Hamilton based Emay (Mubarik Adams) has been an impressive fixture of the Hamilton hip hop scene for a few years.  Emay (pronounced like M.A.) released  his latest EP “Sinner, Song-Writer” at the end of 2014 and it has been getting rave reviews steadily since then. This Cut From Steel interview was originally done at the time of the December 19th show – but due to technical errors on our part it was not posted in time.

Emay was already the most media savy MC / Producer working out of Hamilton.  In terms of getting a following on the internet, having a great website, and having blogs posting your music, Emay’s game is strong. And he was already one of the most interesting lyricists and all around nicest guys. The success of “Sinner, Song-Writer” is bound to push this further and tell everyone who doesn’t already know that Emay is amazing.  “Sinner, Song-Writer” is the best EP that came across our earbuds at Cut From Steel in the fall / winter of 2014. The first single “Who Am I?” (Ft. Star Slinger) is a powerhouse track that currently has 30,570 plays on Soundcloud (I’ll take the credit for about 100 of those plays).  “Sinner Song-Writer” is a great piece of music because it takes the great beats, lyrics, and flow that Emay has been giving us for years – but it focuses them and elevates them in a way that shows us what Emay is really all about. You can send someone this EP and it will give them a very good representation of Emay very quickly. You don’t really need to know the back story to understand very quickly what this guy is all about: intelligent lyrics, modern beats, and great flow. “Sinner, Song-Writer” is about love, life, and some serious real talk about our racist and corrupt world.

We caught up with Emay late last month to talk about the record and a lot more.

Q –  Can you tell us a bit about how long you’ve been in Hamilton and / or what your connection is to the city?
I’ve been in Hamilton since 2008, and my connection to the city was definitely something that has grown a lot over the years. Before 2008 my family used to rarely make a trip down here to visit some family friends, but eventually we were having a lot of familial issues and decided to move to Hamilton. At first I wasn’t big into Hamilton and it’s probably because I had only really heard negative things about the city, but after I became immersed in the culture itself, I got a different taste of what Hamilton is and can become.

Q –  Can you tell us about how you got into making music.. beats..
My mother used to listen to a lot of different music. This included Country, Reggae, Hip-Hop, West African music, and some others. She was no music connoisseur, but was simply drawn to whatever caught her ear. Eventually my older sister who listened to mostly RnB and Hip-Hop got a MIDI keyboard for one of her birthdays when I was around 10 years old, and I would attempt to create melodies and learn all of the songs that were programmed into it. I think that this is when I started to become more familiar with the dynamics of the keyboard and became very comfortable with it.I only started creating beats around 2005-2006 when I really started to get into hip-hop. I was especially drawn to producers like DJ Premier, J Dilla, Q-Tip, Kev Brown and many others. I loved that all of them took their influences and created something original out of those influences. The way in which they would sample songs is what the struck me as phenomenal as well. It was initially my goal to emulate those producers, but then eventually I got to the point where my own style was beginning to take its shape. That’s when my focus shifted towards crafting my own distinct style of production.

Q – What was the inspiration behind your latest album?
Simply put, it was all of my personal experiences that created the project. James Trauzzi who runs the Hi-Scores Recording Library label had contacted me some years back because he’d heard of me through my work with Blackbird Blackbird and Star Slinger as Seeing Suge. He thought it would be cool if I did a project where I was working with the various producers that I’m affiliated with, so I began gathering beats and eventually I noticed a theme in the songs I was writing for those beats and that spawned the Sinner, Songwriter concept.

Q – You seem to have just the right amount of political and societal commentary in your music. To what extent do your political beliefs, opinions, etc affect your music? Is that something you consciously think about it?
I think that they most certainly have an effect on my music. I’ve come to terms with the fact that politics will find you whether you want it to or not. If I choose not to talk about it, it will still impact lives in every corner of the planet. We can no longer be afraid to name names and talk directly about the issues we face in society. Whether it be staunchly criticizing global capitalism or talking about racism, sexism, homophobia or disability rights and how they’re all intertwined, I think it’s incumbent on me to share what I’ve learned and/or experienced in regards to them.

Q –  If you could get young people to pay attention to one societal / political issue – what would that be? 
I would get them to pay attention to all of the issues if I could. Not only individually, but in relation to one another. I think that that’s the most important. I mean, a person can understand everything there is to know about race-related issues alone, but if they don’t understand how capitalism plays into racism, then I think it’s almost an utter waste of time to talk about it. None of these issues exist in a vacuum. For example, why is it that people love to talk about how poor a country Haiti is but they don’t talk about how it was a former slave colony of France? Poverty doesn’t just appear out of thin air. Not to mention that when the Haitians fought for their sovereignty, France put them into a debt of 120 billion dollars (150 million francs at the time) since France lost “men and slaves”. It’s astonishing that anybody can talk about Haiti’s poverty but not know anything about the history behind it. Context is everything.

I would get them to pay attention to all of the issues if I could. Not only individually, but in relation to one another. I think that that’s the most important. I mean, a person can understand everything there is to know about race-related issues alone, but if they don’t understand how capitalism plays into racism, then I think it’s almost an utter waste of time to talk about it.

Q – What sort of music did you listen to growing up? Who are some of your main influences?
I listened to mostly pop music when I was really young. In middle school I got into playing classical and jazz on the radio, and then in high school I got really big into hip-hop. Aside from some of the names I had mentioned before, I was really influenced by artists like AZ, MF DOOM, Common, Mos Def, O.C., Big L, Lord Finesse, Kanye West, Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind and a boat load of others as well.

Q – Your websites have always been really slick and all of the visuals you’ve used have been great. How involved are you with that aspect of things? Do you make art.. websites, etc?
My friend Erik Kirtley who is a graphic designer from Sweden does the majority of my artwork. He designed my website and has done most of my album covers as well. I usually show him the project I’m working on, he gets the feel for it and then we brainstorm some ideas and things go from there. For the Sinner, Song-Writer cover especially we brainstormed for weeks before coming up with the idea of masks that represent every song. Representing songs that are vastly different but uniform.

Q – What’s your relationship with online promotion been like? The playcounts / view counts on your things have always been impressive.. so whatever you’re doing seems to be working well.
I feel like online promotion is crucial for any artist right now. It’s a great tool for branching out across the globe and expanding ones fan base. I really hate doing promotion though because I just want to create and not have to worry about all of the business aspects of it. But the reality is that I have to be involved in that process as well since it’s an opportunity to further support myself with music. It’s also kind of an art in itself.

Q – What do you think about the musical community in Hamilton these days? What’s it like for a young MC in the city these days?
I think that it’s a really great community. It’s very diverse and there’s a lot of really original music being made here. Hamilton is a pretty easygoing city in regards to the music scene, so people are very loyal and pretty much open to almost anything it seems. I do feel like the hip-hop community needs a lot more support though. Artists like Lee Reed, Mother Tareka and the band Canadian Winter have done a good job of molding themselves in this city, so I hope that younger hip-hop artists can see that and learn something from that.

Q – Are you making any New Years resolutions?
Haha not really. I barely even celebrate my own birthday.

Q – What’s some of your favourite music from 2014?
I haven’t been too updated in terms of the new stuff coming out, but Bones in the Soil, Rust in the Oil by Pretend is a really great album that I listen to almost non-stop. I’ve also been listening to Bembeya Jazz a lot which is a Guinean band mostly active in the 70s. I still have to listen to the latest Flying Lotus and Run the Jewels albums, but that’s something I will be doing very soon. Scared of listening to the latest Wu Tang album but can’t wait to listen to the latest Ghostface record.

Thanks, Emay!

Biljana
@CutFromSteel