Jonathan Emile. Photo by Michael Ritter
Truthfully, I never wanna find out if I’m right about this. But I’d go ahead and guess that when you’ve faced death and lived to remember your face in its dark reflection, and you’ve been lucky enough to continue on, you do so within a certain mindframe that illuminates the duality of your nature.
If I could have sit down and chopped it up in person (as I often have, informally) with Jonathan Emile, maybe I’d have ended up articulating that with him. It always seems kinda cold to email interview anyone, let alone someone you consider a friend, but at the same time it allows a certain latitude to stay on point. And, as a man of dualities, that’s where Jon tends to stay in general.
With his debut, solo longform effort, The Lover/Fighter Document LP, out today, allow me to reintroduce you to artist and entertainer, student and educator, singer and rapper, message man and party starter Jonathan Emile.
Darcy MacDonald: Jonathan, you’re a versatile performer — you’ve even done musical theatre, on top of singing, rapping, and playing. I’d like you to kind of explain how you got started, and how these talents intertwine.
Jonathan Emile: Yeah, I had a great run at the Segal Centre in 2013 doing Ain’t Misbehavin’. It was actually the first time I did any type of theatre. I take whatever comes as a challenge as long as I can stay true to myself.
Rapping comes the most naturally, but when I started singing, it just opened up a new door for me creatively. At that point, I just let myself be creative and explore the limits of performance, whether in front of a band, on stage or in TV and film.
I started writing poetry when I was like 13, just for fun. In fact, I did that at Black Theatre Workshop, a theatre company. I approached the stage and poetry around the same time. But I didn’t take it as a career path or whatever until after my cancer treatment around the age of 21.
DM: With that in mind, where you feel most expressive — solo, live, with others, studio, a mix?
JE: I never really made that distinction. People always tell me I sound the same on wax as I do live. Honestly, for me it’s the same process, you know, just conveying the message and giving a passionate performance. I’m always concentrated on the listener, when I’m in the booth or on the stage.
As far as playing live goes, there’s nothing like having a band with you on the stage. You have an entire squad to inspire changes in your work. They make it better, they immortalize it. I learned that working with the Morph-Tet and Kalmunity.
DM: This album has been in the works for a minute. Please explain your process, and your patience, if that is fair. These days most want their next album out yesterday.
JE: I don’t know. It’s strange. We live in a consumer-driven, capitalist society. But this is not just a product to me… it’s literature, it’s art. People see music like fast-fashion, and I never understood that. Shit that comes out today is just so corny, so soulless, so materialistically aspirational. Just way too much filler over trend beats.
Music is more like a book to me. People have a hard time understanding that I have not been working on a single album; I’ve been working on my entire catalogue. I’ve been working on building my career, skills, and repertoire. I’m just not down with rushing things out. I mean, things don’t have to be perfect, just sincere and meaningful. Going through cancer treatment taught me how to be patient and meaningful. But I’m sure with bigger budgets and resources, my next project will come out sooner, ’cause I can focus on it full time if I choose.
DM: You had the EP, and several Morph-Tet projects, leading up to now. How did these inform your debut solo LP?
JE: The people. Many of the Morph-Tet players contributed to the album. They are friends, true homies. Franco Proietti with Sax on “Heaven Help Dem” and “The Century.” Shaun Ryan co-composed two beautiful, epic sections to the songs “Radiation” and “Warp 9.” Martine Labbé and Chris Vincent of Busty and the Bass did some horn parts.
Others in the band contributed to the song with KRS-One that did not make the album but will be re-released later on. The EP, honestly, was a foreshadowing, a test to see how far I could take this, if it resonated with people. Another track on the EP was supposed to be on this album, but the album really took on a life of its own.
Denis Brott plays on “Be Okay,” “Life of God” and “Pertina Gayle” – he’s an amazing cellist who runs the Montreal Chamber Music Festival in May every year. Kim Richardson is such a soulful woman, I was so humbled to learn from her while we were both working on the musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Aphyliated is one of the dopest producers in the city; he worked on the Buckshot joint. David “Lo-Go” Lotley Goodman is a 16-year-old producer and pianist, his shit is terrifyingly incredible, watch out for him, he produced “Hi-Lo” and “The Time.”
And there’s Ashley Rose. At 17 she’s one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met in my life, with a beautiful angelic vocal tone. She’s from Toronto, but this is Canada, so I guess 500km away is local for us.
DM: We spoke about the Kendrick collab at some length early this year. Where do you stand now? I heard you were pretty pissed at TDE again recently.
JE: Pissed? No. Just disappointed.
And I’m always gonna tell it like it is. I did everything humanly and professionally possible prior to the release of the song. Kendrick’s management acted like a bunch of cowards.
Imagine you buy a car, and as soon as you decide to drive the car off the lot, the salesman runs in the street and slashes the tires. So yeah, that was some sloppy, clown-ass shit on the part of TDE, especially since I sent them the final joint well before the release date, as a courtesy.
They had no grounds to block the track on YouTube and Soundcloud. That’s why it went back up a month later, and stayed on VEVO. They confirmed reception of the song and said nothing to us until days after it was out. It was just a move to take attention away from the song. I can’t respect that and I wont bit my tongue about it. Who would? Pissed? No – just a disappointing experience, all around.
DM: You have several high-profile guests on the album and I know that where possible you collaborated beyond Internet back-and-forths. Please tell us a tale or two from the collab process.
JE: That’s a great question. Most of the collabs on the album were not internet based, I hate working that way ’cause I don’t write filler or mixtape quality stuff.
Spending time with Murs in the studio and shooting the video was truly extraordinary. We linked with him in Vermont and spent the day chilling, that’s when I found out he’s a crazy comic book head. He also just kept going on passionately about his wife, and what life was like being away from her and how integral she was to his life and craft.
It sort of made me feel like, “Wow, I’m not the only one” ’cause I could more than just relate. When I met him, it finally gave me the confirmation I needed to be fully hip-hop without excluding other parts of myself. It’s like so many rappers are an all or nothing proposition, or a caricature of real humans. Murs is a person with a lot of depth who doesn’t need to overkill or tap-dance for anyone. He’s a comic book head, a scientist, a entrepreneur, a husband and real MF — just confident and powerful being himself.
There are several features I recorded online that got cut because they sounded too ‘Internet back-and-forth’. Buckshot and me linked up in the studio here in Montreal, and it was blessed, same with most of the other instrumentalists and musicians.
DM: What do you feel this project accomplishes, thematically, artistically, and as a document? And where does it motivate you to take things next?
JE: I think it manages to show that both the ‘Lover’ and the ‘Fighter’ can be one and the same. There is no black and white – there is only colour. Artistically, it’s a rendering of my years in remission from cancer. It’s covers what it’s like to die, and to subsequently come back to life, fall in love and resist against all odds.
Musically, it just bumps. Even if you’re not a lyrical person, you can still feel it.
As a document, it’s a promise. I feel like I was given a second chance, and I promised to spread some love out onto the world. We all have our personal and social struggles. This is just some musical motivation.
Here’s some more musical motivation for your long weekend.
Friday: Monk.E marks 10 years of doing his damn thang steady on the mic with a full-out party at Club Soda with guest Syme, Reptile Rampant and Cheak. You can catch Monk.E here, there and everywhere on the regular, but really, this is a treat for fans and supporters not to be taken for granted. Go give that love back and celebrate a decade of primal knowl. It’s an early show, wrapping by 11:15, so don’t be late.
Follow that up at Casa del Popolo with CRi, Keru Not Ever and Phil Sparkz b2b Rosewater CTZ (event details here).
Saturday: Celebrate Walla P’s bday at Voyage Funktastique with Dr. MaD and Marley.
Sunday: Newspeak brings you La Suite with Donald Lature and Simahlak to put a little givin’ in your thanks.
Although it may be said Thanksgiving Is Overrated at la Rockette with DJs Ogden and Yes McCan.