Not very long after releasing his third studio album Knock Madness in November of 2013, Hopsin took a lot of fans aback with news that he would be retiring from rap and moving to Australia. That headline turned out to be a joke, and in 2014 when he announced the coming of his next studio album Pound Syndrome, people everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. If you look at his past, Hopsin is something of a dynamo. An aspiring rapper since childhood, Hopsin (also known as Marcus Hopson from Panorama City, Los Angeles) had a brief and minor acting career and was signed to Ruthless Records, the imprint made famous by N.W.A, before starting his own label Funk Volume in 2009. Today the label boasts some of hip hop’s brightest young talents including producers Kato and DJ Hoppa and emcees Jarren Benton, Dizzy Wright and SwizZz, the last three of whom all appear on Pound Syndrome as guests. Famous for advanced lyricism and delivery, eye-opening concepts and content, and self-produced albums preferring electro-rock guitars and hard booming drums, Hopsin keeps all those trademarks for Pound Syndrome and works in a group of very progressive, very enlightening rap speeches that will have you questioning the very foundation of your core belief system.
Like all of Hopsin’s previous albums, Pound Syndrome is entirely produced by its prodigious author and incorporates a balanced variety of beats both soft and hard. Hop naturally has a coarse, truculent style but shows tenderness in his compassionate messages and some gently sung choruses, giving himself a mark of genuineness and realness that might have vanished had the album contained nothing but unremitting machismo. Rough lyrics and a pumping, pounding beat with an eerie, ominous music line greet the ears in “The Pound (Intro),” and the pugnacious trend continues in “Forever Ill” with more of Hopsin’s hard, intricate rhymes there. In “No Hope,” the bellicose Hop puts mooches in their place over a serious, reflective piano line, claps, more strong drums and a squealing guitar near the end. “Ramona” with Jarren Benton rightfully embarrasses a crazy, obsessed groupie, and “Mr. Jones” defiantly addresses Hopsin’s weak competition over an inventive beat based on the era-defining drill sound.
The next song “Fort Collins,” which is the first of the big four best songs on the album (for showcasing purely original and useful material), features Dizzy Wright and is more or less an apology for missing a Fort Collins, Colorado show and feeling bad for the fans. Hopsin calls out imbecilic hip hop artists and shows real concern for the health of mainstream hip hop in “No Words,” the second of the big four. In it he demonstrates the stupidity of the party-based “trap rappers” by intentionally twisting his vocals with reverb and autotune while he mumbles incoherent gibberish and hogwash to a wack, blasé trap beat drowned in thumping bass. It’s billed as a skit but has to be one of the best skits of this time period. Period. The “Crown Me” single is Hopsin the king and heir to the throne addressing his peasants, and while it is a very good song indeed, it’s not one of Pound Syndrome‘s very best. But the next one is.
Number three of Pound Syndrome‘s big four, or “Ill Mind of Hopsin 7,” relentlessly picks apart and questions organized religion. Fueled by Hop’s strong rhyming, his high energetic anger, a spacious beat and of course its extremely relevant topic, this seventh entry in Hopsin’s renowned song-series is an awesomely confident protest against one of the most if not the most divisive, disconnecting human constructs of all time: religion. “No Fucks Given” knocks down bad, so-called friends and shitty girlfriends and then comes the album’s knock out punch, “Fly.” “Fly” is the last of Pound Syndrome‘s big four songs and is arguably the best and most important of them. It’s a beautifully discerning rejection of everything biased, fraudulent, phony and falsely advertised, supported by an easygoing ambient beat, frizzy vocoder-ized voice alterations and “the pound” repeating quietly in the background all throughout. For the “I Just Can’t” finale, we get more goofy, gruesome and gruff lines showing off Hop’s mind-blowing lyrical abilities. He’s truly just an absolute God-body with his rhyme flow (no religious idolatry intended).
Hopsin might have been slept on a little in the past despite having always been a rhyme animal and a fiery, conscious emcee, but now it’s going to be damn near impossible to deny the supreme greatness of him and his label. There is no question this album is an instant classic. The pressing issues Hopsin handles on Pound Syndrome have rarely been touched in hip hop before and surely not in the way that he addresses them here. The main theme of the album is to question everything about life and about the world. Hopsin would probably even encourage questioning some of the things he says here, but ninety-nine percent of what he does say is true. If Pound Syndrome can come strictly out of the confines of Funk Volume, imagine what Hopsin could achieve by giving his spin on other important topics and by working with other producers and more outside guests. The possibilities are endless.