Emily King: Around the Way Girl

21-year-old New York native Emily King is shaping up to be the next soul phenomenon. Prepping the upcoming release of her debut album East Side Story, King has been on a royal tour performing for Hip-Hop purists and R&B connoisseurs around the city and the world. Yet with the gigging exposure and heartfelt lyrics, little is known about the multi-racial songbird. AllHipHop.com Alternatives wanted to delve deeper into the mind of the next contender for the R&B throne. We caught up with her at the Bowery Poetry Café in SoHo, NYC to guest star in the first entry of her webisode series. In this unscripted, no-holds-barred interview (and impromptu therapy session), we find out what it’s really like to walk in her shoes.AllHipHop.com Alternatives: In doing my research, I keep hearing the same stuff. I figured that I’d just do a bit of talking. I want to be your therapist.Emily King: Nice!AHHA: So how are you feeling?Emily: I’m feeling really good. I was tired this morning, but I’m better. I got my shake, my juice.AHHA: Did you make music this morning?Emily: I didn’t “make music” this morning…I practiced. [laughs] I like to write at night.AHHA: So you’re a bit of an insomniac. Emily: I’ve always stayed up late… there’s something about when everybody’s asleep where you have a silence to yourself.AHHA: How did that come about? It might be a habit. Were you at home and your parents would yell, “Stop that racket!” [laughs]Emily: [laughs] I live in a small place with a bunch of people, and really that’s the only time I have to myself – unless I’m in the bathroom or something.AHHA: Do you write in the bathroom?Emily: [laughs] I try not to because I’ve banged up my guitar on the sink.AHHA: How was it performing at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival?Emily: It was good. I had a great time. AHHA: You were the only R&B artist there. How did that happen?Emily: It’s all in who you know I guess. [laughs] The music got submitted and accepted. I thought that was interesting too. I would have loved to hear more R&B too, but it’s a Hip-Hop fest.AHHA: How do you feel about the R&B genre mixing with Hip-Hop?Emily: I’m a melody girl, so I listen to the melodies first in songs. Hip-Hop has some beautiful melodies, too. I think they kind of go hand-in-hand culturally. AHHA: That’s interesting, because with everything that I’ve seen, it feels like you’re anti-radio R&B. I feel like you want to fight every R&B artist that’s out. [laughs]Emily: [laughs] I think that there’s a lot of great music out there. I try to not be like one of those people [that say], “This is real music.” That’s bulls**t. Everybody has their own thing. I don’t deal with anyone’s crackpot theories – that’s my dad’s expression. Shout out to my pops! I have respect for everybody’s music, and real music is everything. I think it’s corny when everybody’s like, “My music is real.” AHHA: So who’s your favorite artist now?Emily: My favorite artist now…I don’t really have favorites.AHHA: Then name an artist you really like…Emily: I love Outkast; I love Gnarls Barkley. Cee-Lo has an amazing voice.AHHA: And your favorite cut from Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere?Emily: “Feng Shui.” That and something with the monster.AHHA: “The Boogie Monster”? [starts singing “The Boogie Monster” off-key]Emily: Yeah! I like that one!AHHA: Would you ever perform in costume like they do?Emily: [laughs] Would you? I don’t know what I would dress up in. Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. The past costumes have been Dracula; I’ve been the Terminator. [laughs] I had the facemask and the eye!AHHA: And you’d Trick-or-Treat around here?Emily: Yeah! We’d go to the bodegas and knock on doors. They’d give us candies and pennies.AHHA: Any neighborhood memories that have dramatically shaped your life?Emily: There’s tons of those. [New York] has changed a lot – I would say that much. I think a lot of neighborhoods in New York are changing with gentrification and all that – the rich people are moving in and kick the poor people out. A lot of the older people in my building have passed or have been kicked out into nursing homes. I just loved how everyone used to sit out on the street with the lawn chairs and hang out all day.AHHA: Where were you during the New York City blackout like two years ago.Emily: I was… out of town. I missed it!AHHA: What? You’re not even a New Yorker! We’re taking back your New York card. Well on a more somber note, were you in New York on 9/11?Emily: I was. I was in high school. I walked by the office and saw on television that the World Trade Center had been hit. They didn’t let anybody know about it yet…any of the kids. We had this thing, morning meetings in the cafeteria. I’m thinking “Oh my God! My grandmother works on the 101st floor, and that sounds pretty serious.” I remember telling a teacher and he laughs saying, “Oh, what do you think…she got hit by a plane?” That’s how stupid school was! Shout out to high school! Thank God my grandmother was okay, but that was a historical moment. I never felt the city like that before…I don’t think anybody has.AHHA: Right after it happened, everybody in New York was happy to see New Yorkers.Emily: Yeah, we were all family! People would see each other on the street and be happy to help each other out. I mean, can we savor that [feeling] for a little while?AHHA: It’s scary now. Even just talking about the New York public school system, my public school experience was decent. Now, it’s pretty much gone to the craps. Is there anything you would do to change it?Emily: One thing I’ve noticed – I’ve jumped around to a couple of different schools – no art, no music, and not even gym at one of the schools. So I would put more money into that, you know? They’re just sucking the budget out of the educational system, and the teachers are stressed; the kids are out of control. I think they just need to figure out how to make school fun again – I don’t know if [school] was ever fun, but fun maybe for the first time. Change the scheduling or change how you do things. They’re a few alternative schools in the city that try that, but definitely music and art definitely help.AHHA: I don’t think they want anyone to be creative anymore.Emily: Yeah! Like don’t start your own company, just go follow the trend! That’s the whole traditional mentality. AHHA: And you were 16 when you decided to follow your dream. What was that conversation with your parents like?Emily: They were both musicians, and it’s not like they had day jobs either, so what could they tell me? I knew that that was what I wanted to do. I had to save myself, because I was really emotionally going down in that system. That’s what I did to save myself. I got out and got my GED so they could have some sort of paper…or validation. After all those years, it came in the mail, like a slap in the face. I think they were okay because they could see I was focused and determined.AHHA: And what if you weren’t signed to J Records… how would your life be different?Emily: Well I kind of grew up in that scene. The jazz world is different. The J Records scene is completely different – the money is different; the mentality is different between the musicians. A jazz player is happy to get like 50 bucks for a gig. In the Hip-Hop and pop world, that’s like not acceptable. It was amazing for me to see that and for my parents [to see that]. What would I be doing? I still would be gigging. This is my passion and what I love to do. I’ve probably be here [at the Bowery Poetry Club]. What…you don’t believe me?AHHA: At the Joe’s Pub’s show, you said something that raised my eyebrow. There was something about you changing your $500 shoes and mentioning your stylist, and then you performed “Businessman,” and I figured you still might be down to earth. It’s scary seeing an artist bred from a musical family, native of New York, and for lack of a better phrase – “turned out.” How are you maintaining focus?Emily: Trust me, I have been challenged in this…Just that night, I got with a stylist two days before, and they gave me this outfit. I was completely uncomfortable, and I didn’t speak up like I should have. The minute I got up there, I felt uncomfortable with myself. Just little things like that…maybe it’s the wrong time to realize it, but things happen. There is a pressure to look and be and act the way they want you to act. I’ve never been like that. I feel [like] just put the music out, please. They put you through hair stylists and make-up artists, and I feel like it’s a complete waste of time. It’s always good to look pretty, but that can take your focus away from reality. So it is challenging, and I feel like I’ve grown from those experiences… learning how to say no.AHHA: Does that relate to “Walk in My Shoes”? How “the world is out to get you?”Emily: Sometimes…AHHA: When?Emily: When I forget that it’s in your control. Sometimes you fall and you want to become the victim. You have so many things coming at you at one time, and you’re like “Wow, why is this happening to me?” You definitely get moments like that in life, but I think that spiritually I’m in a different place and I try to overcome those thoughts. But it’s natural to be here and feel that way. Being a woman, being young, and trying to find your way living in this city, dealing with record executives, your job, your boss…I think we all have those moments.AHHA: Are you in love?Emily: Yes. [laughs]AHHA: And were you in love when you made East Side Story?Emily: Yes. [laughs]AHHA: And how does that influence your music?Emily: It can…it’s a broad question. Are you in love?AHHA: We’ll focus more in a minute…Emily: Well I’ve had quite a few different relationships. And when people ask me if I’m in love, I say “yes” whether I am or not. [laughs]AHHA: Wait…Are you giving me a press answer right now? Let’s rephrase the question. Are you in a relationship with someone where you feel the butterflies and everything else that comes with love? How does that affect your music and your life?Emily: [laughs hysterically] I like the tone “and your life.” Well how can I answer that, Michael? Yes and no. [laughs] Okay, yes I do have somebody in my life right now, and I am in love. But my life is changing in a lot of ways, and I’m away from my family a lot right now. I’m trying to deal with that and sustain love in that aspect. There are a lot of things happening right now.AHHA: As long as you don’t mind, we’ll talk about family. Your parents are divorced. How did that affect you? I know they were married while you were growing up, but what does their separation mean now?Emily: Umm… tell me about you first! When did your parents split up?AHHA: When I was three. How was that growing up?Emily: Yeah, I think it’s ongoing. It’s forever. People have these preconceived notions if you’re mixed on how you’re supposed to look or act. What you should not do, you know? I think the problem with me was explaining to people who I was, and I got tired of that. Now I’m in a different place. I have more compassion for people. [laughs] I’m African-American, Italian, Polish and a bunch of other things. People come to me and ask, I say I’m African-American and they say “no you’re not.” [laughs] But yeah, I am. Having to convince people of that was kind of annoying. Music gave me a voice for that, and “Colorblind” is that song on my album, and just being so fed up with the ignorance of people. How can you be so mean and cruel to someone just because of their skin color?AHHA: How did it feel when your parents got divorced?Emily: When I was a kid they told us – we were on a trip, housesitting someone’s house on a vacation – and I didn’t know they were fighting or anything like that. [The divorce] was kind of a shock, because I never dealt with anything like that when I was a kid. When they started seeing other people, that’s when it started affecting me. And the music stopped. They were a duo so that also really affected me. So um, what else you want to know about this? [laughs]AHHA: What would make your music stop?Emily: Nothing!AHHA: What do you do when you’re not making music?Emily: I like to write, I like to paint. I enjoy checking my email. [laughs]AHHA: So is this interview unfair? You don’t have a single out, but you have press everywhere. Why should I be here right now with you? Ego trip…Emily: Is it unfair? Nope. Ego trip? I don’t like to do that. [laughs] Why should you be interviewing me? Because the music that I make is for the people, and I’ve been working very, very, hard honestly. It’s been about three years this album has been in flux, and this album is ready to come out. People like you are helping to push it and get it out, finally. In the past year I’ve opened up for Common, Floetry, Musiq Soulchild, John Legend, and I’m just ready to get the music to the people. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor at one point. I realized, after watching my parent’s sing, how healing music is and that it really changes people. I thought why don’t I try my hand at that instead? That’s why I make music. Is it unfair? I don’t know anyone else’s situation, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know what I’ve been doing to get me to this point. I appreciate that you’re helping to move it along. Check out the first exclusive webisode for Emily King's East Side StoryWebisode 1