Conveying authenticity with MC Tope
photo credit: Martin Van Londen
Hailing from Portland, Oregon it is evident Tope has stayed committed to the game since his early entry into hip-hop as a 19-year-old with his clean crisp beats and lyrics that resemble a Young K. Dot Lamar (Kendrick). With a city drowning in Rock-n-Roll and Indie music, Tope may be Portland’s frontier of hip-hop
The rapper speaks to SYS writer Bree Stewart about shout-outs from Eryka Badu, the importance of underdogs, and how growing up around drug use helped him sculpt his latest release #BROKEBOYSSYNDROME.
Tope, I have been absolutely blown away by your talent, please tell me where you’ve been hiding all this time? How long have you been in the game?
Thank you that means a lot! I've been hiding out in Portland, Oregon - home of indie rock bands, barista girls with more tattoos than money and an NBA team (Portland Trail Blazers) that passed on Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant. I put out my first soul album (Soul Music) in 2010, followed by an instrumental project (Free Lemonade) in 2011, another in 2012 (Until the next time we meet ft. TiRon) sprinkle in a few more EPs and instrumentals, six collaborative albums, an Erykah Badu shout-out, opening shows for almost every big name in the game and BAM - here we are today.
Explain to me the concept behind the latest release #BROKEBOYSSYNDROME.
The concept behind my album BROKEBOYSYNDROME was the story of growing up underprivileged, with two parents addicted to drugs and the struggle to not repeat that cycle and make a success of out nothing. There are a lot of themes like that through album, but mainly I wanted this to be a motivational piece for people who have been through some adversity and made it out the other side. The album speaks on everyone's need for money, the things we do to get that, and the struggle to break even at days end. #BBS is really my whole life, I talk about my come up at the beginning, maturing and hitting the road in the middle, and where I hope to take things in the future all while trying to give a little hope to those that may need it.
My favourite song from that album is easily Rocky - “I beat em up like Rocky” resonates so much on the track, Sylvester Stallone’s story of persistence and resilience is one of the greatest rags to riches tales over the last few decades, do you consider yourself a new age Rocky (Balboa)?
I like the spirit of Rocky, I don't know if I'm all the way there yet but he represents that underdog mentality in a way. It's funny how everything clicked for this album, even using Rocky for example - it was really just a catchy hook but beneath that, Rocky, or the idea of someone having to fight their way to success is what my story, and the whole album is about. I just don't have that championship belt yet, hopefully soon though.
What’s the most important message you want to convey in your music?
The most important message I try to convey through music is authenticity. My music is just as diverse as my life is. I mess up, I do good, I get wild, I lay low - my music conveys all that. I always liked the message "If I can do it you can do it too" - I try to put that across in my music. I'm a real person, I'm at the point where you can still reach out to me and I'm going to hit you back, give you advice, listen to your music, or answer a question. I don't ever want to be too big to say thank you. Lately I've been feeling like my songs are just conversations with my fans. I could rap really technical and make some words sound dope together or I could slow it down, rhyme less, and talk about my life or something that might pertain to your life.
Production aside, lyrically who do you think is really ahead of the hip-hop game at the moment?
Kendrick. Lamar. Man - Kendrick is doing things nobody is doing right now. I don't think he's necessarily doing anything that hasn't been done before but he's drawing influences from so many places and bringing them all together like nobody has done in a long time. I hear Outkast, Dilla, Freestyle Fellowship, Tribe, Funkadelic - all on that new record (To Pimp a Butterfly). I also like whatTravis Scott is doing but honestly I need to hear more from him.
As mentioned earlier Portland tends to be known for its rock and indie music more so than hip-hop; The Decembrists, Courtney Love and Everclear to name a few. Does the rock scene overshadow the hip-hop community?
The Portland hip-hop scene definitely gets overshadowed by our Rock scene but I think it’s at the strongest point it’s ever been right now. For artists a little bit older than me we have Cool Nutz, Vursatyl (of Lifesavas), Sleep, Sandpeople and more holding it down, while HANiF, illmaculate, myself, Stewart Villain, Trox, and more hold it down for the mid-20's artists and then there is a whole batch of young dope artists on the come up as well. It's an interesting scene, a lot of raw talent.
A lot of our readers are aspiring musicians themselves - what’s one of the key ingredients in becoming a well established musician?
Have great music that nobody can deny. At the end of the day if your music is dope enough nobody can tell you no. Things that helped me along the way were my attention to detail, being organised, having a website, having high quality press photos and music videos. I really picture myself as an artist first and foremost, I pay attention to every detail; the art, the message, the visuals - all those things are really important for musicians in 2015.
Are there any artists or musicians you aspire to work with in future?
There really are so many artists I want to work with. Currently: Dom Kennedy, Erykah Badu, BJ The Chicago Kid, Dwele, Terrace Martin, SZA, Kent from Overdoz, 9th Wonder, Nottz, Kanye, I could really go on for days on this one (laughs).
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
The Erykah Badu shout out was big, working with Blu was big (Below the Heavens, I’m Beaming with Lupe Fiasco / Remix), touring with Gift of Gab and Abstract Rude was big. It's hard to say really, I feel like there are a million little pieces that come together to make the whole picture of my success in 2015. Everything was big to me.
Any plans on hitting up Australia for some promo / tours down the line?
No plans as of now, but hopefully soon! That's definitely a goal of mine.
What’s the creative process when you get into the booth and record?
When I'm in the booth I try to just clear my mind as much as possible and focus on the music, focus on what I'm saying, and how I'm saying it. I like to do a lot of takes, so even if I feel like I got the verse perfect, I like to do it a few more times just to see if I can make it better. Atmosphere is big in the studio, lately I've been bouncing from studio to studio trying to find the right vibe. Shout out to my homie Lawz Spoken, he put in a lot of work recording me on BROKEBOYSYNDROME and that was by far my most comfortable recording experience.
Was there a defining moment in your life in which you realised music was your calling?
At 19, when my mum passed away. I knew I wanted to take music seriously then. At the time I was just messing around, but I got a little more goal oriented after she passed.
Finally, what stimulates your soul?