tour. Everybody on the tour is really trying to bring some rap shit so everybody who comes out wants that. They really wanna hear some shit that comes from your heart. I’ll probably always look back at it as my first tour and one of my favorite tours.
9. What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you so far on the road?
When the shooting happened in Colorado, we were close by. We were at the hotel in Aurora where the shooting happened; we had a show in Denver. We did three shows in Colorado during those days, so we had dedicated the next two or three shows to those people that lost their lives in the shooting. So that was crazy, because I like movies and I was talking about going to see [The Dark Knight]. I could have easily been in that theater and I was talking about it the last couple of days before [the shooting].
10. If you had to pick one person to mirror your career after, who would it be?
It wouldn’t be a music artist. If I had to say a name, it’d be Michael Jordan. That’s one of my idols. Rap is like a sport. Even when I rap I sweat because I’m giving passion to my rhymes. I think Jordan is so synonymous with winning that people forget that he was an underdog. Being cut from your high school team makes you want to kill everybody. That’s why he got so good, because he got slighted. It took him years and years before he’d win. No one could stop him. I met him one time, he’s cool as hell.
–Whitney J. McDonald