Jimmy Wopo’s Dedication Is Why No One Can Stop His Rise To The Top
Photography by Ryan Mayle
Jimmy Wopo, a rapper from Pittsburgh’s Hill District, found himself in defense of his music and his image at a Mac Miller concert at Stage AE on the North Side last September. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the concert hosts, Promo West and Stage AE, put their heads together and told Wopo that he was too high risk to perform at the show, denying his performance.
So, I wrote a reactionary article for the InTheRough youth publication about how unfair the police acted in cancelling Wopo’s rap show, a phenomenon that occurs with other black rappers in other cities throughout the U.S. and abroad. I pulled my sword and slayed in the name of hip-hop as an art form that reflects people’s environments and society overall, not a call for senseless, violent acts brought about by rap lyrics or rap videos.
However, post-piece, it is necessary to play devil’s advocate. Perhaps we need to ask hip-hop artists if they feel responsible for any of the drug abuse or violence that occurs in black communities and in the music scene. Though black people are victimized, our peril does not solely come from systematic racism. We need to be accountable for our own actions, too.
To quickly get a feel for the rapper, watch Wopo’s videos on YouTube. But for a brief scene, his video for “Root of Evil” (which contains a disclaimer for viewers) features cuts of him and his squad with their shirts off in a studio bopping around, brandishing assault rifles and pistols. It is a tune about growing up with nothing in the hood and then taking everything.
“Money lane, bitch we selling ‘caine and making music, too. Money Lane, that’s my fucking gang and my music group,” Wopo raps in “Root of Evil.”
A close listen to the song will allow hip-hop fans to understand that Wopo is telling a tale. He speaks to an accurate depiction of what life is like for some people, sitting on stoops and corner stores, strapped with a gun selling drugs just to make a buck.
Wopo’s manager, Taylor Maglin, notes that his dedication to his art is only growing as his influence grows.
“It’s not easy putting out consistent interviews, label meetings, traveling, and shows, but Wopo has transitioned well,” Maglin said. “Anything to further his career, Wopo is ready to take on.”
Watch Wopo’s 3 million plus viewed “Elm Street”
Yet, with Wopo’s increasing dedication and influence, illustrated by the millions of video views he has racked up, some, like the police, would say his music influences people’s risky behavior on the streets.
Instead of furthering my pontification, let’s let Wopo speak for himself. In the interview below, Wopo speaks about how he perceives his own music and how he has cultivated musical success in Pittsburgh.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility to the music community as a mentor and as a young African American male who is finding success?
Yes I do. I’m trying to help show the kids there are ways to make their situation better through music.
While your lyrics are a reflection of your urban Pittsburgh environment, how do you feel responsible to the community when you speak about drugs and violence? Do you see yourself as a role model?
Yes, but I’m talking about what I went through growing up. We are trying to make it out of here with the music. You can only stay alive for so long doing that street shit.
What does a gun mean to you?
I use it for protection.
Why do you think the police, or white people, have a problem with or are afraid of your music?
Police just don’t understand us, and they don’t take the time to put themselves in our environment, but I got a lot of white fans and they ain’t afraid of my music.
How do you feel about black-on-black violence?
We need to put an end to it. I’ve seen enough people die around me. We need to put shit to the side and focus on how we are going to put food on the table and better our communities.
Tell me two things the streets can teach a person…
Who is really loyal and enjoy the time with your people because tomorrow ain’t promised for anybody.
Explain the evolution of Pittsburgh’s hip-hop scene…
I remember artists like Joe Beast from The Hill District who had a shot. Then you got artists like Mac and Wiz who took their music all the way to the top. That’s how I’m trying to this, I’m not a one hit wonder, I’m in the studio constantly working on my music and perfecting it.
Can you reach your musical potential here in Pittsburgh or do you find yourself wanting to drop roots in other cities across the country?
The city has been good to me with a lot of great people and artists, but you have to branch out and connect with artists and situations outside of the city to really make an impact.
What venue in Pittsburgh has supported you the most?
Devils & Dolls, but I think eventually these venues are going to realize how much money they’re missing out on by not booking me.
What does Pittsburgh have to gain from Jimmy Wopo?
I’m going to bring the focus back to the city. Musically, we have a lot of talent here. I’m trying to see everybody win.
Listen to Jimmy Wopo’s “Jordan Kobe” album here: