Spoken word, poetry, rap and hip-hop have been inexorably linked since the beginning. Though the earliest form of MCing was often more hypeman than poet, over the years, the level of lyrical technique and its importance in hip-hop has waxed and waned. The definition of hip-hop itself has been stretched so wildly over the last decade that almost anything can be called hip-hop. As a result, browsing through lists of rap shows in the area may bring up a curious group, Hobo Johnson and the LoveMakers.
The band look and sound more like an indie group than a hip-hop band, but their front man brings a unique dynamic to the group not seen often in today’s musical landscape. Though the music of Hobo Johnson and the LoveMakers may not sound like hip-hop upon first listen, the story of Hobo Johnson, born Frank Lopes, Jr., is as hip-hop as any come up.
In 2015, when he was 19 years old, Lopes was kicked out of his parent’s Sacramento house, and lived in his car. His first album, released the same year and titled, Hobo Johnson’s 94 Corolla is named after his home at the time. His next project was released on Reprise Records, in 2017, titled The Rise of Hobo Johnson. But most people will not have heard about him until the year after.
Each year, thousands of bands and artists submit music videos to compete in National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Contest. The winner of the contest is granted the opportunity to perform a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C. These entries are almost impossible to avoid when the season comes around, but this year, one entry made a bigger impact than any other. Hobo Johnson and the LoveMakers released the music video and Tiny Desk Contest entry for “Peach Scone” on March 7, and it quickly garnered millions of views, even shooting the group’s latest album onto the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
The success of “Peach Scone” and a few of the singles that followed in the same style propelled Hobo Johnson across the internet. The spoken word/hip-hop hybrid resonated with enough people, and the band decided to tour North America. This tour led the California-based group to The Fillmore in Silver Spring, a 2000-capacity venue, for the band’s first-ever performance on the east coast on November 13. Though the venue was far from full, the hundreds who came were excited and enthusiastic for the entire evening. The openers of the tour, especially Oliver Tree, deserve more background than will be provided here, but needless to say, the quirky opening set went over well with Hobo’s eccentric audience.
When Hobo Johnson finally took the stage, he was already barefoot, with a hood tightened firmly around his face. The rest of his band played him in with their blend of rock and folk instrumentation that varies based on the subject of the lyrics. Often providing backup vocals, the LoveMakers are an essential part of much of the show, but the focal point for the audience is clearly Hobo Johnson’s words and performance. His verbose passages are recited word for word by the best of fans in the audience.
Hobo Johnson’s performance differs throughout the set, sometimes resembling the frontman of a loud rock band, shouting and chugging his electric guitar, and others sitting by himself with an acoustic guitar, or even accompanying himself on the piano. Lopes’ lyrics are essential to his works, and connect intimately with much of his audience. His various talents help him express these verses in the way that best suits them. His performance did, however, feature a variety of blunders and mistakes, many of which Hobo acknowledged and clearly was embarrassed by, which only served to endear the audience further to his persona.
Though he and his band did not end up winning the Tiny Desk Contest, NPR hosted the band’s own Tiny Desk Concert in September. Whether or not Hobo Johnson is hip-hop is irrelevant, there is clearly a lot to the words coming from the artist. It would be unfair to write Hobo Johnson off as a viral sensation. After all, there really is something to, “I love the thought of being with you, or maybe it’s the thought of not being so alone.” You almost wonder why no one said it out loud like that before.
These incredible photos from Hobo Johnson and the LoveMakers’s performance at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD, on November 13, 2018, were taken by StayUp.News senior content producer and photographer Jack M. Angelo: