It's not often you hear of someone representing Rochester in the Hip Hop world. Usually when New York comes to mind, the five boroughs are the first places to receive mention. It's not often you hear of a Venezuelan rapper burst into the scene either. Regardless, of the place of origin there is no denying talent. At a time where music sales are on the decline and the industry seems to be going through a phase(1), and unsigned talent has reached out to the new media to cater to their aspirations of success.
With a unique flow that spans from witty arrogance with a mix of consciousness, Emilio Rojas is on the heels of dropping an EP and album. The Rochester native owes his life experiences he speaks about in his music to his Venezuelan background which molded him into the person he is today. With 2009 on the horizon, Mr. Rojas has a lot to forward to. The New York underground is slowly bubbling under the radar and as one of the leaders in the movement, Big Apple seems to be coming back to the forefront of Hip Hop.
Nombre: Emilio Rojas (also known as Raks One).
Hailing From: Brooklyn via Rochester, New York.
You Might Have Heard Him On: A Breath Of Fresh Air mixtape and multiple collaborations with M-Phazes, Illmind [click to read], Skyzoo [click to read], Torae [click to read], Khrysis [click to read], Black Milk [click to read], Sha Stimuli [click to read] and Donny Goines.
The 585: "Rochester is home. Right now, I live in Brooklyn, but Rochester will always be home to me. Growing up there was pretty normal I guess. When I was younger, my Tio Jose and Tia Yolanda, my two cousins, my Abuela and then my mom, pops and sister all shared an apartment. Then my father bounced, so you know - things got a little rougher. My mother was an incredibly strong woman. She held three jobs to make sure my sisters and I never wanted for anything."
The City Itself: "It's kind of deteriorating. There are so many great people, but the economy there is very weak. All the companies that supported the local economy by having their world headquarters or production centers there either downsized or left entirely (Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb) and the city never really recovered, but that's NAFTA for you. Ever since its had this aura of desperation. People do what they have to do to survive there. There are so many dope artists there. Lots of talent - the best way to describe Rochester would be to say it's a place where beauty grows out of the chaos."
The Future Of Hip Hop: "Autotune. [Laughs] Nah, I'm kidding. It's viral. Websites and blogs are the future of hip hop. They provide a great service, especially for independent artists such as myself. They give us a platform to be heard and seen by so many people. It's crazy. But its a double-edged sword, because now everyone has those same opportunities, so you have a lot more garbage to sift through. I see a lot of artists who have huge viral presence and then I hear their music and just shake my head. It also makes everything that much more disposable. People are scrambling to get music together to leak and it gets real hard to keep up with. You have to pump out volumes of work just to keep your name towards the front of the pack. It ends up being a quantity over quality thing."
Mass Appeal: "Do I think I have mass market appeal? Most definitely. I'm young, good looking, charismatic, smart, and I rap alright too. Plus I'm real humble/ [Laughs] It all comes down to whether or not I can continue to generate momentum. Which I will do. People are going to be hearing a lot more from me in the coming months. I have been setting goals and knocking them out of the way to make room for new sets of goals. That approach has proven very effective/efficient. It's easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged doing music, so it helps me keep perspective and gauge my success. It also gives me enough wiggle room to change course if need be."
Phaze One: "Phaze One is like my daughter. I nurtured her from an infant and watched her blossom into a beautiful woman. [Laughs] It's a group record I did entirely with M-Phazes on production. We did most of the songs by sending files back and forth on some You've Got Mail shit, except without all the romantic undertones and annoying ass Meg Ryan. It's crazy, he and I just met for the first time in September when he came to New York. We shot a video and did a couple more joints while he was out here.
He's an amazingly talented producer. Our record sounds like we had a million dollar recording budget. We have live instruments all over it. Live keys, live bass, live string sections. I'm not talking like one violin. I'm talking violin(s). Plural. Who's touching that on an independent level? Or even on a major level nowadays? Nobody. We were also lucky enough to mix with Ariel Borujow, he's an incredible engineer, and he did a great job with the mix of this record."
The Flow: "My flow is my strength. I consider myself more of a flower than anything else. For me - Hip Hop is about rhythm, so I try to keep my flow as rhythmic as possible. I'm always in pocket, always weaving and swinging on the beat. I don't really try to write that way, its just the way it comes out. I used to play the drums, so I think that my background with that influenced the way I structure my songs more than anything else. A lot of cats got bars and punchlines, but that's wack if it doesn't sound good. I weave all that into my flow and sound good doing it. I don't have fill in the blank rhymes where I spit a line just to set up a punchline. I don't write like that. That's corny to me."
Who's Hotter: "I have been listening to cats like Pac Div [click to read] and Wale [click to read]. I think one of the best records to drop last year was Blu and Exile's Below the Heavens [click to read] Royce [Da 5'9"] is killing It as usual, Elzhi [click to read]… Cats are killing it. I think Drake from Toronto is real dope too. There are too many to name – all my peoples – Nikal Fieldz, LI, Hassaan Mackey, Sinat, Donny Goines, A Pinks, Esso [click to read], Torae, Skyzoo, Sha Stimuli… If I made a list of all the dudes I know that are killing it right now I could go on forever. There is so much talent."
Influences: "My all time favorite rapper is Pharoahe Monch. His flow and delivery is crazy, plus he has bars for days. When I want to get inspired to write, I put on some Organized Konfusion [click to read] or Internal Affairs then just go in."
The New York Underground: Craze: "The Knitting Factory just closed down [click to read] its Manhattan location and decided to move to Williamsburg – that is devastating. [Laughs] There is so much history there – it's a legendary venue. It's bubbling here in the city. 2009 is going to have a lot of New York cats doing big things. All you have to do is look at whos coming up and that's a good indication of what New York is up to."
On the Horizon: "I'm turning in 'That Time' for MTV U this week actually. I have the video and the remix for 'Young Fresh and Fly' dropping in January. I have a Vimby coming soon as well. I'm going to drop a mixtape in January, then follow that with the iTunes release of The Nouveau Slick EP on Coalmine [Records]. After that comes Phaze One. Phaze One is a crazy record. Nuts. 2009 is going to be an exciting year for me – I'm trying to be like [Lil Wayne] [Laughs]."
Last Call: "I want to thank the whole staff at HipHopDX.com for featuring me and showing me so much love on the site – y'all are an essential part of what I do. Peace to all the blogs and websites as well. Thanks to the deejays who spin the records. Thanks so much to Jonathan and Adam and the whole Same Plate team. And thanks to all of my fans and peers for your love, respect, and criticism – we gotta keep each other sharp. Hit me up [click here] whenever. Thanks!"
Photography by Robert Adam Mayer.