OPINION: The takedown of Hobo Johnson

Sacramento’s most popular rapper can’t really rap


Claire Morgan - The State Hornet

Hobo Johnson, right, really named Frank Lopes, poses with bandmate Derek Lynch in a photo taken for a previous State Hornet story.

The dude just has no rhythm.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, I have to say that I am not trying to wish Frank Lopes or any of his bandmates ill will. Congrats on the success!

I sure don’t get it though.

Since Hobo Johnson’s rise to semi-stardom in Oak Park, now buoyed by his NPR Tiny Desk Concert music video, which currently boasts four million plus views, I can’t contain my genuine perplexity at the prospect.

Like, this is the big Sacramento artist right now?

My critiques of Hobo Johnson can be categorically summed up into two discrete points — his technical clumsiness, and more importantly, the wheedling attitude behind the rhymes.

When a friend of mine showed me “Dear Labels” a year ago, I anticipated a criticism of a bloated, too often myopic industry that has a habit of overlooking quirky artists such as Hobo Johnson.

Or maybe I didn’t know what I was expecting, but I know that it wasn’t a transparent attempt at begging for sympathy and pleading with corporations for fame and money.

The message is this: “No, listen, I’m just such a nice guy that I deserve to be picked up by a major record label after just two albums (the first of which had such a lukewarm reception that it is hardly mentioned alongside “The Rise of Hobo Johnson”) and by the way I love my mom.”

He actually says “Pay my rent and I’ll sell you my soul.” At least he’s honest.

I’m not sure why he feels the need to beg when, according to “Demarcus Cousins and Ashley,” both him and his mother are pretty sure he’s going to be “a somewhat successful rapper.”

I might have forgiven Hobo Johnson’s inability to find the beat if it weren’t for those slimy, sycophantic lyrics.

But Hobo Johnson doesn’t stop there. While he not only slithers about to garner pity and sympathy from record labels, much of his music suggests that he does the same thing for the attention of women.

His Tiny Desk video, “Peach Scone,” is essentially an extended narrative about Hobo himself attempting to get with a friend of his who is in a relationship, trash talking her boyfriend, and making himself out to be the victim in some twisted parody of friendzone edgelording.

The guy’s got terminal-stage nice guy syndrome. You know it’s bad when you have to describe yourself as a “good kid.” 

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And for whatever reason, media outlets have been taking the bait since his rise, describing Hobo Johnson as “self-deprecating” and “bullsh*t free,” despite the obvious self-serving bent to his songwriting.

It should be said that the charm of his ‘authentic’ stumbling over lyrics and ‘down to earth’ awkwardness fade quickly, too.

All too often, Hobo Johnson chooses to cut the backing track completely to allow for an a capella rap.

This is a bad idea for a rapper when the rapper in question lacks an internal metronome — the result is word salad.

Rhyming “Fat Joe” with “cardio” with “doctor though,” Hobo Johnson’s lyrics range from mildly amusing to essentially inane.

Someone please tell me what “Parents just don’t understand / Except for Will Smith, he’s got a great understanding” is supposed to mean. Please.

With so many other talented upstart musicians in Sacramento (I think first of singer-songwriter Jessica Malone, recently named artist of the year by Sacramento News & Review, or the incredibly talented but still quite underground funk-fusion musician Brandy Robinson, or the soon-to-be-defunct post progressive group A Lot Like Birds), I expect a little more out of a local rising star.

I have to give credit where credit is due, though. “I love you like the Kings love to lose” will always be hilarious.