Hobo Johnson is like if a scientific experiment successfully turned a meme into a person. He’s almost too abrasively bizarre to be true. If rap were a high school, Hobo would be the awkward new kid who eats paper for attention.
He might just be a blip on the radar before he dissolves into obscurity, but he also might just be the next big thing.
I discovered the 22-year-old hip-hop hipster through a flurry of social media rants about his music, which came out of nowhere like a stampede of blogging horses. To say that Hobo is polarizing would be the understatement of the year. Search Hobo’s name on Twitter and you’ll see an endless stream of fiery contempt.
The only thing missing from the Hobo Johnson backlash is an angry tweet from Trump. Something like “Weirdo Hobo Johnson is an awful rapper! He’s too weird and he can’t grow a real mustache. SAD!”
Hobo’s newly recruited haters are way too intense. They talk about him like he murdered all their dogs with a lacrosse stick, farted on Michelle Obama and drew swastikas on the Sistine Chapel. Calm down.
If you look at the numbers, Hobo also has a big, hastily growing fanbase.
Before pitching this article, I pressed play out “Peach Scone,” his most-talked-about song to date. I was entertained, intrigued, and uncomfortable. I wish I turned on my webcam and made a “2 Girls 1 Cup”-esque reaction video.
In someone's lovely backyard, Johnson stands with his band and howls a stream-of-conscious poem about unrequited love and differently flavored scones all while looking directly into the camera with a self-aware “yeah, this is pretty awkward” face like he’s a character in The Office.
This kid is... something else.
His delivery comes off as nervously neurotic while his crackly voice ungracefully changes octaves. He sounds like Michael Cera fucked a hyena and looks like every annoying white dude in a community college creative writing class.
When the video started I wanted to hate him. Nothing against him personally, I just hate hipsters with a burning passion. Hipsters are the worst people in the world, and yes I'm counting serial killers so don’t ask.
And at first, I did hate it. His corny jokes got on my nerves, as did that godforsaken mustache. But by the end of the video, something weird happened...
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I liked it.
I liked it a lot.
I didn’t think I would like it so much. Johnson embodies everything I hate. He’s a pretentious hipster with enough quirkiness and irony to put him on the cover of Flannel Magazine. But he's endearing. Fuck it, consider me a fan.
He’s chaotically manic. Joyful but vulnerable. The emotions in his music are genuine, even when they’re buried under layers of hipster irony. It feels like your drunk friend venting to you and it accidentally rhymes.
“I love the thought of being with you. Or maybe it’s the thought of NOT BEING SO ALONE.”
Hobo's lyrics might read like they were stolen from a depressed white girl's Instagram caption, but when you hear them out loud in his peculiar voice, sounding like he’s on the brink of tears and/or severely constipated, it hits you on a guttural level.
Sure, it borders on sympathy porn for closeted misogynists and self-proclaimed “nice guys” who whine about the "friendzone," but nothing about Hobo’s music comes off as malicious or chauvinistic. One could argue that he embodies white male entitlement, but most of those criticisms are coming from entitled white males who are trying too hard to show everyone how “woke” they are. “Hobo Johnson is just an entitled white male” is the new “I would have voted for Obama a third time.”
Whether it’s tomorrow or in five years, Hobo Johnson is going to be huge. The audience is there, and he’s way too unique to ignore.
The gatekeepers are gonna try to guard hip-hop culture with samurai swords and do everything they can to not let him in, but it won’t work. We can’t stop the culture from expanding, even when it occasionally swerves into directions we don’t like.
Hip-hop is growing. The Hobo Johnsons of the world are laying the groundwork for a really interesting rap landscape in the 2020s. Rap isn’t changing, it’s just...diversifying. Whether you grow to like Hobo or not, he’s indicative of how rap music is gonna keep branching out into different, bizarre subsections.
Young Thug uses his voice as an instrument to create a unique, sonic flavor while he joyously toys with gender roles. Tyler, The Creator hit the scene wearing short shorts and selling shirts with kittens on them while rapping about “snorting Hitler’s ashes.” Lil B made a name for himself by trolling everyone and putting (real) curses on Kevin Durant.
Basically, the weirdos are the cool kids now.
For those who demand a significant sample size before jumping into the deep end head first, I can confidently say I listened to Johnson's full album, The Rise of Hobo Johnson, and I really enjoyed it. All of his songs are bursting with a giggly enthusiasm and childlike vulnerability.
He's a weird kid but he’s not talentless. Also, I have no idea why I keep calling him “kid.” We’re the same fuckin' age.