Nowadays, real hip-hop is hard to come by, and Emilio Rojas is here to fill that void. In this new generation of melodic rap and trap, it’s important to remember the basics. This means mixing in that old-school boom bap production with today’s modern day 808s and synths, paired with an MC’s ability to drop bars, clever wordplay, and vivid storytelling. Read more…
Emilio delivers an all fronts. After a much-needed hiatus, the Hispanic, New York-bred rapper plans to go harder than ever for his people, which include his family, his team and the Latin community as a whole. With the release of his “Crown of Thorns” visual, he pays tribute to his childhood and upbringing which has molded him into the man he is today, while holding fans over until his new project, Life Got In The Way, drops on October 26th.
For those who don’t know, who is Emilio Rojas?
I’m half-Venezuelan and half-white. My father is from Caracas, my mom raised me by herself. We just do real music. I’m the first Hispanic artist like me. I feel like in the past, it’s just been Latinos who are gangsters or you gotta be making romantic music. I just talk about real issues. I’m the son of an immigrant. I talk about things that relate to people who are the firstborn of people from somewhere else.
Where do you fit in the realm of hip-hop and R&B?
I don’t fit in the R&B realm. [laughs] I think I’m an elite level lyricist, who also happens to make records that are competitive. As we roll these out, you’ll see what I mean. I have a unique voice, and a unique cultural perspective. Because even if we’re just speaking from the Hispanic side, all the Latin artists that have come before me have either been Puerto Rican, Dominican, or Mexican. There’s never really been anyone from South America.
Also, the fact that I’m talking about relatable issues again. Whether or not you assimilate the pressure to carry on cultural traditions versus totally adapting to what people expect, I talk about those issues. I know what it’s like to text somebody on WhatsApp because they don’t have texting. I know that, but I also know what it’s like to have to translate and all those things. I grew up having to translate for a parent, but also having my abuela tell me my Spanish wasn’t good enough. So on the one hand, I’m a bridge, but on the other hand… yeah.
Being from New York, how does that play into your life and career?
New York is a huge part of my identity. I live in LA now, I’ve lived here for a year and a half. I’m one of those New Yorkers that are like, “Man in New York, that shit would be different.” Like the other day, we went to go get groceries. I don’t have a license, so I uber everywhere obviously. I Uber to the grocery store at 1am — in New York, that shit would’ve been open. But in LA, that shit was closed. I was like “what the fuck? I yelled at the Uber driver. I got a little out of pocket. It wasn’t his fault though, I apologized.
Some Ralph’s are open late!
Not the one I went to. I need to find a map. Because in New York, they have the Bodega that’s open 24/7. I can get a Slim Jim at like 4 in the morning.
What’s your favorite part about the city?
I actually don’t like the weather. I like it to an extent, but I miss the seasons. People are really healthy in LA, which is cool. People are friendlier.
Well, it’s different. People are friendlier, but with an angle. Everybody has a motive. Which is cool, as long as you realize people are talking to you to find out if you have any utility. I get a lot of work done here. Everybody I was working with is out here.
How important is it to come to LA as an up and coming artist?
The creative shit happens in LA. You can find a lot of producers, a lot of people creating dope visuals. I think that’s really where you get the edge up. A lot of the industry is centered in New York still, like the magazines and the publications. But I do think a lot of the work gets done out here, like the artistry.
Talk about being half Latino and being a minority in an urban-dominated industry.
You know what’s crazy? I feel like it’s almost easier to come out as a white artist. Not to make a racial divide because that’s the last thing I want to do, but I feel like there hasn’t been a real Hispanic voice in hip-hop since Pun and Fat Joe. It’s weird because we would give records to people who were major radio DJs in predominantly Hispanic markets, and they would say things like, “Oh, I don’t like saying your name on air because it sounds like I’m introducing a salsa singer.”
So you start to think like, “Wait a second, you’re Dominican, and you’re listening demographic is 2/3 Hispanic. Latinos were here in the Bronx with the blacks when hip-hop started. We were there from the jump, so how are you going to tell us we don’t have a place?” I think it’s been increasingly difficult. I think finally, it’s cool. You’ve got artists like Cardi and Bad Bunny. We were always trying to come up, but these people have really opened the doors. They made it cool to be Hispanic again.
You’ve been in the game for a minute. How has your sound evolved over the years?
I took a break. I was with Violator for a little bit and when Lighty passed, I just didn’t know what to do with myself.
I was going to ask about the hiatus you took.
I had to step back in the absence of having a properly structured team, and the climate being what it is. It’s always in flux. There’s always new delivery mechanisms for music. I had to take a step back and evaluate it, figure out what my identity was and what my role was going to be in this perpetually changing ecosystem.
How long was it?
I took a break, like a fucking break. Maybe 3 years. I was creating, but I felt like I didn’t have the infrastructure to put out a project. I wanted to get my business right. I wanted to get management right, figure out who my demographic was, who it was I wanted to promote to. All those things are important. When we were dropping before, we always just flew by the skin of our teeth.
Do you have a team now?
I’m in a really good situation. I have a good creative team. It took a minute to get it together, because a part of me was shell shocked. I was expecting one situation to open all these doors but when it crumbled unexpectedly, I was like “fuck.” I had to readjust.
You recently put out your “Nada” remix with Dave East. Talk about working with him.
Me and Dave have 3 records. He’s super talented. He’s always been really friendly, really humble, really genuine. I’ve known Dave since before he signed to Nas’ Mass Appeal, that record was actually super old. I stopped putting things out, but I was still creating. We just had so much shit.
The record is pretty personal. Talk about your upbringing and how that plays into your music.
I really just draw from my personal experiences. I was raised by a single mother. My father was around at some capacity until I was around 7, 8, or 9 years old. Then he left. He was always very physically abusive to my mom, my sisters, and myself, so I just talked about it.
At what point did you realize this music thing was forreal?
I don’t know. I don’t think you ever know. For me, it was always real. It’s as real as you make it. What makes it more or less real than anything else?
You unleashed the visual for “Walk Through Fire” earlier this year. Why did you feel this topic of immigrants and DACA was important to cover?
Nobody was talking about it. Even though Logic dropped the video a month ago, it’s not an authentic voice. It’s not somebody who’s lived through it, who has family members who have been through it. I love when people bring light to issues, but I think the voice that’s championing it needs to come from within. I don’t wanna see a white knight ride in and save us. We have to be our own voices for this. Even though I do appreciate all the additional coverage and energy that it dedicates towards the issue, that’s never going to be overlooked.
Have you seen MIA’s documentary? It’s crazy. It showcases her whole obstacle as an immigrant trying to put on for this topic but instead, getting backlash for it.
Oh yeah, because you get slapped in the hand whenever you try to talk about shit. At the end of the day, these labels… music is a marketing machine for lifestyle brands now. Nobody gives a fuck.
What can we expect from your upcoming project, Life Got in the Way?
It’s executed produced by !llmind. He’s the homie for years. It’s just my story. It kind of explains the hiatus. I feel like it was a step I had to take to move forward.
Some, but nothing crazy. Just the homies.
What is your take on the music industry?
The industry is fucked. You want to do it and you think it’s going to be so dope, like “Oh, I’m going to be able to work with this person and this person,” and someone will cut a record and you have to pay the label $50K to get it cleared. There’s just so many politics and so many egos. I wish the artistry and the ego were separate, but I feel like artists are fucking neurotic mentally. We’re crazy.
What are some goals for yourself as an artist?
I wanna just get all this shit out. I have so much music just stashed, so I’m just going to be dropping nonstop.
How important is social media for your career?
I fucking hate social media. I have to set reminders in my phone to post, it’s the worst. Dee was actually the one who told me like, “Yo man, you’ve got to get active.” I’m like “alright.”
What did you do with your first advance/check?
I reinvested it into the art. I think I bought a studio set up, and then a record with Harry Fraud. [laughs] We did a couple things. We had a record, it was me, Iamsu, Styles P.
3 things you need in the studio?
I don’t even need the studio, we good. I can go to the crib. I can go wherever I can get the job from.
3 things you need to record?
I just need the program, mic, and my computer. I don’t smoke or drink. I need water, you gotta stay hydrated. I like food, but on the West Coast… I’m South American. I love the Mexican food out here, but I’m kind of sick of it. I want some white rice and black beans. I miss pechugas de pollo a la plancha, chicken breasts smashed really thin. That shit is good.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
Shit. Before I did music and even for a time while I was doing music, I was doing high-end carpet installations. That shit was trash. I did it for 4 years. We did all rich clients though, like we did David Rockefeller’s house.
No, they were assholes. It wasn’t music money, it was like “we had ancestors who helped write the Constitution” money. They were paid.
Favorite song to perform in a set?
I’ve got a new record called “Crown Of Thorns,” that I’ve been teasing at the shows. The crowds seem to like it.
What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
The other day, these fans did some weird okie doke shit. I was eating a pizza outside — it was mediocre pizza because it was LA pizza — but I was sitting at this table. This dude and his girl walk up to me and ask, “How’s the pizza?” I was like, “good.” You know when you’re talking to somebody and they don’t take the conversational cues that you’re trying to get out of the conversation? So they didn’t identify themselves as fans. They were just talking to me about pizza and I kept trying to get out of it, and this fucking shit lasted 20 minutes. I ended up giving them 2 slices of pizza, a slice each, so they could try it.
I was being cool but then at the end, they were like, “Yeah, we’re big fans of yours.” I’m just like, “If you’re a fan, it’s cool. I’m going to show you love, but don’t be weird like that.” That’s kind of intrusive. That’s like the police, that’s like entrapment. You gotta identify yourself as a cop first, that’s how I feel. But I love dealing with people who support me, it’s super humbling.
Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
Let’s check. In the past couple days, I’ve downloaded Paul McCartney, The Bad Dreamers, which is my boy, Crass which is like the 80’s. I got Fat Joe, Dolly Parton, Bush, Pharoahe Monch, Pearl Jam, don’t judge me. Bill Withers, Kenny Loggins. Hold on, there’s gotta be some hip-hop. Boyz II Men in Spanish, my boy Demrick’s shit, Freddie Gibbs. He’s dope, super slept on. Chaka Khan. Jay Rock had my favorite album of the year, that shit was incredible.
I don’t like rappers, they fucking irritate me. But I like working with my friends. I don’t want to chase someone for status. If there’s an energy and this shit happens organically, that’s cool with me.