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Rhyming is a Girl’s Best Friend: Hopie Spitshard rips through the repetitive rap repertoire and hip-hop’s stereotypes

By Jessica Barcenilla, Photos by Kirstina Sangsahachartfeatures
Sep 3, 2008 - 3:20 PM



San Francisco-based emcee Hopie Spitshard is out to prove that she's more than just a pretty face.


"People see diamonds as this beautiful, delicate gemstone, but it's really strong as fuck— it can cut through glass and withstand years of wear without losing its shine." -- Hopie Spitshard


Hopie Spitshard's solo debut The Diamond Dame is available on iTunes and at select retailers.

Kae Hope Ranoa has just come home from her daily 9 to 5 at a legal office—the full-time job is temporary for the summer before starting her second year of law school at UC Hastings. The apartment in San Francisco’s Excelsior District is creatively comfortable and unconventionally charming. Smiling faces in framed photographs line the hallway walls hanging opposite of a Doze Green poster. In the next room, I’m caught off guard by the two old-school boom boxes, stacked small one on top of the big one, next to a huge TV and video games. The bookshelves that line the perimeter of the kitchen and living room balance out the urban, avant-garde dwelling.

“Those really work, too,” she says, pointing to the boom boxes with a mischievous smile. Sizing up the setting, I’m curious about her interest in education as much as her other passion—rhyming.

The 24-year-old college graduate is better known as Hopie Spitshard, a hungry female emcee out to prove that she is more than just a pretty face. On her recently released—and aptly-titled—full-length debut, The Diamond Dame, she combines the perfect balance of female braggadocio and rugged intelligence.

“People see diamonds as this beautiful, delicate gemstone, but it’s really strong as fuck,” Hopie says. “It can cut through glass and withstand years of wear without losing its shine.”

Listen to "Supernova" ft. EyeASage

Listen to "Yummy"

Produced entirely by Vallejo producer DJ 6Fingers, The Diamond Dame reveals Hopie’s real-life experiences and struggles at a glance, without burdening the album with a sob story or a forced message. Through her rough, raw, crafty and often humorous lyrics, she captivates listeners without leaning towards objectified sexual exploits. Hopie gives a voice to many voiceless young women who love hip-hop and are unapologetic about their take-no-shit attitudes as they climb their way up the double standard success ladder of the music industry.

“The females are the ones that show me the most love, which is hella fresh because that was 100 percent opposite of what I thought was going to happen, but that's who I make my music for,” Hopie says.

As an independent artist and emcee in the music industry, Hopie’s odds are against her, especially in hip-hop, but her assiduous ambition in scholastics and creativity is enough to inspire anyone who understands the politics and pressure for success for minorities of race and gender.

“As a woman of color, I feel you need all that shit in your arsenal," she says. "As many degrees as you can get, as many credentials as you can get, I feel that you should get it, because I'm a brown, short-ass woman of color. I feel like I need all kinds of tools in my tool kit."

Although Hopie’s list of accomplishments is intimidating, she is genuinely humble. “Just have a conversation with me girl, I’m just kickin’ it now. I got off work early and shit!” Rubbing her tired eyes, she heads to the fridge for a Modelo and begins to describe her childhood.

Her family came to San Francisco when she was three, leaving her birthplace of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Her parents later divorced, forcing Hopie to move around San Francisco and Daly City. Music was the only constant in Hopie’s life.

“I learned how to play instruments in elementary school. I sucked, but it was good because I learned how to read music, write music, write notes and practice everyday,” she says. “I had those building blocks so when I go in the studio now, I know to be like, ‘Lets do it this way and that way, lets have it on every 18th note.’”

Her musical tastes varied greatly in genre, citing Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Cream as influences as much as 2Pac, Lauryn Hill, Nas and Outkast. She started writing raps when she was 11 years old, finding solace in the written and spoken word, using it as an escape mechanism of sorts.

In high school, she spent more time in the parking lot with b-boys and aspiring rappers than going to the mall. Freestyling after school in parking lot rap battles with her friends was the norm for Hopie, but pursuing rap seriously was an accidental discovery.

“Have you ever been to Great America?” she asks holding back her laugh. “So they had this karaoke thing where you pay $20 and you record a track with your friends. We did ‘Waterfalls’ and I was Left Eye and we sounded really terrible, but when my part came on I sounded like her.”

“I was like ‘Holy shit! This is doable! … I was under the impression that to rap you had to have this burly-ass voice and you had to sound like a dude,” she says. “But [Left Eye] hella sounded like herself, so I was like, okay, maybe I could rap.”

Her first recordings were done at friends’ houses. “They used to EQ my voice and put hella bass on it, try to really ‘man’ me up. It wouldn’t sound like me at all, it sounded like a chopped and screwed me. It took me a while to get comfortable with my voice.”

The revelation of talent and voice broadened Hopie’s musical horizons. While in college, she joined a rock/pop cover band as the vocalist, which had a monthly gig at a downtown San Francisco bar and gave Hopie the necessary experience in performing. While in the band, she continued doing side projects and performing at open mics. “It all disciplined me to be able to sit down and write an album later on in life,” Hopie says.

Hopie later joined a group called The Wrong Hands with producer Nero Caesar, releasing the full-length We All Fall earlier this year. Although the duo has since split over creative differences, Hopie’s involvement in The Wrong Hands caught the attention of Vallejo producer 6Fingers.

“I actually heard Hopie’s feature on this one cat’s demo. I was like, ‘Who’s that?’” 6Fingers says. He looked her up on MySpace and one particular track titled “Girlfriendzilla,” off of We All Fall, drew him in. “I was like, ‘I need to do something with this chick!’” he says. “I drove all the way out to San Jose to watch her perform. I felt like a talent scout or an A&R, which was weird, because I have never did that before.”

6Fingers approached her, introduced himself and came right out asking her if she wanted to do a feature on a track. “I believed in Hopie from the first time I heard her spit,” he says. “It started with one verse, but I knew I wanted to do more. So I designed a beat just for her.”

The first track 6Fingers did for Hopie, titled “The Hopie Spitter,” was the deciding factor in a full-length collaboration.

“Not too many females get their proper respect regardless of how talented they are, or some people just don’t want to hear a female rap. So I was like fuck that, this female emcee is raw and I’m gonna do all I can to prove people wrong,” 6Fingers says.

The distance and recording process were slight shortcomings in the production of the album, with Hopie living San Francisco and 6Fingers in Vallejo. They exchanged verses and beats through emails and the album was recorded in a laundry room.

“That’s the way shit is. A lot of people have these misconceptions about the rap world, like it’s so super glamorous. It’s really not,” Hopie says. “I was rapping to a washing machine to a nylon pantyhose pop-stopper. I still have yet to be in a multi-million dollar studio.”

Hopie wrote The Diamond Dame in eight months. “It is really a snapshot of a time in my life,” she says. “I took a year off school and I was just fuckin’ partying. I was chillin’ here at the house, having a lot of fun and that’s where I started the album. Then I started law school and I just sunk into this really dark place, because it was really hard. I had to put my social life on hold and it makes you doubt yourself seriously. Parts of the album I was in this carefree place and parts of it I was in this really moody, ugly place.”

Questions loomed around the motives behind 6Fingers producing Hopie as a breakthrough artist. She addresses these rumors—exaggerated hearsay, inevitable in male/female business partners—on “Supernova,” one of the album’s standout tracks and working title of her follow-up full-length.

“’Supernova’ is a big fuck you to everyone who was like, ‘Hey you're a chick but you're getting free beats and shit, what's going on?’” Hopie says. “As a female in music, especially in rap, you spend hours with somebody and people think that something is going on. I've had so many times that I’ve worked with people and they end up telling me, ‘Hey my girlfriend says I can't work with you anymore.’ Or they catch feelings or end up not being able to work with you. 'Supernova' is saying: ‘Hey, can we just make music? You make beats and I rap, can it just be that simple?’”

Razor-sharp, witty raps roll off easily for Hopie, yet expressing personal emotion in writing proved difficult. The track "Hopie Smile" is dedicated to her father, touching on family issues and her upbringing.

“I'm not very emotional and I don't talk about my feelings too much,” Hopie says. “I had to dig deep and tap into what it was like growing up poor with my dad. The challenge was very cathartic but it was like a form of therapy to be able to actually put that out into the world and then have such a great response from it.”

The gloomy weather begins to offset the panoramic view from the third floor of Hopie’s apartment. She blows smoke from the open window while looking down at a group of kids across the street; the youngest is lying on the dirty sidewalk crying and the other is holding his arm up, dragging him inside the laundromat while the others just watch.

“What the hell?” Hopie smirks in a half-laughing, half-disgusted tone. “I hate that shit! Where’s their parents?”

She finishes her cigarette and closes the window. Hopie admits that she used to be wary about asking for help, even when she felt like giving up on school. It took a bit of convincing from her friends EyeAsAge and Bambu, whom she also considers a mentor, to continue going to law school. It was a humbling moment for Hopie, being that she would usually take advice with a grain of salt. “Bambu just told me, ‘As a woman of color, you should complete it.’ He looked just disappointed and he was like, ‘You know what, I am not even gonna tell you how I feel about it.’ That is all he had to do.”

Vicissitudes aside, Hopie pulls wisdom from all experiences and comes back stronger. Her work and music reflects much strength and elegance. Her unique confidence and determination is admirable—ample motivation for a generation of dynamic, independent, opinionated females in hip-hop. She is a creature of growth who constantly seeks progression and perfection. An Aqaurius through and through, she will not settle until everything is in place.

“It’s all progressive, I don’t even know if I’m comfortable now,” she says. “I’m really proud of my album, but I’m already looking to the next album. I’m already thinking, ‘How can I take this a step further?’”

********

Jessica is a 22-year-old pirate-mouthed, chain-smoking insomniac. Indulgences include: shoes, dope art, live music/shows, cheap beer, expensive liquor, drunken banter and bootleg snacks. Oh, and the daily chuckler.

Kirstina Sangsahachart is a freelance contributor to Oh Dang!



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Dope piece. I know she's worked mad hard top get where she is, it good see a female MC being recognized for the work they put in to their art and not how much skin they show on their cover.

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