Emilio Rojas Interview
|Next Project:||DJ Green Lantern Presents: The Natural|
|Twitter:||Emilio Rojas on Twitter|
|Website:||Emilio Rojas's Website|
If Emilio Rojas comes off as a little “Bold and Arrogant,” you can rest assured that he’s earned it. As an up-and-comer who left his hometown for Brooklyn with no job, no cash, and no clear plans, and then proceeded to quickly establish himself as one of the crowded NYC hip-hop scene’s most promising young talents, the rapper has a lot to be proud of. Already a familiar face in the Booth thanks to numerous reader-acclaimed mixtape features and exclusive freestyle “The Last Days,” the Latin emcee is preparing to drop one of his most exciting street releases yet, presented by East Coast icon and fellow Rochester native DJ Green Lantern.
With the Oct. 28 release of The Natural, Rojas will bring his devotees more of the vicious wit and agile flows they’ve come to expect, in addition to welcoming plenty of new fans into the fold. Including the lead single referenced in that very first sentence and reader-approved leak “Nothing Like It,” the forthcoming mix-album will find the artist showcasing his uncanny talents over beats by such high-profile producers as Sean C & LV, Nottz and M-Phazes, as well as Green Lantern himself.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” Emilio Rojas steps into the Booth to discuss how his father’s departure inspired him to devote his full energy to music, the recent trip to Venezuela that opened his eyes to both his heritage and to the tremendous hardships faced by natives of developing countries, and why he chooses to put so much of himself into his lyrics.
Listen to the Interview
Emilio Rojas Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy, “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a New York emcee whose witty lines, compelling bars, and aggressive rhyme style have landed him on our homepage 10 times over the last 12 months. Gearing up to release his new mix-album, The Natural, on October 28, please welcome Emilio Rojas – how you doin’?
Emilio Rojas: Thank you, thank you, thank you. What’s good, how is everything, man? Thanks for having me, I’m good, man.
DJ Booth: Everything’s great, it’s a pleasure to have you. Thank you for takin’ the time to join me inside the DJ Booth.
Emilio Rojas: Oh no, man, it’s nothing. You already know: that’s what happens, you’re stuck with me.
DJ Booth: It’s okay, it’s a good problem to have! Visitors who frequent our site know all about Emilio Rojas the emcee, but they probably don’t know enough about Emilio Rojas the man, so today I feel like we should bridge the gap. How does that sound?
Emilio Rojas: Sounds good, man. I’m still tryin’ to learn about myself too, so we’re on this journey together.
DJ Booth: Absolutely. It’s a learning process we’re all going to take.
Emilio Rojas: Exactly. Where should we start?
DJ Booth: Well, before moving to Brooklyn you called Rochester, New York home, correct?
Emilio Rojas: Yeah, I’m from Rochester. It’s a medium-sized city between Buffalo and Syracuse, about six hours northwest of New York. It’s kind of economically depressed, not a lot of opportunity there, but there’s a a lot of talent. It’s where I grew up, it’s just a great place to be from. I love it there.
DJ Booth: Had you remained in Rochester, would a career in hip-hop have been plausible for you?
Emilio Rojas: For me? No. I think that a lot of cats now that are starting to bubble up like L.I. or Nikal Fields or Hassan – anybody who I didn’t mention, don’t be mad, ‘cause you know, there’s noit a lot of time – but definitely no. I don’t think so. I think I had to move, it was a necessary move.
DJ Booth: Emilio, you credit your father, a Venezuela native, for your gaining an interest in music at such an early age. At what particular point, though, did your enjoyment of music become a real burning passion which could really only be controlled by your artistic expression?
Emilio Rojas: It’s so hard to pinpoint the time… I would say after my father disappeared, that’s kind when I started to focus all of my energy [on music]. It was cathartic, you know? It was a relief to go in and create and get rid of all my frustrations in a creative way, even if it wasn’t in a literal sense. Like, I started out playing the drums, and there’s nothing that makes you feel better than hittin’ sh*t aggressively. So that’s how it started for me and, you know, the drums are really rhythmic, and that’s kind of where I take my flow from, the polyrhythms in the drums that kinda transfer themselves over to the way I write and the way I ride a beat.
DJ Booth: I admire you, because you were able to play the drums. I wasn’t able to play the drums; my parents didn’t want all the noise in the house, so I had to settle for trumpet, which is kind of equally as loud, but I guess not as bothersome.
Emilio Rojas: The trumpet’s a good instrument too, though. If I have kids, I’ll never say no – if they wanna play instruments, I’ll encourage that.
DJ Booth: To this day I kinda wish I’d taken my trumpet lessons a little bit more seriously. I kinda goofed off a bunch. It’s OK, I think I turned out all right.
Emilio Rojas: Think about it: you could pull the trumpet out during your mix-show set!
DJ Booth: That would be impressive, I don’t know anybody else who’s doing that right now.
Emilio Rojas: Nobody’s doing that right now; that’s some next-level sh*t. You could be on some… I don’t even know… on some Miles Davis, John Coltrane sh*t.
DJ Booth: I might have to pull the brass out of the closet and see if I still know how to play.
Emilio Rojas: And dust it off, yeah. Just be careful not to empty the spit valve on your mixer or whatever – not a good look.
DJ Booth: I’ve also gotta locate the lube. [laughs]
Emilio Rojas: [laughs] This is going in all sorts of the wrong direction right now.
DJ Booth: Exactly, so let’s get back on track-
Emilio Rojas: That’s what she said.
DJ Booth: [laughs] In May, you participated in our exclusive freestyle series with entry number 43, “The Last Days.” A few of your opening bars really caught me, and I wanted to ask you about this. I’m surprised I didn’t do it sooner, but what better time than now? You spit the line, “It would be different if I had my father living with us, but he’s way into pimpin’ them sluts.” You mentioned a second ago that he had left the family – do you maintain any type of relationship to this day with your father?
Emilio Rojas: He was on his walking-stereotype-of-a-Latin-male sh*t: he was there for a little bit until he got caught out there on some philandering sh*t and he bounced. He got married again, he had two kids by his next wife. This was when I was about 10. I think him and my mother separated maybe when I was eight, and when I was about 10 I had a stepbrother and stepsister I believe, and he had remarried. And then he just up and bounced on all of us: my sister, my half-brother and my half-sister, and my mother and his new wife. He just dipped out and nobody heard from him… till two years ago, was when I heard from him. However long that was, probably like 15 years or some sh*t. No financial contribution, he left two women to support their families by themselves. But that’s my motivation: I just don’t wanna be anything like him, you know?
DJ Booth: Any interest in resurrecting whatever relationship there wasn’t but always could have been?
Emilio Rojas: Nah, not really. When I spoke with him, it was almost like speaking to a bill collector. Like, the phone number popped up, I was like, “Should I answer this?” I picked up, and he was like “Emilio?” I was like, “Yeah, this is him. Who’s this?” He said, “Emilio.” I’m like,”I know, this is Emilio. Who’s this?” And he’s like, “Emilio, this is your father, Emilio.” I was like,”Oh, sh*t. I’ve gotta call you back.” And then I hit him up in a couple days or whatever, and it was just like, when you talk to somebody you went to grade school or something. It was like that.
DJ Booth: Last year, you actually got the chance to tour in his home country of Venezuela. Had you previously visited that country?
Emilio Rojas: No, I’d never been. I met a whole bunch of relatives out there, too. It was like a family I didn’t even know I had. It was crazy. Venezuela is a beautiful country. Caracas is a pretty wild city though, man. It’s real gully out there. People got poverty in the U.S., but not like the Third World, not like Venezuela, South America. Never seen no sh*t like that, man.
DJ Booth: That’s what I tell people all the time: if you think you have it bad, trust me, there’s someone somewhere out there in the world who has it so much worse.
Emilio Rojas: Oh, son, these cats were living in houses that were stacked like Jenga blocks. They have… what is the neighborhood called? It’s called the Ranchos, and they were scattered across the mountains for as far as I could see. Like those shantytowns in City of God, it was like that. It was crazy.
DJ Booth: Would you say that your trip gave you a better understanding of your heritage?
Emilio Rojas: Oh, hell yeah. [When] I was out there, for the first time I was learning about, like, Simón Bolivar, a whole bunch of different things that, because [my father] was absent, I wasn’t really exposed to as a child. It was kinda like I was discovering a part of myself that I was not allowed to know.
DJ Booth: Emilio, one listen to your music and it’s quite obvious that you do not shy away from opening up about who you are, your personal life. Do you instinctively do this, or are you making a concerted effort, every time you write a rhyme, to let people into your world?
Emilio Rojas: I guess not. I write whatever I feel compelled to write. Even when I’m talking sh*t, even when I’m like, “Oh yeah, I’ve got nice clothes” or something like that. If I don’t really feel like saying to somebody that I have a nice jacket on or some sh*t, I’m not gonna say it. If I feel like talking about, “Damn, my father and my mother’s relationship was f*cked up, so how the hell am I supposed to know what a real relationship looks like?” then that’s what I’m gonna say. I feel like talking about looking at a girl and taking her home, I’m gonna talk about that. It’s just whatever compels me at the moment.
DJ Booth: Well, the world will certainly know a little more about you later this month. On October 28th, you guys are gonna be releasing the DJ Green Lantern-presented The Natural. Emilio, the lead single off this project is going to be “Bold and Arrogant.” Would you say that these adjectives accurately describe who you are?
Emilio Rojas: That’s just a side of my personality, sure. Every rap dude, to a certain degree. No matter how humble they try to play, you’re still a cocky motherf*cker when you’re a rapper. Like, calm that humility sh*t down, ‘cause nobody believes you, dude. I’m definitely a confident dude, and I think my sense of humor is really cocky. Like, it’s self-deprecating but cocky in the same effect. I don’t know if that makes any sense, ‘cause they seem like polar opposites. I talk my sh*t, but I’m just havin’ fun. I’m just jokin’ around, and some people, they’re not so responsive to it.
DJ Booth: You mentioned that “Bold and Arrogant” is just one side to you. What would you say is another predominant side that either is or is not apparent to someone when they come into contact with you?
Emilio Rojas: I like to play dumb sometimes. You know, give people the illusion that they have the upper hand or have some sort of intellectual advantage over me. Like, I like to act like I don’t know what’s going on. I probably shouldn’t say that, ‘cause then the cat’s out the bag.
DJ Booth: Yeah, I was just going to say. [laughs] Get ready!
Emilio Rojas: I know some things. I’m not the smartest person in the world, but I’m always tryin’ to learn. I like to learn about what’s going on globally, politically, economically… I keep an ear to all of that.
DJ Booth: The project is going to feature a few guest singers, but you are the only emcee on display on the entire project. Had you decided to share the spotlight with a few of your peers, who might you have extended an offer to?
Emilio Rojas: On the come-up?
DJ Booth: Yeah.
Emilio Rojas: I like the kid J. Cole a lot, I think he’s really talented. I like Diz Gibran, he’s real dope, too. I know Drake’s been catchin’ a lot of hate, I f*ck with Drake, Donny Goines, J the S. Everybody I’ve worked with in the past, of course it would be a pleasure to work with them again. Everybody from Rochester. I actually wanna do some remix tracks to throw out after the tape drops.
DJ Booth: The project shares a title with the classic novel written by Bernard Malamud in 1952, which follows, of course, the story of baseball prodigy Roy Hobbs, who attempted a comeback to baseball after being shot by a serial killer. Have you read this book, Emilio?
Emilio Rojas: There was a movie based on the book, right?
DJ Booth: Yeah, in 1984. Robert Redford played Roy Hobbs.
Emilio Rojas: I’ve never read the book. I didn’t know it was a book, but I think I might have to revisit that because, as we all know, books sometimes are better than the movie – that’s the cliché, right?
DJ Booth: Absolutely. The story did not end well, admittedly, for Hobbs – I hope that doesn’t ruin it for you – but how do you see your story ending? I know obviously it’s just beginning, but kinda forecast for me.
Emilio Rojas: I’m gonna have a run. We’re gonna take a good shot at it, and hopefully people will respond. I think what I’m doing is something honest, it’s something real, it’s something fun, it’s something that people can relate to. And I’m good at what I do – I can rap. A lot of these cats can’t rap and I can actually do that, so I think that separates me from the pack. I’m gonna make sure I put myself in a position to have a good run. Where that run ends up, that’s for fate and God to decide. Me, I’m just gonna try to keep pushing it and moving to the next level. That’s my goal.
DJ Booth: Well, I know for a fact that, unlike a lot of artists I talk to, everything that you’ve just told me is absolutely one hundred percent the case, and we’re excited over here at DJBooth.net for hoppin’ along and riding shotgun for that long run.
Emilio Rojas: I appreciate you, man, for real. Thank you.
DJ Booth: Of course. Give everybody a website, Emilio, a MySpace page, a Twitter account, some form of social networking so they can find out more about you and, of course, the brand new projectThe Natural, dropping later this month.
DJ Booth: [laughs] Absolutely. Well, Emilio, I wish you nothing but the best of luck, my friend, and again, thank you for takin’ the time to join me inside of the DJ Booth.
Emilio Rojas: Thanks, man, appreciate it.