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Hopsin shoots from the hip at rap's ruling class 

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If the future belongs to the bold and brash, that bodes well for Hopsin, whose teeth-baring irreverence toward rap's royalty is practically his calling card. After stringing up Drake and slagging Lil Wayne among others on 2010's "Sag My Pants," he steps up his targeting on "Hop Is Back," off the new album, Knock Madness.

The track smokes Kanye West's Yeezus: "You think you God now you half-assin rap, little faggot bitch, perhaps you suffered brain damage back when you had that accident?" Then it's on to Kendrick Lamar, affecting a fan-boy's voice in proclaiming how he's raised the bar, only to dismiss him: "[He's] like 4-foot-3, the guy's a fucking midget, his high is still really short to me."

Hopsin isn't the only one who feels that Kanye has fallen off and Kendrick's hype is overheated. So someone has to call them out on it, right?

"That's exactly how it is," Hopsin laughs. "People don't understand. They get it all twisted."

Born Marcus Jamal Hopson, the L.A. rapper drew his initial inspiration from Eminem, whose phrasing and flow he sometimes recalls. He's also fond of sinister synths and graphic aggression that's reminiscent of Detroit's dark-rap godfather Esham, who happens to have been one of Eminem's influences as well. For Hopsin, the harsh, hot-headed demeanor is just part of being Hopsin.

"It's the art of rapping to me," he says. "I'm not a crazy violent person or anything like that; it's just I like competitive rap. I'm sure there are nice boxers, genuinely nice people but when they're fighting, it's, 'Fuck you, we're in the battlefield now.'"

Hopsin got off to a slow start when Ruthless Records dropped the ball on his debut Gazing at the Moonlight, and he had to force his way free of the label. He ultimately found sympathetic spirits in Tech N9ne's camp and success with his 2010 album Raw on his own label, Funk Volume. He wasn't necessarily prepared for how it would change his life.

"It's nothing on the Justin Bieber level but I sure have my own level to it. It can get weird, the whole lifestyle that this all brings. There is a dark side to it," he says, complaining how hard it is to separate friends from bandwagon-jumpers, a subject of the gospel-tinged "Gimme That Money." "I'm at that point now where everybody has their hands out wanting something. It drives me insane."

What ultimately works best about Knock Madness is how its humor and pop hooks complement the hard edge of Hopsin's character. Even the album's solitary love song, "Good Guys Get Left Behind," is humorously candid: "Cry, I'll no longer be ya tissue that you can wipe with," he raps. "You get screwed so much I'm thinking that you like it."

Dark, angry hip-hop may be what Hopsin does, but there are still times when he steps out of character.

"When you have your own studio at home, sometimes you want to make weird stuff that doesn't make any sense. You do it just for the sake of, like, 'Let me make a song that Justin Timberlake would make.' But I would never put that out as Hopsin because that would just ruin the whole thing."

scene@csindy.com

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