Wopo talks to HNHH about his rise to prominence, Pittsburgh sports, and the key to happiness.
Pittsburgh stands 300 miles west of Philadelphia. a Rust Belt survivor that has more in common with the Midwest than it does with metropoli on the eastern seaboard. Other than Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, Pittsburgh hasn't produced any genuine rap stars in the last decade. The city's newest Great Rap Hope is a 20-year-old lankster by the name of Jimmy Wopo.
The top YouTube comment on "Elm Street," Wopo's most popular release to date, reads, "He's dressed like he's about to go to a Chief Keef concert back in 2012." In other words, he's two-stepping with impunity and dripping with an unstoppable swag.
In May, shortly after the release of his Jordan Kobe mixtape, Wopo stopped by the HNHH office to discuss his rise to prominence, Pittsburgh sports, and the key to happiness.
Mac Miller and Wiz went to Taylor Allderdice High School, which is one of the bigger high schools in Pittsburgh. You went to a few different schools. What sort of schools did you attend? What kind of you student were you?
Middle school I hadn’t moved to the Southside. I went to Philip Murray, it was accelerated learning so we stayed extra hours and shit. I used to hate that school. I ended up getting kicked out of that shit, I went to Clayton, it’s alternative.
How’d you like Clayton?
I hated that shit cause we stayed till 5:00. I’m like “Damn, it’s getting worse and worse!” Then I went to the The Academy High School. I dropped out though, like 10th grade.
Just wasn’t for you?
No, I done got shot and shit, and the school was on weird shit, like separating motherfuckers that they thought we had problems with. I’m like, “Man, they on too much.” That cop shit. Let niggas be in they class, don’t be separating niggas from classrooms. They just doing too much cop shit.
You said you moved to the Southside from the Hill District. Do you identify with one of those areas more than the other?
Nah, that’s the only place I ever moved to. Between the South and the Hill I never really moved. When I got old I ventured around, just regular shit, but as far as my mom, she never really moved around that much, just the Hill and the South.
Where are you living right now? What part of town?
I live in the ‘jects, up Arlington on the South (laughs). I live on the South, I still live in the projects. I got another crib upin the projects, man. Yeah, I ain’t got no houses.
When are you going to move out?
Whenever they come give me that money (laughs). Whenever that bag come. Until then I’m in the ‘jects.
You’ll get there.
I’m bout to move out, bro. I’m bout to move out in June, I’ll be in a nice little house on the outskirts.
You make some sports references in your music. You’ve referenced Darren McFadden. Are you a sports fan?
What Pittsburgh teams are your favorites.
The Penguins and the Steelers, for real. The Pirates, I don’t know. I don’t fuck with the Pirates. Man they official but they be bullshit.
Tell me a little about the Hope Center. Had you been rapping before that?
Yeah I had been rapping before the Hope Center, but I never recorded before the Hope Center. That was my first studio experience. I mean I couldn’t cuss cause it was a church. Shit was weak as hell.
Were you bleeping curse words out, or you couldn’t even say the words?
We were sneaking shit in there sometimes, but we just wasn’t writing no shit that had cuss words in it.
What kind of rapping were you doing before then?
Straight street shit. Straight rap. I been doin the same shit like this. Freestyling more though. I used to write a lot. I still writing when I’m stuck in the studio, cause I have to be ready when I get there cause they charge me for the hours. Yeah, I was tight on money and I used to just go to the studio and lounge around and shit.
Do you have a home set-up?
A creative studio? Fuck no. Don’t have it. I wish I did though. But I just never had it.
Tell me about what you were listening the most when you were growing up, when you were starting to find your own sound. What were you listening to when you were 14, 15?
Chief Keef, Future and them. All the niggas that was popping and shit. Everybody, I listened to everybody. Chief Keef and ‘em a lot though. They was poppin the most, they was on their shit. And niggas in my city, local niggas like FTR [Tefflon]. I was listening to them niggas a lot. Tefflon shit, that was popping too.
There aren’t many Pittsburgh rappers who become known nationally. What’s the rap scene like in Pittsburgh?
It’s alright, it’s alright. If you stay consistent with hot shit though, niggas ain’t gonna be able to fuck with you, cause niggas don’t do that. Niggas don’t stay consistent. Niggas will drop some hard shit and they just won’t keep dropping.
It’s weird in the ‘Burgh, man, there ain’t really no support for the music. It’s nice though. A lot of niggas is rapping, doing their thing. Lot of niggas who was popping before I was still be rapping, they still going hard and shit.
Why do you think people have gravitated towards your music?
I don’t know bro. Maybe cause I just kept dropping. Yeah, I’m consistent and it ain’t weak.
I kept dropping, you feel me. Staying consistent. It wasn’t bullshit, and eventually I just dropped the hard-ass shit. And they was all fucking with me, so that shit did the numbers that it was supposed to do. I met the people that I was supposed to meet, and I fucked with them. I didn’t fuck up any relationships with niggas. Little clubs and shit that I fuck with. People I fuck with in the ‘Burgh promoting me and shit.
Have you ever felt frustrated with how your career was going?
When I had to do this probation shit. I mean, when I’m doing this probation shit I be frustrated. That shit be fucking up my rap shit, taking piss tests and all that. Feel like it’s taking me out of my groove the whole day. Give me something to talk about but this shit is annoying.
How often do you have to take a piss test?
Motherfuckers got me taking a piss test every week right now. I’m in the newspaper and all that, they worry about me.
What’s your daughter’s name? How old is she?
Her name is Aubrey, she just turned two. My first daughter. She be having fun and shit, she a crybaby though, but she be having fun. I’m always happy when I see her. I always smile and laugh and clown. Nice little girl, feel me bro?
Did that change your perspective, when she was born?
Not really when she was born, but after I got all the blood tests and shit I took care of her. It was all smooth. Took that shit like a man after a while, cause at first I wasn’t about that kid shit.
Do you like performing?
Hell yeah, performing is an experience.
It’s not for everybody.
Yeah man, you just gotta have fun. You gotta let the crowd turn you up. It’s dependent on what you’re gonna do with your music. I think Riff Raff told me if you bout to go on tour or something and make your music this type shit or you want that type shit when you’re performing, he said “make your music more up-tempo, cause either way people will be able to bounce with that.” I feel that, so I’ve been making my up-tempo stuff so that when I perform so it’s lit regardless.
I know Jordan Kobe is a reference to your address (2324), but do you hoop at all?
Nah, I play football though.
I play corner. I did play receiver, I played quarter, I played a lot of positions. I ain’t never played any basketball. One time I played in this basketball league, I was forward and shit, but I never really liked basketball. I feel like you can get way more fucked up than you can get fucked up in football. You ain’t got no pads and shit.
What can fans expect from the Sonny Digital project?
Shit will be lit! I mean right about now I’m happy as fuck that I got Sonny Digital shit that I can put up. It’s like I gotta think of some new shit for after that. I’m still riding a little wave that I got on them, and then there’s gonna be a big wave. I’m gonna get a lot of following off that shit. That shit’s gonna be healthy. 21 already Facetiming me and shit. But I really need something to kick the door down, cause lately I been feeling like I’m already on that level.
Do you have other producers you want to work with besides Sonny?
Yeah I got a couple Mike Will beats, I did a Hit-Boy joint on that Jordan Kobe. I want to work with everybody. On that Juliano shit, trying to work with everybody bro, Metro, I need all that shit. I’m trying to fuck with all the niggas, Southside. Them niggas is hard, good beats is what makes songs. If your beat got flavor, you ain’t even gotta say too much.
You’ve amassed a huge following. Have you been weighing the pros and cons of signing to a label?
Yeah I was thinking about that a lot in the wintertime, thinking about signing. But now I really wanna just stay focused on what I’m doing. Trying to build myself a little more.
In what ways?
Trying to build my fanbase. Relationships, connections, my team. My manager building all these connections and everything is just going right. I don’t wanna just make no sudden decisions right now. Just keeping everything smooth, keeping everything working, taking trips like this, doing stuff like this. And so eventually, the brand is already there and we just self-made.
How does a rapper like you improve your craft? It’s not like football where a coach makes you do all these reps and drills.
You just gotta stay positive and keep yourself happy. When I feel good I’m in the studio. It’s a good feeling to be there and do my thing. I record a lot better back at home, too. Or wherever I feel at home at.
Do you see yourself as a happy guy?
[Wopo’s friend] He’s a jokester.
Is that true?
Any way I can stay happy, I’mma do that. I have to try. That negative energy, that shit be fucking shit up.