It didn't take long after Kendrick Lamar stopped the world in its tracks with his new song "Humble" before the comparisons started rolling in. To those who had been watching the rise of the talented Pittsburgh rapper Jimmy Wopo, that spare, clanging snap of a beat sounded awfully familiar: It was a lot like Wopo's buzzing hit "Elm Street." Wopo noticed the similarity, too, naturally, but he wasn't concerned.
"You definitely hear the sound in there," Wopo told me over the phone from Pittsburgh, where I interrupted him in the middle of shooting hoops with his brother. "A lot of niggas are like 'Mike Will got you, dog.' But I'm looking at it like, it's cool. Mike Will, he got me, but he's also given me beats. So it's not even nothing." Instead, the similarity gave Wopo an opportunity. For one thing, the comparisons undoubtedly brought a lot of people to the song for the first time. And for another, it sparked an idea for a "part two" beat that "Elm Street" producer Stevie B had sent Wopo a while earlier.
"At first I wasn't feeling [a part two], I was like I'm gonna leave that song alone, that's legendary, I'm not gonna touch that," Wopo said. "But then… the little Kendrick shit popped off, so I'm like 'oh, maybe I might want to use this beat.'" He had to come at it with a different idea from the first "Elm Street," though.
"I'm not about to get into no sucker shit to get into and try to sue the nigga or whatever," he explained. "I'm just gonna make some shit. I'm gonna renew the beat, too… Kendrick, he be all on that 80s shit, talking about what they did in the 80s and how they get it in. So I'm like, just to be exact, I was born in '97. It's not crack. It's heroin. The 80s is all the crack and stuff like that, so I had to tell him, my nigga, this beat that you jumping, this ain't crack, this heroin, my nigga. You feel me? I don't know if niggas are gonna catch it or not, but that's how that whole little concept of the song started out."
Sure enough, the sequel to "Elm Street," the video for which is premiering above, makes a point to mention the rapper's birth year, just as the first installment did. Also just like the first one, it features Wopo dipping and diving all over the beat, bending into its elastic sound with dexterity and enthusiasm. It's the rare "part two" that might actually improve on the original, as Wopo bops around with carefully enunciated conviction, offering up quips like "lil nigga ugly but they lovin' my appearance / lil nigga outchea really thuggin' with experience / 16 doin' my thing outchea fuckin' niggas' parents." That skill is no surprise to anyone who's been paying attention, though.
On songs like "Ayo" and "Back Door" (produced by Sonny Digital), Wopo has showed that he is one of rap's most electric new talents. Not unlike 21 Savage, whose song "No Heart" Wopo freestyled over to viral acclaim, or Detroit's Tee Grizzley, Wopo is part of a wave of new stylists who go for blunt force lyrical directness and embrace more stripped-down sounds than the maximalists of rap radio. However, unlike those contemporaries, Wopo comes at songs with more of a goofy enthusiasm, which, it quickly becomes clear from talking to him on the phone, stems from his personality. Jimmy Wopo is a natural entertainer, and it's going to be exciting to see where his talent takes him.
Fresh off the heels of his first hometown headlining gig—of particular note because his shows are often targeted by Pittsburgh police out of what appears to Wopo as racial bias—Wopo is getting ready to release a new tape, Jordan Kobe, on Monday, April 24. "Elm Street 2" is part of that project, along with a few already released tracks like "Bench Boy." Wopo promised that "You ain't gonna play that shit on some 'I just want to hear some music.' You gonna feel a type of way." The name Jordan Kobe, meanwhile, comes not just from the fact that Wopo considers himself a new young star in the game, like a combination of the two basketball greats, but also as a nod to his neighborhood.
"The projects where I'm from, my main little spot, my main little court where I be kicking it at, is 24-23. That's where I be," he explained. "That's my little block right there. That's the address we was at, so that shit means a lot to me. I lost a lot friends and went through a lot of shit, ya mean, off that lil block right there, so I fuck with that 24-23 shit. And it just took to my head one day, when I was like 'ooh, that's some shit right there, like Jordan Kobe, 24, 23.' I put it in a rap. I put it in the 'No Heart' shit. And after that I just ran with it."
The video for "Elm Street 2" takes us to Pittsburgh's projects as well, but, as Wopo notes, they are boarded up because the city is getting ready to tear them down. That means they make a compelling backdrop for the video's plot about kidnapping the cop from the first video and showing Wopo's alternate reality: "The 'jects is all wrecked out because the cops is getting treated now. Now we run the block, feel me?" As it turns out, Elm Street isn't a place in Pittsburgh but a horror movie reference. And given the way Wopo kills his bars, it makes absolute sense.
Check out the video for "Elm Street 2" above, and pre-order Jordan Kobe here.
Kyle Kramer is the features editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.