Tattoos, note-worthy resume, D'Angelo comparisons and a bad-boy persona. All seem to be the formula for another R&B commodore but with Ro James, it's just different.
For starters, in between serenading the crowd with singles such as "Adidas" and "Pledge Allegiance" at New York's Canal Room in March, Ro takes a few swigs from a Jack Daniels Bottle. A native New Yorker, the singer birthed as Ronnie James said he began his music career like most great singers: in church.
With his father a preachy pastor, James said he would be forced to sing the gospel. “He always tried to make us sing and I would hate it,” he recalls.
Drawing inspiration from Donny Hathaway to Johnny Cash, James’ sound breaks genre barriers, describing his own sound as "rock n’ soul." His biggest inspiration, though, is Prince. “He wasn’t afraid and he didn’t have a lot of boundaries," Ro said. "He did what he wanted to do and he built a lane for himself, combining a lot of things.”
The admiration for the "Purple Rain" singer is also common ground Ro shares with another R&B rebel, Miguel. Ro's pen game landed him a by-line on Mig's sophomore effort Kaleidoscope Dream, co-writing the sensual tracks “Use Me” with the “Do You.” The writing process didn’t intimidate James because he says they’re close bros.
“Wow,” Ro began when asked how he and Miguel met. It began on MySpace where Miguel expressed interest one of his songs in one of James’ songs and one of his friends named Kesh. “He hit me up like, ‘Yo, I like your music. So tell me more about Kesh’ and from that we just connected and grew,” James said.
While scribing “Use Me,” Ro said he learned to be free in his writing and became a fan organically. “I grew to love his music and he loved mine. We just stayed in contact until where we’re at now.”
Now, James is readying his EP Coke, Jack & Cadillacs, a three-part album that portrays Coke as a woman, Jack [Daniels] as himself (“smooth but it’s rugged at the same time”) and Cadillacs hosting “music that you can just ride out to.”
The project tells the story of James’ first love at 19 and how coming together eventually tore them apart. “Every thing, every song is about something that actually happened,” James said. “I drew inspiration from my own life and the things that I’ve been through.”
With a musical bomb of genres, James wants listeners to “love again" with his EP.
"I want them to feel the soul, the emotion and the honesty," he said. “I’m just ready to share.”
Photo Credit: Finallybrave