Hip Hop never died, it simply had a really unappealing facelift for a couple of years. Guys like Jon Connor, Casual, Torae, and the pre-battle pad Canibus (and gals like Jean Grae) have continued to uphold the genre’s early penchant as the coolest form of confrontation — verbal, yet with a mind so sharp that each verse might as well be a blow to the face.
It’s in that regard that the 24-year-old Mississippi native Tito Lopez stakes his claim in hip hop’s crowded multitude with The Hunger Game; he’s not out to scale the billboard charts or rival 2 Chainz in number of guest features, but to conquer.
Lopez has had a good start so far: aside from being the fourth rapper from Mississippi after David Banner, Rick Ross and Big K.R.I.T. to gain worthwhile recognition, his chance meeting with Dr. Dre, where he delivered a hell of a freestyle, has firmly planted him as a skilled lyricist and an effective go getter, two traits most up-and-comers can only dream to attain.
But thankfully, Lopez refuses to rest on the laurels of a YouTube video or his successful underground hit “Mama Proud,” making the wise choice to drop a veritable package of goods for fans and skeptics which, while certainly speckled by few rookie mistakes, still maintains the atomic potency only a freshman rapper can possess.
The greater part of the mixtape displays a rapper so hungry he might mistake the mic for a cookie cone. When Lopez commences to rhyme on the obligatorily triumphant “Try Me,” he hits the ground running: “Back in this bitch with a vengeance/checking nigga’s names off my checklist/g shit nigga, don’t pretend this flow ain’t prettier than Eva Mendes,” and he keeps at such a pace with little padding and no gimmicks. He can tightly weave a reckless yet rigid flow on any instrumental he rhymes over, sometimes doubling up on syllables, which can breath much-needed life into some of the stock or used beats.
But his greatest asset, his personality, truly defines the matter at hand. At the outset of The Hunger Game, Lopez stays locked in battle mode: relentlessly cocky, brash, energetic, surgically acerbic, and purposefully literate in pop culture (“Shorty wanna marry/I’m Jerry, I Elaine her/they don’t let me in this bitch/I slide through like Kramer”). Its this sort of corporate assholery that forms dangerous tracks like “A Conversation With Tito,” which would feel more like a thrashing than a calm chat for those on the receiving end: “And I’m on my own shit/that hanging you over a bridge until you defecate/then I make you eat your own shit.”
When he steps out of that persona, though, its not to say that he immediately flounders, but he becomes way more reserved and awkward in comparison. The hood tale “Jessica” tells the story of the titular character, who like in most songs of this type, finds herself battered by society and its members save for the narrator.
With Lopez as the narrator, the brutal discovery of her child abuse and her mother’s dependence on drugs feels completely clinical with his unwavering delivery. Its nice to know that he can pen and give a well-crafted song, but people need a bit of voice acting, or at least a overwhelmingly mournful beat.
Lopez reserves the latter five track for these out-of-boundary excursions; the best one, “Mama Proud,” has the same scenario as “Jessica” to me. Its a well-written piece bar for bar, and gets deserved props for praising his mother, but the uniqueness that would humanize the song is missing. It might as well be another battle track for how much time he spends on his own achievements rather than his mother.
For what its worth, those songs don’t derail or inhibit Lopez as a rapper, but they could affect his appeal later on. The fact that he attempted these type of tracks proves he wanst to at least test those waters. But in terms of honing his art of lyrical pugilism, there’s definitely room for improvement, but his current chops are more than sufficient. Mississippi might be the last place one would expect to find a great find like Tito Lopez, but hunger gets the best of them.