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Interview: eMC at RED Distribution

Two weeks ago, my friends and I sat down with eMC, a fairly new group consisting of legendary rappers Wordsworth, Masta Ace and Stricklin. Meeting them for the first and not wanting to ask the same dry questions that they’ve probably answered over and over, over the years, my crew and I decided to get a little deeper by asking the guys about their relationships, their grooming regimens, touring South America, how they choose which kinds of instrumentals or production to rap over, and more. If you weren’t familiar with the guys as individuals or a group before, we’re sure this insightful interview will be informative.


Richardine: So, we’re gonna record. Every time one of you answers, you can kind of like pass the phone so we can capture the voice. So, if you can, each of you start by saying your name and saying a little about yourself solo. And then we’ll start with the questions.

Wordsworth: Alright, what up world? This is Wordsworth of eMC. Known for, I had an album, The Photo Album, my album Mirror Music, but known for the Lyricist Lounge albums as well, and the Lyricist Lounge TV show.

Masta Ace: What’s going on? This is Masta Ace from Brooklyn, New York — one third of the group, eMC. A solo career that’s spanned since 1990 — 5 solo albums, 4 special projects, the newest special project is eMC, The Tonite Show, with these two talented brothers.

Stricklin: What up, world? It’s your boy Stricklin, I’m from Milwaukee, USA. So rapper, initially. I had a deal with Tommy Boy back in the late 90s. I put out some songs on that label. Then, met Ace right around that time and did a couple features on two of his albums — Disposable Arts and A Long Hot Summer. Then, we formed the group in ’08 — eMC. That was our first full-length, and now we’re back with our second full-length called The Tonite Show. So, here we are.


Richardine: Could you tell me about The Tonite Show? What’s the concept behind it?

Wordsworth: The concept behind The Tonite Show, this is Wordsworth, it’s a day-in-the-life of eMC finally getting to perform on The Tonite Show. And then it gives you all the mishaps and things that go on when we get there, and the things that happen backstage. It gives you a real great insight on what happens backstage. It probably happens in real life, but you also get to hear people being interviewed like you’re watching the TV show as well. So we have Russell Peters playing Jimmy Falcon.

Richardine: Laughing.

Wordsworth: Right? Then we have Rosie Perez, she’s on there, and we have Tony Rock being interviewed. So you hear their interviews, and their interviews tie into the songs. So, it’s pretty cool because it’s actual people and we appreciate their participation and I think people will be blown away at the way it all transitions and makes sense.

Capital: I guess being in a group is kind of complicated because, you guys have to come together to make a decision. So, how do you guys make a decision on like, what beat you’re going to use?

Masta Ace: I mean, the beat selection is pretty democratic. This is Ace speaking. We each have brought producers or beats that we thought might work for the group to the table. And, we’ll email them to each other and everybody will give their feedback. Usually, a beat doesn’t make the album if all of three of us don’t like it, and that’s really the main criteria. We all have to feel like it’s something we can make a song to. If one of us is a little shaky on the beat, then we’ll say okay, ‘Write something to it, let me hear where the song is going, and then maybe.’ A couple times that happened, where ‘Okay, now that I hear the concept, I’m with it. Let’s do it.’ And, that’s really the process.

Chantel: So for being on the road for so long, how do you manage relationships? Laughing.

Richardine: Laughing.

Masta Ace: That’s got to be for one of us?

Wordsworth: Why not Strick? You don’t want to talk about that?

Masta Ace: Sing-ale.

Wordsworth: Yeah, alright. This is Words. Really, technology. You know? I got T-Mobile just of the basis of unlimited data around the world. Straight up. It’s unlimited data. I could be anywhere, text, surf the web and do all of that. So, really the technology helps out tremendously. Then, just really when you’re local and when you’re home and able to, have your significant other or your wife or whatever come through and be around for those shows as well. But, it’s really just a lot of being on the road, and when you return home to have those little solo moments together. So, you gotta make sure you come back home and then have those moments alone, and try to show your appreciation too.

Masta Ace: I just want to add to that because I remember when we first went on tour together it was 2001, which doesn’t really seem like… I mean it was 14 years ago. It doesn’t seem like that long ago but nobody had cell phones. So, the only way we would be able to speak to our significant others was to get to the hotel, use the hotel phone, say ‘Here’s the hotel number, call me right back,’ and hang up.

Laughing.

Masta Ace: ‘Cause the hotels charged mad money.

Stricklin: I remember we used to go through cards with the little phone.

Masta Ace: Oh yeah, we would get the… but it was like a hustle.

Wordsworth: Banana cards!

Masta Ace: Yeah, we found this one calling card, the Banana card that used to last mad long, but it was a hustle to stay in touch.

Wordsworth: Plus with the hours difference, because we would be in like…

Masta Ace: The time difference, yeah.

Wordsworth: If we were in Europe, we would be like 6 hours ahead, then everybody’s waking up different times. So then we’re calling at midnight where we are, when they’re just waking up in the morning. Right?

Masta Ace: Nah, it’s opposite. 6PM.

Wordsworth: Yeah, we would have to call when we were finished with a show, trying to catch them before they go to bed and it’s so strategic the way you have to do your phone calls and stuff like that — just to be on the same schedule.

Capital: That was a long response. That whole thing right there.

Richardine: Laughing.

Wordsworth: Yeah, you know ’cause we care.

Capital: I never heard that one. That was a good question.

Richardine: Well, you guys have been around for a long time. Could you share what keeps the longevity? What makes you guys sustain over time? What do you think it is?

Wordsworth: You know, I had this conversation with myself the other day. You know? I think honestly, recognizing that there is a sense of integrity in what we do, and no matter when we rap or when we make songs, or when you hear us, people can vouch for — that we still sound as hot as when they first heard us. I think that stems from — we’re real self-aware in this group. You know? We listen to everything so the competitiveness of us being artists and being rappers, we’ve got that competitive nature and hunger from when we first started, to be better that whoever is out. So that, in itself, helps us sustain being nice with it. So I think, overall, really just recognizing the fact that to get to this point, and be here this long, and even when we first started to get recognized, we’re better than millions.

Masta Ace: For me, it’s continuing to be a fan of the music. You know, when we’re on the road or in vans, one of us is DJing, playing whatever the new music is out. He plays a lot of new stuff. Word sometimes comes with new stuff but we’re constantly listening to what’s out there. Whether we like it or we don’t like it. We voice our opinion about it, we think about it, and those are the things that keep me going. When I hear dudes spitting some crazy good stuff, I’m like, ‘Okay, dude’s really rhyming. My next verse has gotta compare to that.’ And, I’m always comparing myself to other rappers that out there. Whether they’re good or they’re bad. I’m trying to outdo them -— no matter what. That’s what this game is about, trying to be the best, and we’re constantly, always trying to do that.

Stricklin: For me, it’s just — We genuinely like each other. I don’t know why. We’re like fans of each other’s music but as people — we just talked about this earlier — Dudes are responsible, care about, we’re kind of thoughtful of each other’s likes and dislikes. I’m a little bit more thoughtful because my goal, when we’re on tour and when we’re together is to irritate Ace. And, that keeps me going, and that keeps everything light and fun. I just think you gotta have fun on the road. You kind of have to get on each other’s nerves and fight and laugh and joke and cry, and do all that stuff together. And, we’ve been doing it for so long that we know which buttons to press at which time, and we know when to back off with the jokes and get serious. We both, well we all three agree that the live show is probably the most important thing that we can give to people because that keeps them coming back for more. You know what I’m saying? That makes them want to go out and cop the CD and buy and not just, ‘Oh, you know what I like these guys, but I’ma just get their music for free.’ But, if they come to the show and see how we get down — and we learned a lot from Ace, who learned a lot from Kane.

Masta Ace: And Biz.

Stricklin: And Biz. So, we realize the importance of the live show and I just think a lot of artists today, they want to go on the road and do shows, but they don’t want to do nothing. You know what I’m saying? 20 minutes, do 3-4 songs and get the money and be out. Whereas, we work for ours. Ace will get on you onstage, during a show, if you’re not putting out as much energy as he thinks you need to be. I’ve gotten many — We call it a chicken wing, in the back — ‘Uhhh let’s go!’

Richardine: Laughing.

Stricklin: I be like ‘Yo! Get off me.’ But then, I realize, yeah, I should probably be doing a little bit more than what I’m doing. So, I think and the competitive juices like Ace or Words was saying earlier. We hear verses from each other and it’s like ‘Man, I need to go back to the drawing board.’ You know what I’m saying? We’re all trying to outdo each other. I’m just basically trying to keep up with them, and it’s fun. It’s just fun.

Richardine: Lays. Laughing.

Capital: I heard the cut, which one is it? The “Fly Thoughts” It’s kind of more of a commercial sound, then some of the stuff that I’ve heard before. Is that how the whole album is? Is it more commercially geared than your other work?

Masta Ace: I think what you hear, when you say commercial, I think you hear that chorus.

Capital: Yeah.

Masta Ace: Pearl Gates is a young up-and-comer. He’s 20 something years old.

Capital: He’s right outside.

Masta Ace: He’s right outside. He raps and sings. That song was going to go a whole different direction, but I think Strick was like ‘Yo, see if you can come up with something for the hook.’ So, he went home and wrote that hook, and when he sent it back, I ain’t gonna lie, I was like ‘I don’t know… This is a little…’

Richardine: Laughing.

Masta Ace: I used the term ‘moist’. ‘This is a little moist’.

Laughing.

Masta Ace: I don’t know. I don’t know because I know what our core fans are used to from us, but it was pretty much two against one. Like I said, we have this democracy going on. I said ‘Okay, y’all feel like that’s the way to go, let’s go with it.’ I think it’s okay to put different sounds out there. I listen to — some of my favorite artists will — they have their main sound but they’ll always experiment and do something a little bit out of the box. And, so when I thought about it from the perspective of it being Pearl Gates, him being 20-something years old, I was like ‘Maybe this is a cool thing. Maybe this is a way to connect with younger fans in some way. So, after all I feel like these guys were right in their decision, and I’m glad I listened to them.

Stricklin: We appreciate that.

Laughing.

Masta Ace: …and let them rock.

Laughing.

Masta Ace: It’s still moist though.

Capital: I just want to say that I think it’s a good blend, because y’all are still spitting on it.

Stricklin: And Rich, Ace’s partner, you can tell we had this conversation before…

Laughing.

Stricklin: That’s what Rich said. ‘Y’all are still doing your thing on there so that’s all that matters.’

Richardine: Particularly, I study a lot of artists. I’m young but I listen to everything. I was telling you earlier who my bro is and everything. Particularly, I like to study artist and see how they physically look over the years — like the wear and tear of being on the road. What would you say is your grooming regimen? Because you all still have your youthfulness. Like, you don’t look strung out. Or anything like that.

Laughing.

Wordsworth: Yeah. This is Wordsworth. One: None of us smoke anything. No cigarettes, no weed, and then on top of that, none of us drink. So, it would have to be like somebody’s birthday. It would be very occasional that we would see any of us drinking. That’s like very rare. Number 3, backstage, when you come backstage, you’d think it’s a yoga class because it’s like fruits, waters, juice.

Masta Ace: Twigs, berries, nuts.

Wordsworth: There’s no craziness with candy. It’s going to get left. All of that crazy stuff. We’re just well-aware of us being older people and not wanting to have the nonsense. So, if you come backstage, you’re going to be like, ’Nah, this ain’t no Hip-Hop show.’ You know? That’s how it is. For real. If you see the rider, you’re going to be like ‘What is that? They got Pistachios?’ Yep. All that. So it’s really just being self-aware. You know, self-aware. I think that’s huge with the group. We’re just self-aware on all these different things. Whether it’s music, health, all these different aspects. So, that no drinking, no smoking plays a huge part.

Masta Ace: And then on top of that — eating right but the fitness part of it. Our musical director that rolls with us and our merch guy, Steve, The Angry Merch Guy, there’s been times on the tour where we’ll wake up at 10 o’clock in the morning and go run 4 or 5 miles. Or, do a workout.

Stricklin: Not me. I’m not with them.

Masta Ace: Nah, ’cause he’s 140 pounds. So he like, ‘Y’all go ahead. I’m good.’

Stricklin: I do it sometimes. Occasionally.

Masta Ace: But yeah, we go out and run or we’ll do a workout. If the hotel has a nice gym, then we’re in there lifting. Health is wealth, and in order for me to continue to do what I do on stage, at my age — I don’t know if you know how old I am — but I’m jumping around. We sweat all the way down to the underwear every night, and if I wasn’t taking care of myself, I wouldn’t be able to do that. I would be breaking down early in the show. I’ve seen some of my peers that are the same age as me and they’re struggling. They’re just standing in one spot because they can’t breathe. I’ve been there. I know what that’s like and I didn’t want to be that guy. I want to be able to jump around, late in the show. I’m talking about the last song. I’m still ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’ And, that comes from doing these workouts that we do when we’re on the road — Staying healthy.

Stricklin: I just think the addition of Power, who he said was our musical director — He’s really not a DJ, but he controls the music during the show. He’s just a fitness fanatic — nut. He’s a nut.

Wordsworth: You seen him in the show.

Stricklin: Yeah, Baby Power with the big afro.

Richardine: Oh, okay.

Stricklin: Yeah, I call him a fraud though cause he’ll work out but then you’ll catch him with the snack cakes.

Laughing.

Wordsworth: Cheat day.

Stricklin: Yeah, his cheat day is Monday, or Tuesday, Wednesday. Nah, but Power, he’s a big influence on us. He’s like your mom and dad — just like always over you shoulder. Like ‘Yo Stiiiiiiick, why you drinking that? Don’t eat that. Why you drinking that? That’s why nobody likes you.’

Laughing.

Yeah, so he was an excellent addition to the family, and our traveling regimen.

Wordsworth: He’s actually doing the hook on the “Triple Threat” record, so if you heard the “Triple Threat”…

Masta Ace: And if you heard the video, he’s making a smoothie or a portion shake that we drink, so yeah. He’s annoying.

Laughing.

Chantel: So, what cities or countries do you remember being the best? Who’s showed the most love?

Wordsworth: That’s mad hard to say. I would say…

Masta Ace: I like Switzerland.

Wordsworth: I would say Switzerland ’cause recently, when we went there, it’s crazy. Just seeing the pictures from Switzerland, and all that and the stage.

Stricklin: Switzerland is always good. It’s like this whole wall lit up with our names on it. Over there, we got a way bigger following. It’s like rockstar status there. You know?

Wordsworth: You gotta say Germany, because that’s pretty much like home base.

Stricklin: We live in Germany.

Masta Ace: I was waiting to say Germany. That’s home base, the second home.

Wordsworth: We probably have been to every city there.

Masta Ace: Canada is dope too.

Wordsworth: Canada is nice. I might go with that Switzerland though, ’cause every time we go to Switzerland, it be right.

Masta Ace: I’m sticking with Germany ’cause I just — they never let us down.

Stricklin: Switzerland doesn’t either though.

Masta Ace: There are cities in Germany that we’ve been to 8 times in the last 15 years, and it’s still packed.

Wordsworth: We counted the total cities in Germany.

Masta Ace: 30?

Wordsworth: Yeah, something like that. Like 30 cities in Germany.

Masta Ace: Definitely over 20. So, Germany comes out.

Stricklin: I still say Switzerland.

Masta Ace: And, Germany has the fanatical fans that show up at soundcheck.

Richardine: Wow.

Masta Ace: That are lined up when the sun is still out. We’re coming to sound check and they’re already lined up like ‘Yo, what’s up? Sign something.’ It’s just another level with Germany. For me, personally, it’s definitely Germany for the love.

Richardine: You all, have hoodies on. Are you always in sync like that? Is that on purpose or…

Wordsworth: Sometimes, but nah.

Masta Ace: It’s press day.

Wordsworth: Well, it is press day but I have a shirt that I have to wear for a video, so I just have that one on under this one. Stuff like that, you know what I’m saying? For the most part though.

Stricklin: We pretty much represent, though.

Masta Ace: Onstage, for sure. We’re in sync onstage. We talk about that.

Wordsworth: Yeah. Onstage, you definitely can see it there, but it’s just a natural thing. If it’s could outside, we got the hoodies.

Masta Ace: Jackets.

Wordsworth: Yeah, we got the jackets. We got eMC jackets. Yep.

Laughing.

Masta Ace: It’s a movement. It’s a movement, people.

Richardine: So, the name of my publication is called GrungeCake.

Masta Ace: GrungeCake?

Richardine: Yes. When you first hear the name, what comes to mind?

Wordsworth: The grunge look.

Masta Ace: Cake.

Wordsworth: That’s what I thought about.

Masta Ace: I want some cake.

Wordsworth: And then, I try to think of grunge rhyming with sponge, thinking sponge cake.

Richardine: Laughing.

Wordsworth: That’s the first thing I think of — GrungeCake, sponge cake.

Stricklin: That’s why his name is Wordsworth.

Wordsworth: So, that’s the first thing I think of. But, you know, grunge sounds like “original grimy”.

Stricklin: It sounds like, grimy-feminine.

Richardine: Hm. That’s new.

Laughing.

Stricklin: It’s a dope name though. I like that.

Richardine: Thank You. What’s next for you guys?

Stricklin: Taking over the world.

Masta Ace: Brazil first. Going to Brazil next week for about 2 weeks — the first-ever South American tour. I’m hoping that can become our new Europe, where we start to conquer that continent. It’s so many counties in South America. Brazil is just the first stop, but over time, Columbia, Peru, like it’s a few really good spots that have Hip-Hop movements there. So this is the first step in the future for us— going forward. If we can get South America on the same level as Europe, we’ll really be doing some things. So, we’re gonna work at that.

Wordsworth: Then, we’re in Rhode Island tomorrow. Then, Monday, it’s a big show at SOBs for us. I hope y’all are there. If y’all all three can make it, one or three, two or three, whatever — just come through. Somebody represent.

Richardine: Definitely, somebody.

Wordsworth: Somebody, please.

Stricklin: And also, we have like a campaign attached to this album, it’s called The Tonite Show. It’s a fictitious day in the life on the album, but we’re trying to actually get on the real show. So, we started a website: emcdatewithjimmy.com, where people that enjoy our music —— I don’t like to call them fans —— but people that are down with us, can go there, leave a message on the message board, can read the mission statement and what we’re trying to do with this album, and just help us on this journey because I think it’s a no-brainer that we (should) wind up on the show, and perform a song off this album. We’re all big fans of the actual show. We’re big fans of The Roots. We know Jimmy Fallon is a huge Hip-Hop fan, so it’s only right that he has some good Hip-Hop music as a musical guest. We have Russell Peters as Jimmy Falcon on the album. In my mind, I think they should just do a whole night with just everybody on this album. So it should be Russell Peters as the comedy guest, Tony Rock should be on there, and then we should be the musical guest. So, that’s what I’m envisioning in my mind, and then, I’m going to make it happen. So, I need some help though. So everybody, go to the website, show your support. Hashtag: #eMCDateWithJimmy when you make your social media posts about the album, and let’s have some fun with it. We’re going to be putting out — You want to talk about the episodes we’re going to be putting out?

Masta Ace: Yeah, we just started shooting a web series called eMC Date With Jimmy. The first 3 episodes are already edited and ready to roll out. We’re going to be rolling them out one a week (at a time) until we get on the show. It’s basically showing the people this process of us trying to get on the show. We’re going to take you every step of the way, through what the steps are that we’re going to try to do to actually get on The Tonite Show. It’s going to be fun: Fun and funny.

Richardine: Nice.

Wordsworth: Our boy Rich, over there, thinks we’re not going to do it though.

Richardine: Why?

Wordsworth: He’s Negative Nancy.

Laughing.

Wordsworth: Chatty Patty and Negative Nancy.

Richardine: Oh.

Laughing.


Zuri Ward (Transcriptionist)


For more eMC, just click here.

Written by Richardine Bartee

Her unprejudiced love for people, the arts, and business have taken her this far. Join Richardine on her journey as she writes history into existence, one article at a time. Richardine is a member of the Recording Academy/GRAMMYs, and a GRAMMY U Mentor. She is part of the Complex Day Ones, an exclusive community to help make the Complex experiences even better.