When Frank Lopes Jr. signed to Reprise Records in 2017 he did what any 22-year-old who used to live out of his $700 used Toyota Corolla would do to celebrate: he went shopping for a sweet new ride. “I’ve been broke since I was an adult … so when I finally got signed, I thought I’d buy a reliable car, something nice, like a Range Rover,” singer — who goes by Hobo Johnson — tells Billboard.
Only, rather than go for reliability, “Peach Scone” rapper opted for something a bit more flashy: a classic Mercedes convertible instead. It was a “vain” decision the Sacramento, California, native almost immediately regretted. The very next day, he returned that car and bought his real dream ride: a Subaru Crosstrek. He loved it so much, in fact, that the second song released from his hip-hop-meets-rock band The LoveMakers’ just released official Reprise debut, The Fall of Hobo Johnson, features a playful story-song titled “Subaru Crosstrek XV” about his beloved off-road ride.
The combo of his affection for the weekend warrior crossover vehicle, an album to push and a catchy track singing the praises of a young demo-targeting high-ticket item seemed like the perfect opportunity to work with the Japanese carmaker on a product integration deal. After all, the brand is mentioned a dozen times, including a shout out for its dope suspension package.
“I don’t ever want to take money in those situations,” Lopes Jr. says about why he declined to pursue a deal with the car company. “I showed it to my dad and he said, ‘You better not take any money [from Subaru],’ because I knew if I did he would be mad, even though the song is kind of already an ad.” The lyrics, which include the opening lines, “I just bought a Subaru Crosstrek/ I would’ve bought a Lambo, but I’m not quite there yet,” have the right dose or irony, without the official commerce tie-in Lopes Jr. couldn’t quite stomach.
A spokesperson for Subaru tells Billboard that they did not work with Lopes Jr. on a potential integration deal, either before or after they’d heard the laudatory song. “We commend Mr. Johnson on his success and his excellent choice in vehicles,” the company said in a statement. “But as a company that prides itself on safety, we would remind him that the Crosstrek’s IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating only comes into play when the occupant is actually riding in the vehicle and is securely belted in their seat.”
Lopes Jr. says his team reached out to Subaru not for a payday, but to make sure they were okay with the mention and from what he recalls they didn’t respond. “As a musician, that kind of stuff [product placement] comes up all the time and you can’t fault someone for wanting to take the money… But I’m just giving it to them because I personally love Subaru.”