San Francisco MC Hopie (real name Kae Hope Ranoa) has been a fixture in the underground hip hop scene since her first release, The Diamond Dame, in 2008, which immediately earned her placement in URB’s Next 1000. After her first release, she put aside music to get her law degree from U.C. Hastings, emerging only to create a t-shirt line with popular Bay Area streetwear brand, Adapt, and perform at Paid Dues 2010. In 2011, Hopie returned to the music scene with two independent albums: Dulce Vita (February 2011) and Raw Gems (September 2011), both produced by The Diamond Dame producer, 6Fingers (Vallejo, CA). Hopie has collaborated with some of the most exciting names in underground hip hop, including MURS, Exile Radio, LuckyIAm, Psalm One, Chuuwee, and Bambu, and has been mentored by and worked closely with Del the Funky Homosapien. Hopie's fourth album, Sugar Water, is slated for release in Fall 2012.
“There's drama, for sure, but what I really enjoy is...do you wanna try this?” As San Franciscan rapper Hopie begins explaining the dynamic of the Bay Area hip hop scene, she interrupts herself to offer me a taste of her butter fish in a fragrant miso sauce, pointing to her plate with a pair of chopsticks. It's only about ten minutes into our interview, but there's something so instantly warm and familiar about the exchange, that it feels more like catching up with an old friend rather than an interview one of the most exciting female hip hop artists to emerge in recent years. On paper, it's hard not to feel intimidated by everything the rapper has accomplished so far in her career—she's already collaborated with some of underground hip hop's most notable artists (like Del the Funky Homosapien, Psalm One, and MURS), she's on the verge of releasing her fourth project, Sugar Water (due out in Fall 2012), with another project already nearly completed...oh, and she's about to study to take the Bar (she already has a Doctor of Law degree in Public Interest Law from UC Hastings).
But despite all of these accomplishments, Hopie, whose real name is Kae Hope Ranoa, things haven't always gone her way. Born in Manila, Philippines, her and her parents moved as political refugees to San Francisco's Sunset District when she was just three years old. “We grew up kind of poor, and my family life was really crazy. My parents weren't a good match, there was alcoholism, domestic violence...throughout all that, I had to grow up really face. I didn't have a lot of wiggle room to be a child,” Hopie recalls. She ended up turning to hip hop as an outlet, starting with spoken word poetry in high school and eventually performing as a rapper. When I ask if she'd ever stop rapping and pursue a career in law, she reveals, “I hate myself when I don't write music, because I don't express myself. I feel like shit, act like shit, treat other people like shit. I can't really live without music. I don't think I'm ever gonna stop rapping, even if I'm done putting out albums.”
Thankfully, there's no sign of Hopie not putting out albums in the near future—in fact, she has two albums in the release pipeline. The first is Sugar Water, set to be released in the Fall, and the second is Emerald City, a concept album/musical based on “The Wizard Of Oz,” and recorded in stereo 3D (“it's fucking phenomenal!” she gushes). It's hard not to get caught up in her enthusiastic energy when she speaks about creating music.
When I ask her about Sugar Water, her face instantly lights up as she explains, “I'm so excited about it! It's different from my other albums in that I work with numerous amounts of producers. I have so many producer friends, but never worked with them, so I finally tapped into those resources. I had to challenge myself to work outside of my comfort zone, and with new people. This one doesn't have a theme [last year's Dulce Vita had a 50's theme], it's just me. I'm excited, nervous, and it's gonna be fun to put out!” And the album title? “It comes from the idea that water is fundamental, it's a life source,” she explains. “And you have sugar, and it cheapens it. It's artificial. It cheapens that life source. Also, it's something I used to drink because I grew up poor. I used to have a mayonnaise sandwich and sugar water in a brown bag to mimic an actual lunch, instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Capri-Sun. It's just like taking the most basic, life-giving elements (water, lunch, childhood), and cheapening it. It's very personal, drawing on emotions and experiences that you have to look at twice to grasp the depth or cheapening of.”
Though she hasn't achieved mainstream hip hop success just yet, Hopie doesn't let this discourage her drive. “There are a million rappers out there,” she explains. “Everyone I know is a rapper; people don't have to support me. But if someone tells me, 'I love your album, song, or video,' that's love. I don't do that for Nas. Or tell Jay-Z, 'Hey, Jay-Z, I really loved your rap!' But if someone goes out of their way to tell Hopie, 'I love that song you wrote,' why would I stop? I'm used to doing things on my own, and being by myself. I walk around by myself all the time, I write music by myself...but having people support me, why would I ever quit? I'm not gonna stop. I'm gonna keep on growing as an artist, I owe it to people, I can't keep putting out the same thing.”