Aarie Williams has gotten used to being a couple different people. "I'm a Gemini," jokes the 20-year-old rapper. Sometimes he's Aarie, a Northgate High School grad with an easy smile, originally from the North Side. But he's also just released The Devil's Advocate, Vol. 1 as EMS -- a nom de guerre which itself encapsulates warring personalities.
"I have two alter egos for EMS," he explains. "One's Every Man's Savior. If you listen to songs like 'Find God,' the songs are more boasting and edgy -- that's Every Man's Savior. ... The other side is Ease My Soul, which is songs like 'Get It How You Live.' Real positive, chill, calm -- likes everything to be the way it should be, no negative in sight."
If this all sounds a bit schizophrenic, rest easy that EMS is just using the light and shade to lend his message a sharper contrast: Live right. "What goes around comes around," says EMS. "If you treat people right, people will treat you right. But if you treat people like they nothing, then everything for you is gonna fall down around you."
EMS digs Public Enemy, Rakim, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and generally prefers older hip hop -- music that's "more realistic. It's talking about reality and actual life. Instead of 'I'm at the club, every day, all seven days.' You can go to the club, but you gotta do something the other six days of the week!"
Part of what EMS does those other six days is push Solid Ground Entertainment, a hip-hop label and artist collective started in 2004 with old friend Bricklayah (a.k.a. Chad Ference), Accolade, Proseed and others. Those label mates, as well as Charon Don and Mario Dones, also appear on The Devil's Advocate, Solid Ground's second release.
The arrangements on the CD are loose and fluid -- impressionistic ideas unwinding, rather than compressed single servings. For this, EMS tapped both local and international talent. There's Contra, from Wexford, and a track from J Fish (from Pittsburgh-based group Sole Vibe), but also cuts from German producer Ulliversal, and Sebmaestria, from France. The disc also features beats lifted from Havoc, Sha Money XL and Pete Rock.
As EMS says, "The only way you can really take over anything is if you have an army with you."
EMS and Solid Ground Entertainment opening for Kool Keith a.k.a. Dr. Octagon and DJ Kutmasta Kurt, with Origen, Jack Wilson, Basick Sickness, Steeltown Sounds and Mr. E. Nigma. 9 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.). Fri., Dec. 1. Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $15 ($18 day of show). 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com
- Playing devil's advocate: EMS