Tito Lopez’s “Mama Proud” has that rough, bubbling with passion intensity symptomatic of MCs too big for their hometown, but maybe a little too ragged to really break through. We’ll see. “Mama Proud” currently sits at No. 91 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Much of the song’s charm comes from realizing that there is absolutely nothing cool about it. This is some stridently traditional hip-hop, with a beat that’s thoroughly boom-bappy though foggy enough to swirl around like the smeary R&B that’s all the rage right now, and on the hook, the Gulfport, Mississippi rapper intones, “I just want my momma to be proud of me, that’s all I want,” which is devastating and adorable, and kind of badass, all at once. Lopez has been co-signed by Dr. Dre, and he’s got a mixtape out called The Hunger Game, though for right now, I just want to him exist as the maker of this moving little rap song.
Like many debut singles from buzzing rappers that might not make it, it is a song about making it, though the stakes for how making it are charmingly provincial. Superstardom is secondary to mom’s approval. And maybe it’s finally the right time for a guy like Tito Lopez to break through. Dr. Dre’s approval, and Lopez’s out of nowhere rappin’ ass rapper reputation reminds me of Kendrick Lamar, an oddball whose buzz in part hinges on rap being so busted open and confused right now that eccentricity is no longer a liability. A few years ago, a buggy personality like Lamar and a worker-bee sincerest like Lopez would’ve been permanent Detox benchwarmers like Bobby Creekwater, Joell Ortiz, or Bishop Lamont. Indeed, Lamont’s 2008 single “Grow Up,” seems like a sincere, smarmy cousin to “Mama Proud.”
This is regular guy rap powering up, skipping a few levels, and bounding straight into the mainstream. As a rapper, Lopez finds the room to explore some creative, dude-with-a-note-pad one-liners like, “Fuck the planet if they don’t understand it,” and “Pops gave me that belt, I guess that mean I’m champ then, right?,” which is downright OutKast-ian in its ability to highlight the ways that pleasure and pain are inextricably tied in Southern living. “Mama Proud” ‘s Southern gothic-meets-Juvenile’s “Ha” aesthetic music video invokes G-Side’s “Came Up,” while comparisons to fellow Mississippian and swaggering sweetheart Big K.R.I.T. are inevitable. Is this radio rap’s Foster the People to new underground hip-hop’s Animal Collective? Perfume Genius by way of Gotye? It doesn’t really matter. Like those goofy, great, chillwave co-op pop hits, “Mama Proud” remains an anomaly, slowly but surely crashing through radio playlists. It’s a deeply moving, rarefied fly in the ointment to rap radio. We can use more of those.