Embracing The New: Emilio Rojas Reintroduces Himself To Music With 'Life Got In The Way'
Emilio Rojas is back on his grind. After taking a four-year hiatus from music, the Venezuelan-American rapper is ready to reintroduce himself to the rap game, sans bad vibes and negative energy. Abandoning New York after recording the entirety of what has become his upcoming album, the Rochester native set out for Los Angeles to reflect on the rocky path his career was beginning to take.
Initially driven by bad management and a lack of synergy, Rojas was able to strike a chord of creativity in La La Land—despite discovering a general distaste for In-N-Out and the facade of North Hollywood clout. Using the time to clear his mind, realign his vision and create new content, Rojas is itching for new and existing fans to listen to his long-awaited project, Life Got In The Way.
Circling back to NYC to sit down with VIBE and discuss the making of his new album (out Nov. 2), his re-introduction to music, the difficulties of being an independent artist and the current surge of Latino music over global airways, Rojas is in his element. Comfortably kickin’ it in the building’s artist lounge, the 34-year-old rapper is confident in who he is and what he’s become. Both laid back and extremely attentive, Emilio Rojas speaks with conviction and new sense of clarity–music is his outlet. As someone who has lived his life walking the line between his Latino heritage and white background, Rojas uses rap to beat the system. A proverbial martyr for those who have been hushed, Emilio Rojas needs the world to know that the vexed question of whether or not it’s cool to be cultured no longer applies.
“Even with this resurgence of Latin culture, my voice is still unique because I talk about the assimilation,” he says. “Nobody is speaking for that.”
VIBE: You’ve uprooted from your New York Home to L.A. Why did you move out?
Emilio Rojas: Because I felt like there was a lot of like weird energy I just needed to change. I'm a big energy person. There's no stones in my pockets, no crystals, but that's where I draw the line. Up until then, it's energy all day.
I feel like L.A. has super chill vibes, though.
Kinda. I feel like it's fake. I feel like every interaction you have, for the most part in L.A. is evaluating if you're of some utility to them. So it’s like, “what kind of following do you have?” Then you're thinking, alright well how many followers do I need to have to be your friend.
That shouldn't matter.
But that's the corny sh*t. That's the type of sh*t they're on so that's why I don't f**k with L.A. I mean, I f**k with L.A, but it's not the people from L.A., don't get it twisted, it's like the transplants. It's like somebody from Pennsyltucky come and like he was like the biggest person in Iowa and then comes and like moves to North Hollywood and like thinks he has to be a certain way.
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Do you record in L.A.?
Yeah. I like recording there, the creative culture out there is amazing. There's so many different people doing so many cool things, like everybody wants to create content, right? Content is the word of the day, but everybody's into it, people are very collaborative, the energy is usually good so like I love that.
Let’s talk about your project, Life Got In The Way. It's definitely been a long time coming.
Thanks, we've been working.
Is this music you've been sitting on for a while?
Yeah. I don't wanna call it my album, it's a project that I have that I wanna give to people, you know what I mean? I feel like it's important to distinguish.
I mean, it's the first time since your L.I.F.E. EP in 2015, right?
Would you say it's showing a lot of growth or chronicling your experiences since then?
Oh yeah, there's a lot of growth ‘cause I needed to explain some sh*t to people. I felt like I had to make certain records just to kinda button up the story really nicely. I feel like back then there were two Emilios. For one, you had this Emilio who was being pressured to create what they were calling “competitive and urgent records.” I had a lot of external pressure from people like, "yo we need a record for mix show," "we need a record for radio" and sh*t. Really I'm an artist who likes to say sh*t, so when you put me in this situation where you're pressuring me to create some sh*t, I'm way out of my comfort zone. You really just have to let me stumble on a record. I feel like anyone who just goes out deliberately to do anything is gonna sound contrived. I feel like there was that side and then the side that people love me for, which is like when I'm saying sh*t to really be my authentic self. So to present that to my audience and to really grow the way I wanted to grow, I felt like I had to f**king throw that mix-show-pressure Emilio out and just be regular Emilio, talk about what I wanna talk about and not let anybody else influence my creative process. I don't need yes men around me, I'm very open to constructive criticism, but I want people who understand the vision and there was a lack of that. That's why I moved to L.A., that's what this project is, and that’s what I wanna do.
I noticed that you're always sharpening your pencil and your craft through freestyles of popular songs. Is that what you were doing throughout your hiatus?
I was just bored and I was like "we're about to start this rollout and there's always pressure,” so I'm kind of looking at this like a re-emergence, like I'm starting again. What I wanted to do was re-engage fans that have been there for a minute and just remind them like "alright I know I've been quiet for like a good f**king minute, but like I'm still dead nice."
Oh so it’s like your reintroduction to music.
Yeah, I'm looking at it like a promo single—this whole project.
If you had to re-introduce yourself in a short a few sentences, what would you say?
I'm Emilio Rojas and I'm at war with love and at odds with the system. I'm always in conflict. Like it's perpetually conflict, whether it's in my personal life, my relationships, my own identity, or what's going on in the world.
"There are some very influential people who at multiple different times in my career told me to either A, stop going by my real name and use my 'passable whiteness' or B, just tone down the Latin sh*t as a whole." —Emilio Rojas
You've been dropping a lot of music videos to lead this new release. What are you most excited for fans to hear?
I'm most excited for fans to hear "New To New York" off this project. I'm from Rochester and I moved to New York City like "once I get there I'm gon' get it" and that's what the record is about. It's about leaving where you're comfortable and where you're from and going somewhere else and like thinking that it's gonna change your life and obviously it but the hope is that it's for the better. It's about like having lofty goals and then the reality. There's like a dope switch and we got a crazy video for it. I'm excited about it.
As far as your goals, where do you aspire to be?
I don't have an end-goal. I wake up in the morning, I talk to my mom, I go to the gym, I go to the studio. Life is good, you know? I want to make records that will last longer than like a blog post and I know everything is so quick right now but I wanna make things that, you know, the people that relate to them can keep going back to.
I feel like the themes in your music can definitely contribute to longevity.
You hear sh*t that's fun and you love it forever, too, and I'm not saying I don't want to make fun music, but I also feel like my fans get mad at me when I talk about things that aren't super serious. Like damn, y'all want me to be f**king miserable? [Laughs]
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It seems like you release a lot of your emotions in your music, do you have any other outlets for that, or would you say you leave it all in the music?
That's an interesting question. I mean music has always been cathartic. It's funny because I've been criticized for that in relationships. My girl at the time told me that I didn't talk—and I don't. I'm a very pensive and observant person, I'd much rather look at a room than participate in it and I think a lot of times it comes across as arrogant or aloof, but it's really just that I have a general distrust for most situations just because of my experience. I think my music is like a moment where I allow myself to be vulnerable. I'm glad I have it because I don't know what else I do to let things out.
Your "Crown Of Thorns" video has a huge boxing theme. Do you box?
I used to try, but I don't have that killer instinct. I love boxing though, I love boxing.
Your album is executively produced by !llmind, that's huge!
That's my boy since he rapped!
For real? I was gonna say how did that happen? I know he's worked with like Drake, J. Cole and the list goes on.
I worked with him first.
No, no, no. [Laughs] !llmind is my guy. I've known him for so long, we have such a history together. He's a genuine person, he's super talented, and we've been talking about doing this record for a long time. Actually, it's funny cause right before Joell [Ortiz] and him did the "Human" record, we started working on this. I finished it, I put it away and then I went to L.A. and I just kept working on music, but I was like "no, I gotta put this sh*t out, ‘cause it's dope."
I was watching a video where you guys were talking about the music and it seemed like you guys were really good at collaborating.
Yeah, he has such a good energy. I don't like to force sh*t. A lot of times people will ask you like "yo, what's your dream collab" and I'm like, "I don't give a f**k, I'm not chasing anybody." If it makes sense then that's what's supposed to happen. I just feel like there's so much pressure ‘cause the industry is all about relationships. It's like "oh, you're not cool unless you f**k with so and so" but I'm not trying to play that game, I just wanna make dope sh*t.
People try to force features with artists that are hot and you can hear it in the tracks, but you have your boys on your album, right?
Yeah. Even if my boys had no fans, if you're dope and we make a dope record, I’ma put that sh*t out. Everybody started with nothing, so it's foolish—I think it's short-sided to only deal with people who are hot for the moment.
It's called clout chasing.
It's how you become a trash person.
The credentials for "Crown Of Thorns" say you shot, directed and edited the video. Are you into videography?
We lost the footage for the original video.
I don't f**king know.
I mean it was over a year ago.
Yeah so we lost it and I was like "f**k, we need a video for this," ‘cause it was like the first video. I didn't know I put that in the credits, I should delete that, I don't want people to know that.
Why? It's dope that you're involved in all parts of the creative process.
Because I don't know what the hell I'm doing. [Laughs] I YouTube tutorialed everything. But yeah it's fun, it was actually dope cause now when he's shooting a video I could be like "nah man, let's do flash cut here" ‘cause I went to YouTube and now I know all these terms.
You can flex a little.
[Laughs] I'm an expert now.
"I want to make records that will last longer than like a blog post." —Emilio Rojas
Even with your music video for "The Cost" you were posting about how you were really feeling the Quentin Tarantino vibes of it, so I was really thinking that you were out here putting a lot of thought into your music videos.
I do but as an independent artist, you always wanna do these crazy f**king videos, right? But crazy f**king videos cost a crazy f**king amount of money. I really would like to do some crazy Quentin Tarantino sh*t, but instead we do like cool Quentin Tarantino sh*t, but I'm still proud cause it's like yo we did this on our own! We shoestring budgeted this sh*t and it still looks fly.
I thought it looked good.
Yeah I'm happy with it, I love it. You can make a lot of things happen just off of good old-fashioned can-do-it-ness—I made up that word but you can just make sh*t happen if you work and pull resources. I'm blessed to have fans that are supportive and friends that are supportive and everybody is willing to lend a hand and help me facilitate things, which makes a $2,000 look like $5,000.
Aside from "New To New York" do you have any other videos coming out?
We shot this video for a record called "20 Bands" which is dope, it's like a tattoo record. It's a little more ratchet—a lot of rap hands. I'm sitting on maybe 80 records besides this project so what I'm gonna do once we finish rolling this record out with !llmind is I'm gonna start dropping weekly and bi-weekly content. Probably a video a month.
You’re most excited for fans to hear "New To New York" but what record was most important to you?
"The Cost." I love that record because I was so beautifully passive aggressive in the moments that I created it. I was dating this amazing, beautiful, crazy girl from Queens and we lived together and she was getting jealous because I was about to go on tour. You know, when you're jealous and your boyfriend is an artist who's about to go on tour, the first thing you think of is "you're gonna be f**king bi**hes on tour!" So, you know, she's throwing plates, she's going to la bruja and sh*t and getting spells cast and I'm walking in the apartment and there's bowls of water in the corner and sh*t. We ended up breaking up right before I left for tour and this is two days before and she's in the room packing her sh*t and !llmind sent me this beat. At first I just put it on and just started writing just so she could hear me. I had no intention of putting the record out or anything, but then the sh*t turned out really dope. My boy Gene [Nobel] did the hook and I really like the record, it's like one of my favorite records. I just think it's so relatable, especially if you've ever been in a relationship that you just don't wanna let go of or just comes at a price, you know? For me to be in that relationship I would have had to sacrifice so much and that's why it's called the cost.
There's been a huge Latino dent in the charts lately. How do you feel about that?
We went through the fire. We were all told that it wasn't cool, we were told to tone it down. I literally just had this conversation, so I'm glad I'm getting asked it because people need to be held accountable and I wish I was brave enough and big enough to name drop, but I'm not. There are some very key players and some very influential people who at multiple different times in my career told me to either A, stop going by my real name and use my "passable whiteness" or B, just tone down the Latin sh*t as a whole. I've had major DJs at major radio stations tell me that they don't like to use my name on air because they feel like they're introducing a salsa artist and these are Latinos who are telling me this and they DJ in a city whose largest listening demographic is Hispanic. I've had major tastemakers, bloggers and influencers tell me to stop using Latin references—and I'm not even super OD with that sh*t—because they don't relate... meanwhile they're from f**king Nicaragua or some sh*t. Now those same people are literally scrambling to hop on the wave.
I've had those same people wonder, "why haven't you ever used a Latin angle?" Let me answer in Spanish: ¿qué? Like, what? What do you mean a Latin angle, like y'all sh*t on us for years? I had managers tell me! Like I got a song on one of the records where I'm like, "Management said can it with that Hispanic sh*t/ But mira mira motherf**ker" like that's what I am, you know? I don't ever claim to be something I'm not. My father is an immigrant from Venezuela, my mother is from New York, I grew up walking the line and that's all I ever talk about, I never claim one side more than the other and I think that's a voice that's just been muted, even now. Even with this resurgence of Latin culture, my voice is still unique because I talk about the assimilation. Like I'm a first generation child of an immigrant who's trying to identify with the Latin side as well as the white side and nobody is speaking for that.
I hear you.
How many kids are like us and who's speaking for us? Even now, there's still nobody. It's like this is a conversation that is echoed. This sh*t haunts me! I have this conversation all the time and there's definitely a void and there's a whole group of people just wanting to be addressed. We're a huge f**king group of people who are routinely marginalized and I wanna change that, even if I'm not the only voice—I hope I'm not the only voice. It's amazing to see Cardi and Bad Bunny and Ozuna and J. Balvin and all these people blowing up because we have such a rich culture and it's great the world gets to experience it but we went through it.
Can we expect any bilingual songs on Life Got In The Way?
No, because this is a little bit older. There might be some references, but when I was working on this record I was still very much in "tone it down" mode because I foolishly bucked to external pressures when it came to that. I like to talk about my experiences, but I was overthinking alienating a whole other audience. I do have a record that talks about it, though. It's called "Tainted" and it's already out, but it's dope. It talks about the duality, the struggle, how you're not enough for either side, and how both sides ostracize you because of that.