Hopsin is mid-sentence, talking about his plans to go out on tour with his Funk Volume labelmates Dizzy Wright and Jarren Benton later this year, when he stops himself and trails off. "My mom's calling me," he says, reaching into his pocket for his phone with a slightly embarrassed smile. "Sorry about that; she's feeding my turtles back in Los Angeles and she had to get in the gate and I had to buzz her in." Laughing, he acknowledges the absurdity of the interruption. "I don't want to leave her hanging; it rang two times and I don't want her waiting outside 'cause it's hot out there. She's an old lady." Still laughing, he keeps justifying the call, not that he needs to. "Hey, my turtles need to live, man. They got a life, too."

It's hard to imagine many other rappers who travel all across the country to promote their new album and still make time to personally manage the feeding schedule of their pet turtles. But with Hopsin, expecting the unexpected is just par for the course. The fiery MC from Los Angeles has been blazing his own independent trail through the hip-hop underworld for more than half a decade, after an ill-fated period on what remained of Eazy-E's Ruthless Records resulted in the creation of Hop's own record label, Funk Volume, in 2008. Now freshly 30 years old (his birthday was July 18), Hopsin is readying the release of Pound Syndrome, his third album for FV and his first since 2013's ill-fated Knock Madness. This time around, he's got a point to prove.

That chip on Hopsin's proverbial shoulder comes from his own feelings about Knock Madness, which he felt was rushed and, in his words, "wack." As a successful independent rapper with an even more successful independent label, by November 2013 he had found himself in a strange position both as a person and within the rap game, dealing with personal issues and the existential battle of trying to find a work-life balance while trying to continue to connect with his fans. A lackluster tour came and went after the album's release, followed by a prolonged hiatus punctuated last December, when he announced that he'd be retiring from the rap game to move to Australia, where his girlfriend lives. For many, it seemed like a strange way to go out but, with his history of talking about taking an extended hiatus from hip-hop, not entirely unexpected.

Luckily, Hop's "retirement" was part of a larger plan, and a week later he and Jarren Benton posted a video to YouTube that both revealed it to be a prank and also announced that Hopsin was plotting a new album, Pound Syndrome, for 2015. With the album just days away from its release date on July 24, XXL sat down with Hopsin to talk about his new LP, what he's learned since the release of Knock Madness, his place in the rap game and how to take care of a turtle. —Dan Rys

They're racing!

A video posted by Marcus Hopson (@hopsinson) on

XXL: How've you been lately?
Hopsin: I've been good. I've been working a lot doing a lot of stuff; TV shows, albums, music videos, juggling a girlfriend.

When did you first start working on Pound Syndrome?
Last Halloween is when I originally started it. It started as one song called "Pound Syndrome" and then I heard that my other labelmaters, Jarren Benton and Dizzy Wright, were making albums for 2015. So I was like, alright, I'ma make an EP, five songs, call it Pound Syndrome and just change the name of that one song. And then after talking to Dizzy Wright and Jarren I was like, man, they're doing full albums, I'm gonna look bad if I do a little EP. And then I just decided to make the full Pound Syndrome album.

Is there a lot of competition between you guys on Funk Volume?
No, it's not competition like that; if anything it's more motivation. If anyone days better than anyone else it's never like, "Ah, I'm gonna beat that person." It's more like more inspiration floating around.

Was there any single idea that you want to get across with the album?
It's just a dope album, nothing in particular where it's like I'm trying to change the world or anything like that. There are songs that may make people think a little differently, but it's just a dope album that people can vibe out to. I didn't really want to make a conscious album... It just has a mixture of everything. You got live songs on it, you got funny songs on it, you got dope ill songs on it, you got more bouncy songs on it, storytelling. There's just a mixture of everything.

You produced and engineered the whole thing, right?
Yeah, all by myself.

That's pretty rare.
Every song that I've ever put out that's been my original song has always been me; I never had any other producers come in. It's how I started and that's what I've been doing. I'm not against working with other producers but I just like to do it myself, and if people dislike my production or the producing I do it just makes me want to work even harder. I have a lot to learn still—I've been producing since I was like 16 years old—I know a lot as well, but I still have a lot to learn. If I make 15 songs or whatever, all of them may not be everybody's favorite; that's just how it is. But one of my personal goals is to make a whole album where everything is just super, super, super, super sick. So Pound Syndrome, this is one of those albums where we're gonna see how it does and then I'll just keep getting better and better.

How do you feel like you have gotten better since Knock Madness in 2013?
Well I feel like Knock Madness was wack, so I feel like Knock Madness wasn't me being better even though I could have done better. It was—I rushed it. There are some songs on it that I can stand behind and that are dope, but overall just the whole project as a whole just wasn't my best, and I knew that even before the album came out. So I don't like Knock Madness too much, 'cause I was just going through a lot of crap when I was creating that album.

This album is better than that album, for sure, and I think the first two singles are better than the first... I don't even know if there were two singles when I released Knock Madness. But it's better quality. It's still the same type of Hopsin overall—I didn't change—but there are some new things I did when I switch up the flow, and it's just delivered better.

hopsin pound syndrome album cover interview

Is that feeling of being rushed why you waited so long to announce a new project was on the way?
Yeah. I needed to study, I needed to do my homework and I needed to learn a few things on the engineering side of creating music. So that's what I did for a whole year; I just studied, studied, studied, learned how to do certain things, still doing it out of my own home. Then I got to a level where I felt comfortable enough to make a new album. I talked to other people, producers, engineers, looked up tutorials online, different plug-ins that they used for music, to-dos, what no to do. Now on the next album—'cause I already hear a lot of flaws, like, "Damn, I didn't get that as good as I wanted to," even though it's still good—it's just on the next album I'm gonna do even better now, talk to more advanced people because I understand it better now.

I just want to get to that point where I'm able to fully create music that's good lyrically and quality-wise as far as the way it's knocking and everything. So I'm still working on the mixing and the mastering to get the beats fully hitting. I think I make good beats but when it's not mastered correctly, it can definitely make it sound like it's not a good beat and that has been an issue sometimes with me in the past. So I just want to fix that so I can make a song that can bring out the true potential of every instrumental that I have.

Sometimes it's just the small things, too, like where something falls on the beat or where an instrument comes in.
Yeah, little small things like that can make a huge difference and taking some of that from producers and engineers who do it for bigger artists really helps. So that's what I plan to do for the next album. I haven't though about a next album, but I'm sure I'll get around to it.

But you're talking about a next album, at least. In the past, you've had that retirement video—
Yeah, I was joking with everybody with that. But I had to do that to announce the album.

Right. But I remember even before that, when you'd come to the office before Knock Madness thinking about a possible hiatus and things like that.
Yeah. I was talking about that because I was just going through so much where I didn't know who I wanted to be. I'm still kind of in that situation, but I understand a little more about myself now. But I just always wanted to get away. I don't like the idea of making money and not... I work so hard all the time, I'm always doing so much and I feel like my personal life just doesn't... Like, when you look at my personal life and you didn't know I was Hopsin you would never be able to tell. And I'm not saying I need gold chains and trophies like that, it's just, even my personal connection with people, I just felt like I was giving my all to the Hopsin world and me as a person, Marcus, I was getting... I'd just be home alone all the time like, "What is my life, dude? I just want to go away and run away to another place where I don't know anybody and I can just start a new life."

That's why I was doing the Australia talk. 'Cause I'll go out there, I know people out there, it's a cool place. My girlfriend lives out there actually so I go out there fairly often to see her. But yeah, I'm not gonna do the official move.

One of the toughest things for artists, but even for people like journalists, is trying to find the balance between constantly working and realizing, Okay, it's time to walk away for a minute and live life.
Exactly. 'Cause sometimes when you're working so much—especially if the money's good—you find yourself just [creating] so much. But then you're like, "Dude, I'm a robot right now, I haven't talked to any of my friends in forever," and you just ask yourself, "What am I doing? What is life? If I died right now, would I be happy that I went to work every single day and I never went out and had any real fun?" So it's like, you just gotta go out and live sometimes. So yeah, I'm still working on myself trying to find that balance, 'cause I haven't found it right now.

I think that balance for me—I've been thinking about it—would be to not put out albums and just put out songs, once a month put out a song and put my all into it. 'Cause when you make an album it's just so much energy, so much time. So if I make one song, make it dope and just put it out it would be like an individual project. Like how I do my "Ill Mind" series, just do it on a more regular basis and put my all into it. And there'll be some really good songs, some good quality, and over a year's time there will be 12 really good songs. But that would make me happier and it would give me a lot more time to have to myself. 'Cause I'm really good already at capitalizing off one song. [Laughs]

The entire "Ill Mind" series has millions and millions of views.
Yeah, so I'm really good at making a little career off of one song and I've learned how to do that. [Laughs] I'd rather do it that way. 'Cause I just look at it like, if every "Ill Mind" I've blown up even bigger off of, then why am I releasing an album? With every album it's almost like I get smaller somehow, like after Knock Madness, and then I put out an "Ill Mind" and I get bigger again. And it's because I put so much energy into that one song, like, "I'm gonna make this song the best, I'm gonna put all my energy into it, agh!" So I think the balance is one song a month. [Laughs]

That kind of plays into a line on "Fly" that stuck out to me, when you say, "It's time I become a real individual/And just do me." I feel like that aligns with what we're talking about.
It does, it does. All these ideas, people around us, things that we see, kinda makes us feel like we have to be somebody we're not. And no disrespect to you or to anybody, but I'm not this guy to be in New York City right now, going around, doing so many interviews back to back, walking around. I really just want to be at home. I love making music, but sometimes I just... 'Cause I don't get no sleep, I'm a zombie right now, I haven't eaten, I'd love to eat. It's just like, man, I just want to be at home, lay in my bed, chill with my dog and skateboard. Because when you work so hard, everyone around you... At the end of the day, everyone just wants the success and the paycheck that comes with that, so they're all trying to push towards that to get that. Which I understand, because I'm also trying to do that in a sense. But like you said, sometimes there's a limit and you gotta just stop and be like, "Yo, I gotta find a new balance 'cause this shit is just driving me crazy and I'm gonna shoot myself in the head."

Do you ever consider your place in the rap game or do you just not even think about that shit?
My place is... I don't know. I don't get mentioned in too many things that deal with hip-hop, really, because I'm not really friends with anybody. Not in the way where I'm enemies with them, I just don't meet people. My place is just... Hip-hop is like a... I do hip-hop music and I've gotten famous off of hip-hop music and I know that I'm successful and I've created my own definition of success, what success means to me. So the hip-hop world is all just really fake to me. What looks like success in the hip-hop world is all just fake to me. There's dudes that are successful right now that aren't making anywhere near the money that I'm making. But you could ask a random chick walking down the street, "Have you heard of this rapper?" "Yeah." "Have you heard of Hopsin?" "Who?" And that will happen, you know what I mean?

And I'm aware of how the whole system works, so I'm like, if they don't wanna mention my name in certain things or won't give me credit for the things I've done, it's just whatever. At the end of the day, I know people know about me and what I do they just won't acknowledge it in public. It is what it is. I'm living good. I would feel bad if I was not getting paid the money I deserve or if I only had 10 fans after all the shit I do and people are like, "That's the guy who never made it!" Then that would suck. [Laughs] But I do know that I can tour around the world and sell out shows and I get a lot of love from the fans. At the end of the day, I'm good. I understand. It's just all about the fans; I don't need their approval.

So in putting out this album, what would be success for you? Is it just about the fans and that they're happy? Is it a sense of accomplishment for yourself? It's not numbers, clearly.
No, it's not numbers; I always want to do better than I did last time, that is a goal. This is just to redeem myself from Knock Madness. That's how I look at it. I really don't like Knock Madness, the last album. So I just want to put this album out and do the tour for it and do better than I did last year. Because I was so mad at the album, I hated it. I hated it, didn't want to do the tour, didn't want to perform it, I was just so upset.

And I didn't want to die down as well. I didn't want to be like, "Damn, I used to have all these fans," telling a story about how I used to be popping and now I'm not. I don't want to lose the spark and let the fire die down and then try to light it back up and have somebody be like, "Aw, Hopsin, you've been gone for five years, bro, don't try to come back!" I would hate to tell that story, like, "Hey, I used to be big, bro, people knew me, I could tour here!" [Laughs] But just talking to people around me, I do have the opportunity that so many people don't have. There's so many rappers out there that would love to be in my shoes and I just gotta make the most of it. But I still gotta make it comfortable. But yeah, I just want to give it another run because I don't want anything to die down. I do have money right now, but it can definitely go away. [Laughs]

What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year?
Just the Funk Volume Tour that we're doing, me, Jarren Benton and Dizzy Wright and DJ Hoppa, we're all going out in September on tour until November. Just want to do the tour and make a crazy live tour and... Just give the fans something they've never seen before. And just have fun.

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