Open Space: Jimmy Wopo

When you think Pittsburgh rap, names like Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller come to mind. The new kid making noise in the Iron City is 20-year-old Jimmy Wopo. Born and raised amidst the madness of Muney Lane, Wopo grew up engaged in paintball and BB gun wars while nurturing rap dreams.

“I was rappin’ all my life an’ shit,” says the artist whose breakout single “Elm Street” and recent Jordan Kobe mixtape have put him on the national map. (He recently landed a spot on our own list of 17 Emerging Artists to Watch This Summer and headlined his own Tidal-sponsored artist showcase in NYC.) While Wopo was in time we invited him over to MASS APPEAL HQ for an Open Space interview. After Wopo and his boys tore up some waffles with plenty of butter and syrup, we sat down to talk and learned that this is one artist who’s very focused on his goals: “I’ll be very disappointed if I ain’t rich, bro,” he explained.

Wopo and a few childhood friends got their first studio time in a church. “It was for church choirs and shit,” he explains, and was later opened up to local youth, which presented both an opportunity and a challenge: “We couldn’t cuss and shit,” Wopo recalls. “We went there a couple times, and we was sneakin’ the cuss words and shit, They didn’t like us and shit. They gon’ kick us out the studio.” That’s when they realized that without a budget for their own studio time, they would have to double down on their creativity. “We ain’t got no money,” he recalls telling his friends. “That made us even more creative: doing rap music without cussing. It’s metaphors—more bars. That’s how I had to do that shit when I first got in the studio.”

After dropping a few local hits, Wopo made a new for himself in Pittsburgh, but artists like Wiz still seemed larger than life. “Once I was old enough to start rapping, Wiz had already been a legend,” Wopo recalls. “He ain’t have to drop no more songs for real for real. He had shit on movies and shit. He been lit. When I was in placement [juvenile detention] and shit, he had the only songs we could listen to—Wiz Khalifa shit like “You Gon’ Miss This Plane” and shit. Wiz was big as hell to me.”

One of his friend’s mothers used to try and contact the Taylor Gang boss. “She would try to find Wiz, write him letters and shit,” Wopo recalls. “When we first started dropping our songs, she was writing him letters, like, ‘These boys is in the hood—come get ’em.'”

Wopo still respects Wiz as a big star, but now he can send him a DM on Twitter and get a reply. “It’s just like, ‘Damn, I’m really fuckin’ with Wiz, yo.” Like it’s regular for me to hit Wiz on the DM on Twitter, “Like yo, bro! Wassup” And he just hit me back!”

Moving forward Wopo plans to represent his city and show the best it has to offer—both for his own good and the good of all his friends who have been locked up or killed along the way. “I don’t know what people think Pittsburgh is, but we got everything you lookin’ for—just like everywhere else,” says Wopo. “You got good people, you got bad people. You got places to enjoy yourself, places not to enjoy yourself.”

With a little bit of success but no record deal on the horizon, Wopo now faces the challenge of raised expectations. “It’s hard feedin’ your peoples and dealin’ with emotions with motherfuckers who think you got more than you got,” he says. “Before you even get the full bag, they dippin’ in it. Before you even get the pie, they cuttin’ up slices.” He has gotten in trouble in the past trying to invest money into his music career. “I had to do what I knew best and this rap shit is what I knew best,” Wopo says. “I had to turn it to the next level to start makin’ paper out this shit.”

Jimmy Wopo does not seem to be afraid of hard work. And no matter what lies it ahead, it can’t be harder than what he’s overcome already. “I been through the war,” Wopo says, pointing to the scars of bullet wounds scattered over his young body. “You feel me? And this shit ain’t nothin’ to be proud of. I’m happy I’m smilin’,  but yeah I been through a lot of shit, bro. I ain’t trying to brag about that shit. A nigga can’t say I don’t deserve my time. I went through enough.” Check out the interview up top.

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