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    Hobo Johnson, from Tiny Desk to breakout success

    Hobo Johnson’s music blends hip-hop punk.
    Mike Miller
    Hobo Johnson’s music blends hip-hop punk.

    Hobo Johnson isn’t your typical rapper. With his band the Lovemakers, Johnson — a.k.a. 23-year-old Frank Lopes — blends hip-hop and punk with endearingly vulnerable lyrics, conversational delivery, and charm to create a sound all his own. These qualities were fully on display on “Peach Scone,” an ode to unrequited love Lopes submitted to NPR Music’s annual Tiny Desk Contest this past March. He didn’t win the grand prize — a showcase behind Bob Boilen’s coveted desk — but he got a decent consolation: the humble backyard performance went viral soon after posting. In the following months, the Sacramento rapper landed a deal with Warner Bros. Records, booked a national tour, and had his Nov. 12 Boston show moved from the Paradise Rock Club to House of Blues due to demand. Oh, and he played a Tiny Desk Concert after all in September; Boilen even made peach scones.

    Lopes has come a long way since dropping his 2015 debut mixtape while living in his car, and that fact isn’t lost on him. “You know when Spider-Man gets bit, and his uncle’s like, ‘Hey, you got a lot of responsibility’? It feels like that, because not too long ago, I was making sandwiches at a coffee shop, and now I’m running this crazy business that needs a lot of responsibility.” We caught Lopes on the road to learn how he has been processing his life-changing year.

    Q. How did you develop your spontaneous, off-the-cuff rapping style?


    A. I grew up only listening to hip-hop until I got a bit older, like 18 or 19, and I started listening to folk-punk music. My stepbrother showed me the Front Bottoms and Ramshackle Glory, and that inspired me to try a different approach lyrically and stylistically. Pretty sure that’s why my music sounds so weird.

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    Q. What were your expectations when you uploaded “Peach Scone” online?

    A. I expected it to do better than all of our other videos — whenever I watch it back, I knew that it was special — but nothing like this. I didn’t expect it to make our career or change my life. I expected everything to be this long grind where like, maybe in three years we’d have posted enough videos and something happens.

    Q. When did you realize it was going viral?

    A. I think when it went to 300,000 views in like a day and a half. We [the band] just started calling each other every few hours, being like, “Yo, it’s still going! Yo, it’s still going!” and it just continued to go for weeks.


    Q. Online virality seems tricky, because for all the positivity you receive, you also face a lot of criticism all at once. How have you been navigating the online world after being thrust into the spotlight?

    A. I think I’m a really sensitive person; if I wasn’t, the music wouldn’t be as effective. So it’s tough dealing with that, and I’m trying to get better at not searching my name on Twitter. It’s difficult, but you gotta understand that there are people at the end of my shows who say that they were going to kill themselves, and that this music saved their life. So whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed from people’s nonsense, I just think about that. Nothing else matters other than helping people.

    Q. What was finally playing Tiny Desk like? How were Bob’s scones?

    A. That was the most nervous I’ve been in a very long time. I freaked out during it a little bit; I’m usually a lot more animated and having a fun time. But to go there and see the desk and meet Bob, it’s something you never, ever forget in your whole life. Bob’s scones were good, but I was actually so full of adrenaline and anxiety that I couldn’t really eat them.

    Q. What have been some of the biggest takeaways from what you’ve experienced this past year?


    A. To be honest, a week before “Peach Scone,” I went into the Sacramento Kings corporate office and tried to get a job as an intern in basketball operations. It sucks when you try really hard and don’t get the outcome you expected, but then out of nowhere it happens, so I think that one of the takeaways is no matter what, at any time, it can just strike. Your life can change at any moment, and it’s hard but you have to just enjoy the journey of it.


    At House of Blues, Boston, Nov. 12. Tickets $25-$45,

    Interview was edited and condensed. Robert Steiner can be reached at