Hip-Hop artist Emilio Rojas continues his fight for inclusion in the music industry on his new song, “New to New York.” As an biracial artist — born to a Venezuelan father and an American mother — Rojas has been told that in order to be successful in the music business, he has to “be less Latino,” “use his white privilege,” or “go by a different stage name” because being white made him more marketable than being Latino.
But, embracing his Latin roots, Rojas premieres his new video “New to New York,” a hip-hop anthem that’s not only for immigrants, but for everyone who is looking for security and a place to call home outside of their native countries.
Leading the pack of Latin artists who’ve been their true selves, Rojas explained to Billboard Latin the importance of his new single, inclusion as a LatinX artist, and empowering immigrants through his music.
Why is “New to New York” important to you?
The American Dream is about risking everything to make something of yourself and follow your dreams. It’s about class mobility and improving your life. It’s sad that right now we have so much going on that is in direct contrast to that. There are families, women, and children being tear-gassed at the border because they are seeking asylum. That’s not what our value system is supposed to be. We are supposed to be a land of opportunity, not a place of exclusion that’s crippled by xenophobia and fear. “New to New York” is important to me for this reason — because it’s my reminder that we’re all looking for acceptance and a place to call home. Sometimes we all need to hear that.
How do you think you’ve been left out the LatinX narrative and what issues do you see with it?
I think inclusion in the Latin music narrative is one I’m still coming to terms with, but I also think it’s a problem for the whole genre. First, for a long time, Latinos have been totally left out of hip-hop’s narrative. Second, music executives (even Latin music executives and radio program directors) have contributed to the stigma of what an acceptable “look or sound” is for artists of Latin descent. Being interracial, I’ve been told to “use my passable whiteness“ or “go by a different stage name” to downplay the fact that I am Venezuelan because to those executives being white made me more marketable than being Latino.
In the music industry, there is this attraction to the”exotic” Latin artist who breaks into the American music scene and becomes the face of Latin music. The industry doesn’t know how to market us if we aren’t making straight Spanish music and fitting into those particular roles. To be honest, even labeling plays a large part in exclusion. There’s a fine line between being proud of your culture, being referred to as a “Spanish Rapper” or “Latin Music” and those same labels being used as a barrier to limit opportunities for LatinX artists and the Latin community as a whole. People hear my name and automatically have their minds made up about what I can and can’t talk about, how I should look, what language my music needs to be in, and whether or not I am a fit for any of the platforms/ opportunities they have access to.
What are your plans to help immigrants using your platform and LatinX artists for greater inclusion in the genre?
The best way to help anyone is to make more and more people aware. We have to realize immigration and immigrant issues are everyone’s issues. People have to see what’s happening and be like “Hey – tear gassing children whose parents are trying to give them more opportunity is WRONG.” Hollywood has to stop only casting Latinos as gang members and criminals. Music executives have to allow us to create our art and stop limiting what they will accept from us as “authentic” or “marketable.” Right now, that has begun to change. We have people advocating for Latin artists, the culture, and the music we create. A lot of these advocates come from first or second generation immigrant families, so they recognize that inclusion is essential, and they love the culture and want to see it change. But these are baby steps. That’s something I’m never going to stop fighting for — not just for myself, but all Latin Artists that have been putting in the time and just want to do what they love. There’s still so much work to be done.