An Interview With: Hero the Emcee
Boston rapper ‘Hero the Emcee’ dropped a fresh single a few weeks back titled ‘Fuckin Boston.’ He’s also gearing up to drop a brand new project called Polyvinyl Chloride sometime in the coming weeks as well. We sat down recently and chatted about his current endeavors, and also what’s led up to this point in his career thus far. Peep our convo below.
Name: Hero the Emcee
Hometown: Roxbury, MA
First memory of hip hop?
“My mother took me to a Gang Starr show when I was really young. There’s my top ten, but Guru is like, number one. And I don’t know if that sort of set it up to be that way, but this shit would not be what it was if that didn’t happen. It was my first exposure to hip hop and for it to be someone as dope as Guru…it’s truly blessed.”
Ma Dukes is a real one for that. How old were you when you had the idea to make music?
“Um, I was never really good at anything (laughs). I struggled for a long time, especially in my youth, to find something that I was good at. I liked baseball a lot, but I was never good enough to be in the Major Leagues. And I liked football a lot, but I was never gonna play in the NFL. I was always coming up short in life, and then when I turned about 15, I think I just started writing more and more and more. When I learned how to make beats I feel like my mind reverse-engineered flows in my head, and I figured it out. I was like: ‘I got it!’ For me, I was able to figure out rapping by producing.”
I would never have honestly guessed that. That’s wicked cool.
“It’s still something I do, still something I practice every now and then, but MCing is definitely where most of my talent lies.”
Hell yeah. When did you start to formulate actual songs?
“I mean, right around that same time. I’ve always been a good songwriter, not just bars, but also like: ‘is the hook going here? Does the hook fit with everything else? Do the lyrics fit with the hook? Is there an intro, is there an outro?’ It’s a bigger picture. I can’t freestyle for shit, but I think I’m nasty with the pen.”
It is interesting how every artist has their own process.
“Yeah definitely. And I don’t go to the studio, I write by myself. Record by myself. Mix and master by myself. I send it to people for advice, and the occasional touch-up, but everything it pretty much made by me. And I feel like with doing it that way allows me to be a lot closer to the music.”
Has it always been this way?
“After I put out Maximum Carnage in January of 2020, which was all produced by this Roxbury producer 16BitSpit, I started to talk more and more with people who wanted to push my career forward and give me professional advice. And wanted all my stuff professionally mixed and mastered. For a little bit, it was working, but I felt like at the end of the day, I would get the songs back and I’d be like: ‘Is this even my track?’ Ya know. There’s nothing wrong with doing it professionally, cause clearly that works for a lot of people, but for me, I just find that working on the music by myself just works a lot better.”
You have to do what feels right to you. That’s really it. There’s no one Universal thing. Do you, always. When did you upload your first track online? You dropped your Roxbury album in 2016 right?
“Yeah, that album, I think it’s great for the time, but I’ve grown out of it. Most people do grow out of their music, I don’t perform any of it live any more. First song I recorded off of it was ‘Boom.’ Spent three months recording that track. I would just write it and write it and write it again.
Were there any MCs you looked up to early on?
“Um, when I first started I definitely looked up to Ed O.G. Huge. Termanology, huge. Reks, huge.”
Reks is one of the best from that area, so good.
“So good. As far as other inspirations, I thought I was taking this seriously, but from 2016 to like beginning of 2019 I only had my shit on SoundCloud. It stemmed from me loving 90s hip hop so much that I was stuck in the 90s…”
What do you mean by that?
“I just did not give a shit about social media. I was just under the impression that good music will always find good people, but that’s just not how it is today. If you want to cater to the most amount of people, you don’t have to change your sound, but you do have to make it accessible to the most amount of people. I gotta be on Spotify, I gotta be on Apple Music, I gotta be on Bandcamp. Being on everything, everywhere, is important. So, about halfway through 2019 I started doing shows, started on social media. Started doing everything. I played 60 shows in the last half of 2019 and I just wanted to get my connections up. Meet people. I’ve booked 75 artists with ‘Bars Over Bars’ and every single one of them is someone I consider myself to be inspired by.”
I wanted to now talk about some of your more recent endeavors, but before we move on, I also wanted to show some love to Boston real quick. Are there any local spots, could be anything from music stores to food spots, that you wanna shout out?
“Big shoutout to Dorchester Art Project. Not only are they a fantastic venue, but they do a lot for the Boston Community. Big shoutout – I’m just naming a bunch of venus that I’ve been fortunate enough to play during this weird time – Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain. Tiny Oak Booking, they’ve been helping us book shows there. Um, Mario’s Subs in Roxbury. One of the best chicken kebab subs on the planet. Honestly. Blue Hill Cafe is terrific.”
What’s your favorite thing, and least favorite, about living in Massachusetts?
“Fuck everyone who owns a car (laughs). Every single person who owns a car is a big piece of trash. Should not be on the road.”
That’s a bold take (laughs).
“Everyone who owns a car sucks, the driving here sucks, the traffic sucks BUT when you can get to where you’re going, it’s just a beautiful place to live in.”
Let’s keep it flowing. You got some music out, the latest being The 8th Letter. Is there anything you wanna say about that project?
“ The 8th Letter came out November 15th, 2020 and it is currently my best body of work. It’s 15 tracks, no skips, no intro, no outro, just 15 tracks of blood, sweat and tears. And a lot of bars. It started as this thought that always comes in my head: ‘why do people get more love when they’re dead?’ Artists especially. The 8th Letter is all about: ‘what does it mean to be a legend? Is it important to be a legend? Do you need to die to be a legend? Is the legacy that we as artists crave hard to earn, or given due to fatal circumstances?’ Meaning, do we have to die to have legacy?
I end it with the track ‘7th Letter Man,’ which is a dedication to Guru – honestly most of my music is – but it touches upon the fact that Guru died in 2010, but he wasn’t even mentioned in the artists that passed in The Grammy’s that year. The 8th Letter tries to ask questions and get some of the ball rolling about how we should start paying attention to artists before they pass. How we should give love to MCs before they pass.”
Those are some interesting themes you’re bringing into play, and they definitely deserved to be thought of. Thanks for talking on the new project. I also wanna talk about ‘Bars Over Bars.’ For the people at home, break down what this is.
“So I started ‘Bars Over Bars’ in January of last year, and it basically started because I didn’t want to pay to perform anymore. In Boston we don’t have anything like ‘Rap Night’ or ‘Monday of the Minds.’
‘Nightworks’ is the only close thing I imagine, but that’s more of a beat showcase.
“Yeah it’s more producer heavy, more of a beat showcase. There isn’t a showcase, especially for the ‘lyrical-miracle-spiritual’ guys like myself. If you wanna perform in Massachusetts you have to pay a promoter a certain amount of money, hopefully it comes with tickets, hopefully you get to make your money back. Sometimes you don’t. For example, you pay $300 for a slot, you get 40 tickets, sell 20 of them at $15 and get your money back. Maybe you can’t even get ten people to come to your show. Or you get ten people to come and they’re all family so now you’re out $300. It’s all about whether you think investments are worth it or not. I hated to pay to play. For a lot of artists like me that’s your only option. Then I went up to Rap Night. Then I met a lot of Maine and New Hampshire guys. It’s a different fucking world up there. Rap Night especially made me fall in love with throwing shows just for the love of the craft. So that’s kinda how it started.
We threw four shows, and then COVID hit. It became: ‘I started this to throw shows, so now what?’ At that point, nothing was going to stop me from throwing shows. We threw 20 events in 2020 from July to December. Most were livestream and most weren’t allowed to have much of an audience, but it helped build the narrative that livestream is the future. Every event that we’re doing, even years from now, because it allows the event to be documented and recorded, but to be shown and shared to so many people online. Not only do we throw at least four shows a month, all over New England, but we do seven livestream programs. Everything we do on those livestream programs is geared solely to submission and artist discovery. We truly want artists to tune in and grow as people, and just grow as a hip hop community.”
Word, I think you hit everything I was looking for. Let’s wind down here. What’s something you’re excited for?
“Um, I’m definitely excited for shows to come back on a grander scale. I just can’t wait to start going to real shows again. Another thing I’m looking forward to, hopefully I’m dropping an album in April. The project is called Polyvinyl Chloride , which is the main ingredient in wax records. Everything is produced by this European producer named Wax100. I was just on YouTube, and I heard their beats, and I was like: ‘this is some of the best boom-bap I’ve ever heard. I need this guy!’ It’s ten tracks, Lee Giles did all the artwork.”
“He is the most wholesome illustrator I’ve ever met. He’s terrific.”
Love it. Where can people reach you?
“On everything – Facebook, Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram. HeroTheEmcee. And that’s it. Find me everywhere.”
Let’s get into the last question. Where will Hero the Emcee be one year from now?
“You know, I don’t really know. I have no dreams or aspirations to be the greatest alive. I just wanna make good music, make it with good people, and push New England forward as much as I can. I just hope whatever I’m doing a year from now is amplified by ten.”
Great answer yo. Look for Polyvinyl Chloride soon!
images via Hero the Emcee
– Benny P