After first getting his industry start as an emcee under the name Raks One in Rochester, New York nearly a decade ago, Emilio Rojas has forcefully carved out a niche for himself over the past several years. While he had dropped several noteworthy releases prior to 2009, it was his The Natural mixtape that year, presented by DJ Green Lantern, that served as his most noticed entry-point as an independent force in the industry. After finally shunning his nearly mixtape a year quota, Rojas took a short hiatus following 2012’s Breaking Point. Almost a year and a half later, the New York rapper has returned with No Shame…No Regrets which features Styles P, Lecrae and IamSu! with production from consistent collaborators like !llmind, M-Phazes and now The Renegades. Emilio Rojas took some time to speak with HipHopDX about the new album, how to approach releasing music digitally in 2013 and the grind of a truly independent artist.

Emilio Rojas Discusses Going Retail With No Shame…No Regrets

Given the now in-between status of many contemporary releases, Rojas began by explaining the format that No Shame…No Regrets has taken: “I want to make a distinction about what it is that we released and an album-quality body of work: [this is] a mixtape in the more modern sense of a mixtape where it’s all original production but we did put it together for sale. But, the records, for the most part, were approached with the intent of putting them on a mix CD. I wasn’t in album mode when I went into record these records, when I do my first album it’ll be a very cohesive body of work, there’ll be more interludes, it’ll tell more of a story. This is kind of like a collection of records.”

The project was released almost simultaneously as a free mixtape and as a for-purchase album featuring bonus tracks on iTunes, Rojas went on to add that the context for digital music in 2013 has required artists to adapt correspondingly: “I feel like the label system is very antiquated, I think these executives especially are catering to an old model because they’re old models themselves [laughs], you know what I mean? They’ve got no fucking clue what’s going on. We linked recently with Empire Distribution and they were like ‘Look, we see the vision,’ they see that what we’re doing works organically. I’ve never had any funding; I’m not one of these independent artists who is like ‘independent’ with a label deal that has been hushed for a year while they’ve had massive investment. We did everything ourselves from the jump, a lot of people’s favorite artists have been mega-funded and cosigned out the ass, we didn’t really get those luxuries and we still have been able to impact pretty well I feel like, I’m proud of what we’ve done. Empire saw the vision and they were able to amplify it which is great, the fact that my fans actually supported something that they could have just went and gotten for free, that’s love man, that’s really humbling, it feels good. I was happy with that, I’m still happy with it. We’re continuing to be pretty successful on iTunes, I think from now on that’s a model that we’re going to continue to work under.”

Running up to No Shame… and despite having been in the business for some years, Rojas faced industry woes that reflect his position as an unsigned rapper: “It’s crazy because we kind of had to take a step back, if you listen to the intro of this new tape, I talk about a lot of the shit that has gone down that might offer an explanation as to why we were kind of quiet. You know, we had certain situations with different companies that didn’t work out the way that they were supposed to and a lot of people were making commitments and not honoring them…We were involved with a booking agent who kind of just took percentages and didn’t really book any shows. We were booking shows and then giving him the dates for routing and then he wouldn’t have anything but still take a percentage. So we switched to a more proactive agency, like, boom, there we are right away. We’re about to get out there and tour these records, I think that’s gonna be good because being on the road is important. We’ll announce more of that soon.”

Emilio Rojas Sheds Light On Chris Lighty’s Involvement In His Music

The rapper had also just begun working with Violator on this very release before its founder/operator Chris Lighty passed away nearly a year ago: “We went into a situation with Violator [Management], which, you know, everybody knows what happened with that and [Chris] Lighty unfortunately, God rest his soul. It was crazy, I actually spoke to [him] the day before he passed. We had entered into a partnership and we working on the tape together, we were back and forth between the Violator offices and the studio and he was helping us pick the records. I remember hitting him like, ‘I finally think we got this body of work that’s incredible, I can’t wait to sit down so I can just play you everything so we could figure out the marketing and the way everything is supposed to go,’ and this is the last text conversation that he and I ever had. He said something to the effect of ‘Yeah, I can’t wait to hear it man, I’m really excited too.’ That was the day before he [passed]. The next day I remember waking up and somebody from his office had hit us, you know, to reschedule our appointment so we were like, ‘Okay cool, definitely we can reschedule if you want, it’ll give us a day or two to tweak some of these records before we bring them into the office.’ Two minutes later I logged onto my Twitter—like literally two minutes after hearing from somebody at his office—I logged onto my Twitter and I see everybody tweeting ‘Rest in peace….rest in peace Chris Lighty’ and I called his phone immediately and obviously nobody picked up. And I texted him, the last thing I ever texted him which he never got was ‘Yo, are you okay man? I just read some crazy shit on Twitter, are you okay?’ and that was it, it was just crazy.”

“On the one hand, part of me, selfishly you know, it’s like just so crazy to know that somebody at that level believed in you like that, that dude was behind [so many people] that inspired me to make music, so for that person to say ‘Yo, I fuck with you the same way that I fucked with these people that are your inspiration,’ that was humbling. It was a blessing to have him in my life for the short period of time that he was there; I learned a lot just by being around him the few interactions, there was never any pretense about him and he was just a good dude.”

Emilio Rojas’ No Shame…No Regrets is available for purchase and free download now.

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