DXNext alum Emilio Rojas is continuing his steady march towards stardom with the recent release of his latest mixtape, Life Without Shame (featuring premier production from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Needlz, !llmind, Dante Ross, M-Phazes and tape host DJ Green Lantern, and appetizing appearances from Killer Mike, Mickey Factz, Yelawolf, Big K.R.I.T and B.o.B.).
On Monday, (December 6th), the rapidly-rising Rochester, New York native with the impressive rapid-fire flourished flow spoke to HipHopDX about his struggles over the last couple of years to link with a label that understands his music and can properly propel him into the national spotlight. During his discussion with DX, the bi-racial Brooklyn transplant also spoke about his struggles for acceptance, elaborating on being “All Mixed Up” before explaining his position on Latino artists using the most controversial word in the English language.
HipHopDX: Before we get to discussing your latest Green Lantern presented mixtape, I gotta ask you about something I just read that DJ Green Lantern told DrJays: that you know “things about me I don’t want the world to know!” What secrets about your fellow Rochester native can we air-out on DX? [Laughs]
Emilio Rojas: I mean, I don’t wanna let him know what I know either, ‘cause I think if I let that out the bag he might feel a little comfortable like, “Whew!” I don’t want him to get that [comfortable]. I gotta have something to hold over him. [Laughs] I can’t believe you just [asked] that.
DX: [Laughs] Speaking of Green, when are you and he gonna stop saturating the streets and hit retail with one of them albums-masquerading-as-mixtapes that Green has done for dead prez, Styles P? Get you some Soundscan returns.
Emilio Rojas: We haven’t really decided on a retail plan yet. We’re kinda just entertaining offers right now. We’re in a good situation. We got a lot of interest. We generated a decent amount of buzz. So right now we’re just continuing to grow that. We started working on records for retail, like for the actual album. And it’s gonna be a step up from all the shit that we been putting out… We’re just waiting to get the right situation. You don’t wanna be one of them cats that ends up taking X, Y and Z situation and ends up being shelved. Or, you end up fuckin’ with so-and-so artist and he just has you putting out mixtape after mixtape and never going to retail. It’s a slippery slope.
DX: Speaking of, on the title-track from Life Without Shame you spit, “And I been talking with the heads of the labels, they ready and able to put a couple checks on the table / Sayin’ they could make my problems disappear / I’m wishin’ that they woulda said the shit last year.” Can you reveal which “heads of the labels” you’ve chopped it up with?
Emilio Rojas: [Laughs] Nah. That’s not a good idea. We’ve spoken with a couple people though. So…I don’t wanna…when I cross the bridge I’ll burn the rest of them.
DX: [Laughs] Are you saying there’s been progress, or you still wanna take some more meetings?
Emilio Rojas: There’s been a lot of progress, [but] we’re taking more meetings though ‘cause you can never take too many.
DX: I still can’t believe no label wanted to put out the M-Phazes produced, Stat Quo featured “Way She Moves” from your Recession Proof mixtape [about] a year-and-a-half ago. That joint had radio smash written all over it.
Emilio Rojas: Yeah, you know, it was weird. Like, back [then] we had a label that wanted to actually sign – Me and M-Phazes did a whole album together, [and] we had a big major label that had hit me up like, “Yo, we wanna sign you, we wanna put that album out, we wanna have it ready to go in three months.” You get these young A&R’s who don’t really know what the fuck they’re doing. Not that they don’t know what they’re doing, but they just get too excited. They hear a record and they hear something special about it and then they get really behind it. But then, the longer they have to sit with it they start playing it for X, Y and Z, and people start picking it apart. ‘Cause you know the longer you have to sit with something the more critical you are, especially if you’re looking at it like a [strictly] money-making venture. So there was a situation where we were taking meetings with this label [and] like every week we’d go in and they’re like, “Yeah, we still wanna do this, but now you gotta change this.” So I’d change it and I’d come back and they’re like, “Okay, but now we want you to do this record too.” So we did the record. It came to a point where I just deaded the meetings like, “You guys are nuts. What happened to wanting to sign this whole album and all of a sudden the whole thing has changed and you wanna keep two records off the original 14-track album?” So it’s like, eh, sometimes you just gotta throw up your hands and be like, let the chips fall where they may, we’re gonna build this on our own and then get it to a point where they have to fuck with us or [keep] doing it ourselves. So either way, we good.
DX: Switching gears here…I wanna ask the self-described “half cracker, half Latin” about “All Mixed Up” from your new tape. Do folks really sweat you about your race like that?
Emilio Rojas: Yeah, growing up people looked at me funny. I live in a very Spanish neighborhood [and] I’ll walk in the store sometimes and they speak Spanish and think I don’t understand. Sometimes it’s girls saying some cute shit [in Spanish], which is alright. Then I have a leg up. But, it was always an issue. My grandparents, they were old school. On my mother’s side [of the family] I think a part of them was kinda stuck in the past… They weren’t really ready to have [bi-racial grandchildren]. Me and my sister are both half Latino, and I don’t know if they were ready for that… They never came out their mouth with it, but it was always a question [of how they really felt]. Like, when you see the other grandkids getting different treatment. Stuff like that, it always was in the back of my mind, at least once I was old enough to really process it.
And in school I definitely got it. I had gotten an academic scholarship to a really good school, and a lot of people said that it was because I was…you know, spic’d out.
DX: Just out of curiosity, being half Venezuelan, do you know if you have any African ancestry?
Emilio Rojas: You know what? I honestly don’t know. It’s a possibility…
DX: I haven’t heard every verse you ever spit, but do you use the n-word in your rhymes?
Emilio Rojas: No.
DX: And is that like a conscious choice, or would you feel comfortable doing like [Big] Pun did and Fat Joe does?
Emilio Rojas: I mean, you don’t look at me like [you look at them]. [Big] Pun and Fat Joe, they look a little bit more ethnic than me… It’s not a line I’m trying to walk. [But] that’s a word that could trigger an emotional response from a lot of people. And you never know who’s gonna react in what fashion. And it’s just something that me personally, I just don’t feel like I have any right to use [that word].
DX: Ten years after Pun’s passing, what in your opinion is the state of Latinos in Hip Hop in 2010?
Emilio Rojas: I think we good. We got me. You got Joell Ortiz, who’s a fuckin’ monster. Termanology, who’s a monster. There’s a lot of really dope Latino emcees. We weren’t [ever] the frontrunners in the game. There was never like 60 of us out at once. But if you look at like when Pun and Joe came up with Terror Squad, they was rockin’ with a bunch of Spanish cats. And I think [now] is kinda similar to [that]. We just ain’t clicked up.