Meet Our Rapping Intern, Jonny Empire
It's (re)launch week here at ANTENNA, and while we may be facing the standard obstacles of a new website (doing the whole "Hey Google, look over here!" dance, explaining your website to PR flacks, decoding the office's bathroom dynamics), one crucial thing we managed to snag right out of the gate was an intern. And not just any intern! We share an intern with XXL, and through a bit of sleuthing, we recently discovered that he moonlights as a rapper by the name of Jonny Empire so, yeah, GET ON OUR LEVEL.
Since we can pretty much do whatever the fuck we want in these early days, we decided to interview Jonny Empire, otherwise known as ANTENNA's first official Inturnt, because he is basically the nicest dude ever. (Had he botched our Num Pang lunch order, though, the entire idea would've been scrapped). Read on to see how he overcame a totally wack first rap name and convinced us that taking this internship wasn't all a ruse to boost his rap career.
How did you come up with the name Jonny Empire?
I came up with it about two years ago. I used to actually go by Sneakyness, which I gave myself when I was around 12 years old. I did a lot of things under that name, but you know you have to make a change as an artist if you're not comfortable saying your own name. People would ask, "What's your rap name?" and I'd be like, "Ugh, Sneakyness," and they'd ask, "What the hell does that even mean?" and I'd be like, "I don't even know." Jonny Empire seems more fitting. I think the word empire represents having a big presence.
On a related note, you don't exactly look the part. What reaction do you get when you tell people you rap?
Great question, because this is the main reason why I rap. Obviously I'm a tall and big dude, I have red hair, so you wouldn't expect it. But I love getting up on stage and seeing people's reactions in the crowd. At the beginning, I see some people smiling, looking confused, but that adds fuel to the fire. Then once I start performing, I can see everybody's body language change. So that's why I'm a firm believer in never judging a book by its cover, ever. You never know.
We know you're a hip-hop nerd, so an internship at XXL seems like a dream job for you. Have you ever dropped the XXL name to impress a girl or anything?
Not really, but I've sonned a couple people who try to test my knowledge as far as hip-hop goes. They can say certain stuff, but then I'll be like "You know what man, I intern at XXL so I got my shit together."
Wait a minute. How do we know you didn’t take this gig to pimp out your music? Are we playing right into your devious scheme by writing about you?
This is my third time interning here, and I won’t mention any names, but I saw another intern who would pass around his music to the office and it didn’t seem to be taken very well. I’m not gonna lie, coming here all of my friends kept telling me, “Jon you gotta find a way to get them your music” and I’m not the type of person to do that. I came in here wanting to gain experience with the best hip-hop magazine around because one day I would love to work for them. It’s two separate things.
So, you intern, you're a student, you do radio, and you rap. When do you veg out like a normal twentysomething?
I don’t know, man, I don’t get a lot of sleep sometimes, it’s bad. It’s hard to get up in the morning to come here from Connecticut because I’m up 'till two or three in the morning, either editing interviews or writing new songs. That’s the thing man, even in my spare time I’m working and creating.
You never play Candy Crush and just zone out?
Of course not, man, I mean my mom is in the other room usually playing Candy Crush while I’m in my room doing my thing. I don’t know, I don’t really watch TV shows because I don’t have patience for that. I’m just all about the music. Writing about it, writing my own music, mixing my own music, watching music videos. I’m always studying the art.
Do you freestyle or do you write down your rhymes?
Mostly write it down, I prefer that, but back in high school I used to battle a lot. So my freestyle skills are there, and I get to usually see if anything is left in the tank every week on my radio show because we have a cypher at the end. But yeah, if someone wants to consider himself a true MC, he needs to be able to do it on the spot.
There’s the one song of yours that we stumbled upon and loved, because it ends with you just barking, "piece of shit," out of nowhere. Was that moment planned?
No, actually right when I was ending the verse, I said the last two bars and then I thought the beat just stopped or it ran out. So literally right after I spit the bars, I said “piece of shit,” thinking like “Oh fuck, now I have to go again." But it ended, and my boys said just to leave it in there and it turned out to be mad funny.
Do you have any go-to ad libs yet?
It’s funny, whenever we do tracks and we get to the point where we record ad libs, I never really know what to say. Sometimes it’s pretty embarrassing to stand up in front of a mic and just say “Yeah,” “Uh,” “What!” And even with intros and talking and stuff. It’s hard to be natural. I do it, but sometimes I don’t even bother having an ad lib track.
I'll finish with the most important question. Did you ever read ANTENNA when it was a magazine?
I'm very excited to be a part of the relaunch, but honestly, I hadn’t read ANTENNA before this summer.
Fuck outta here, you're fired... Wait! Transcribe this interview first.