Sacramento rapper Hobo Johnson has made a name for himself locally in recent years — but this week he’s found a new legion of fans with his video entry to NPR’s 2018 Tiny Desk Contest.
It’s been viewed 3 million times (and counting) on Facebook in less than a week.
The submission, which went live on March 7, is an outdoor performance of the song “Peach Scone” with backing band the Lovemakers. He begins the video by asking, “What up, Bob?” — presumably calling out NPR Music’s Bob Boilen — then casually shifts into his conversational rap style.
NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest is open to undiscovered musicians throughout the country. Contestants have to record a video performance of an original song, and a panel of judges picks a favorite, who will then get to play the NPR Tiny Desk and go on tour.
In the song, Hobo Johnson asks himself why he’s pursuing a relationship with a woman who has a boyfriend — is it love, or “maybe it’s the thought of not being so alone,” he asks.
“The second one’s way sadder than the first one,” he concludes.
Hobo Johnson, aka 20-something Oak Park resident Frank Lopes, is no stranger to “viral” videos — just not on this level. A series he released on YouTube in 2016 called “Live from Oak Park” significantly raised his profile in Sacramento.
Up until that time, his success had been modest. He’d known since his mid-teens that he wanted to make music, but it wasn’t until a few years later that he was inspired to pursue it as a career. Lopes told Capital Public Radio’s Insight with Beth Ruyak in a 2017 interview that the spark was a presentation from the Auburn Hip Hop Congress, which he saw while serving time in juvenile hall after a troubled junior year of high school.
“No, I’m not going to get a job, I’m not going to try to go to school,” he said in the interview. “I just want to be a musician.”
Lopes says he was living out of his 1994 Toyota Corolla when he recorded his first album. During that time the name “Hobo Johnson” originated, a moniker that he said came on a whim “out of a bag in my brain.”
You can catch Hobo Johnson perform March 21 at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco and May 12 at Ace of Spades in Sacramento. He'll also be doing a DJ set April 6 at Holy Diver.
The NPR Tiny Desk Contest is open through March 25. The winner will be announced on April 24.
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