[PO-HOP] When I first heard Portland rapper Tope five years ago as a member of Living Proof, I immediately fell in love with, above all else, how fun the music sounded. In an era when many Portland MCs were trying too hard to fit the mold of the "conscious" rapper—every song seemed like a lecture on society's woes backed by the same old, dry boom-bap loop—Tope and his partner, Prem, chose to invoke the playfulness of late-'90s California hip-hop, a genre devoted to the simple pleasures in life: ladies, booze and a good pair of headphones. 

That was ages ago, though. With multiple projects under his belt—from his instrumental tapes, to Living Proof's sophomore project, to his impressive work with TxE—Tope, now in his late 20s, is no longer a newcomer to the game. On his new album, Until the Next Time We Meet, his first for local pop-centric label Amigo/Amiga—he adds some depth to the lightheartedness. Songs like "Life of the Party" and "Leave You," which serve as Champagne-drenched odes to good times, are followed by more revealing tracks like "Headed for Heartbreak," a bitter elegy to his last relationship, and "Come True," an introspective look at where life has taken him. It's unfair to say Tope has never made reflective tracks like this before, but here he's doing it more frequently and, as a sign of maturity, with more ease.

Technically, Tope is as sound an MC as ever. He uses his voice, still airy and unassuming, to spit rhyme schemes that incorporate the complex arrangements of a battle-rap MC and the simple wordplay of a "swag" rapper. Although he still sometimes falls behind the rhythm, Tope has grown on the mic with each release. The beats on the album are based on the electro-tinged, sample-based bangers that local beatmakers G_Force and Trox have perfected in the past couple of years and are some of the best Tope has ever rhymed over. It's more reason to call this album one of his most well-rounded projects yet.

SEE IT: Tope plays Backspace, 115 NW 5th Ave., on Friday, March 16, with TxE, Living Proof, BeatsGalore, Verbz and the Angry Orts. 9 pm. $5, $10 with CD. All ages.