Photo: Edison Graff/Kabik Photo Group

At Emerge, the Sin City rapper catches talent scout eyes and explains why he’s not waiting around for a record label

Emerge Impact + Music is created and produced by ABP Media’s parent company, A Beautiful Perspective.

LAS VEGAS — Ekoh asked if anyone owned Kanye West shoes.

“Sorry,” he said. “This isn’t gonna go well for you.”

The Las Vegas emcee was in the midst of a high-energy set on Saturday at the inaugural Emerge Impact + Music, spitting fast and entirely precise. True to his brand of “heart-hop,” Ekoh didn’t just rap and joke around. He spoke from his heart about artists supporting artists, especially those trying to find their way.

After filling Harrah’s Cabaret with his clever lyrics and hard-hitting sound, he was bobbing his head to the next act and giving CDs to anyone who lined up, including a talent scout for Fox competition show The Four: Battle for Stardom (hosted by Fergie and judged by DJ Khaled, Meghan Trainor and Sean “Diddy” Combs). She was the second rep to reach out, sucked in by skill and standout personality.

But Ekoh reacted more to casino employees complimenting his set and grabbing free CDs. They see everything, he said, so if they want your stuff “you know you’re doing okay.”

He has performed alongside the likes of Wu Tang Clan, Tech N9ne, Sage Francis and G-Eazy (and famously ridden a scooter with Carrot Top), and touring is opening up new possibilities. Here are five things on Ekoh’s mind:

Branching out with his live show: I stopped playing as much downtown [in Las Vegas] ’cause I started over-saturating myself, and I wanted when I play to mean something. Not like, oh I’ll see him next week; I’ll see him next month; I’ll see him open for blah blah blah. So I was like, I need to start being more selective of what I do. [On this tour] we did Chicago, New Orleans, Des Moines, Kansas City, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Boston, New York, Eugene, Sacramento …

Las Vegas’ hard market for musicians: We just got our first pro sports team, you know what I mean? … That’s not something the city was used to, having real unity over something. Downtown culture is starting to get better, which makes things better, but Imagine Dragons didn’t have a following until they left. Dizzy Wright didn’t have a following until he left. It’s really hard to build a massive following here, and I don’t really know why that is, but it is. Leaving does help. I think of it like a relationship, where they might take you for granted until they see someone else showing interest, and then they’re like: He’s ours.

“I’m not gonna wait for you to tell me when my time is.”

Playing a casino cabaret for Emerge: It’s always weird playing for people sitting down. Hip-hop music is very interactive—put your hands up, jump, things like that. So you have to change your show a little bit. I said this was going to be half spoken word, half show. … It gives you a chance to connect with an audience in a different way. I’ve always thought if they like you, they’ll like your music, so my biggest thing when I play is trying to get you to know me.

What’s with the Kanye jab: I love Kanye West’s music, and I think he’s a great artist. I think he’s a piece of shit as a person. I mean, I don’t know him on a personal level, but at least the way he portrays himself.

Why there are so many awesome artists you’ve never heard of: I think it’s because they don’t have limits; they don’t have boundaries. … It’s hard, ’cause there’ll be 100 people that think they know where your music fits. I’m a little jaded, to the point where I think record labels are all fuckin’ idiots. Always behind the ball, always late to what’s good. … So it’s like, I’m not gonna wait for you to tell me when my time is. I’m gonna go do what I want to do and build fans. And I’ve been doing it. Once I started doing what I wanted to do 100 percent, I have 3 million Spotify plays, I have videos with a lot of views, and it’s paying for itself. So you know, I’m not broke anymore. (Laughs) I don’t have a lot of money, but music isn’t putting me in a hole anymore. Label or no label, it doesn’t matter.

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