“Hi, My Name’s Hobo Johnson and People Say I’m a Rapper…”
There’s something refreshing about an artist that breaks the mold of mainstream music in an unexpected way. Hobo Johnson is a muddled mixture of rap, spoken-word and punk, although no single genre seems to fit his style. As bizarre as his music is, somehow you can’t help but remain curiously entertained.
Hobo Johnson, whose government name is Frank Lopes Jr., comes from the Sacramento area of California. A Mexican and Portuguese heritage shows in his curly black hair and faint mustache. His eccentric personality calls back to that one kid we all knew in high school who was absurdly crazy for the sake of being crazy — you know, the one that always got in trouble for being so unpredictable. However, this kid focused that energy into a promising music career that deserves recognition.
Lopes claims to have been a loner in high school and often ate lunch alone. Although he enjoyed video games, he wanted something more productive to spend his time on. He began making beats and writing songs as a hobby, and it turned out he had a gift for poetic storytelling. HJ was somewhat of a troubled teen and was kicked out of his dad’s house at the young age of 19. With nowhere to go he resorted to living in his ’94 Toyota Corolla … thus, the moniker Hobo Johnson was born.
A Mixture of Genres
To say that his music is weird would be a giant understatement. The style is obscure, unpredictable and more intriguing than anything out now. His self-produced beats, spoken-word and shouting in his cracking voice is oddly magnetic, even when he’s rambling nonsense. Hobo Johnson is like if Mewithoutyou had a baby with Wavves, and threw in ‘Institutionalized‘ by Suicidal Tendencies for added measure.
Even though he grew up listening to Eminem, Lupe Fiasco and Kendrick Lamar, Hobo doesn’t consider himself a rapper. He’d rather call himself a musician, with skills in both piano and guitar. He draws inspiration, like most songwriters, from the chaos in his personal life — his parent’s divorce, his dad’s new wife, and unrequited love.
His most recent album, The Rise of Hobo Johnson, is a small compilation of these types of songs. They’re all wildly different from each other but they’re all gems. Standout tracks from The Rise are Romeo & Juliet, Sex in the City and The Ending.
Lopes would test out material at local open mics, but was usually met with small crowds and confused faces. It was these small shows that ultimately led to his full potential. Slowly but surely he met fellow musicians who connected to what he was doing and offered their talents. Eventually, this ragtag group became Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers.
Going Viral on Accident
In the early months of 2018 the band started to hit its stride and was creating live renditions of Hobo’s tracks. Seeking a wider audience, Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers submitted a video entry into NPR’s Tiny Desk contest. The winner would be able to perform their own Tiny Desk Concert as part of NPR’s widely popular series. Sadly, HJ&L didn’t win the contest, but gained something much bigger. That submission video, a simple recording of the band in a backyard, would become a viral hit with over 14 million views on YouTube! Watch it below…
The song he submitted, Peach Scone, is both a song and an open letter to an unrequited love. It’s sad, funny and incredibly catchy. Parts of the song are spoken, others are screamed with the help of his band. Lopes eventually got the chance to perform the song in a Tiny Desk Concert and you can feel his excitement through the video.
Thanks to the viral submission, a few months later he was signed to Reprise Records of Warner Music Group. His first project under the label will be a follow-up to his self-made The Rise of Hobo Johnson. It seems that ‘rise’ was short-lived because in true HJ fashion, he titled the upcoming album, The Fall of Hobo Johnson, which releases sometime in August. Gotta love the kid’s humor.
His first single from The Fall, Typical Story, is a clear upgrade from his self-made work. It’s cleaner, louder and expertly produced. It seems he’s even embracing the rock-heavy aspect of his style, a slight shift from what we’re used to. We’d be happy if we get a mixture of classic Hobo and the improved version.
Hobo Johnson is an acquired taste, but it’s one you’ll savor for a long time to come. He’ll also be touring after the album release in The Tour of Hobo Johnson, with tickets available now. Be sure to read up on his previous work before The Fall of Hobo Johnson releases next month!