Exclusive: Ro James Talks Sophomore Album

When it comes to R&B artists pushing the envelope, Ro James is at the top of the list. From his three-part EP Coke, Jack & Cadillacs to his debut album Eldorado, James shows his commitment to the traditional R&B sound while adding his own unique touch. His debut single “Permission” was one of the biggest R&B songs in 2016, reaching number one on Billboard’s Adult R&B Songs chart. Meanwhile, Eldorado has racked up over 263 million streams on Spotify alone.

James’ popularity has afforded him major opportunities that aren’t always obtained by new artists.  From joining legendary acts like Maxwell and Mary J. Blige on tour to headlining his own XIX Tour, James has been consistently booked and busy since his Eldorado era

“I grew up listening to the legends — respecting their work, emulating their voices and just learning their writing techniques,” James tells Rated R&B. “You don’t realize while you’re in it but then you sit back you’re like, ‘I just did a show with Mary J. Blige. I just did a show with Maxwell.’ It’s an honor and it also lets me know I’m on the right path.”

With a successful album under his belt, James is gearing up for his sophomore album that is expected to drop this summer. Before he drops the project, he plans to release the second installment of his two-part EP, Smoke & Mirrors.

Rated R&B caught up with James at his tour stop in Washington, D.C. In our interview, James dishes on his Smoke & Mirrors EP, his sophomore album, collaborating with Salaam Remi and his love for cars.

Check out the interview below.

Tell us about your Notorious B.I.G.-assisted song “Lost My Mind” from your Smoke EP.

That song was produced by Salaam Remi. I’ve known Salaam for a while and this is our first time actually getting into work. That song came right out of us getting in the studio — it was the first day, within the first hour. He was asking me what I was going through in my life. I had just got come off a breakup. It was either I really go hard with my music or try to appease my girl who was complaining that I didn’t have the time or wasn’t giving her enough attention — women need that too and my career needs that too. So it’s like in a sense, you have to decide and it kind of makes you a little crazy because you don’t want to lose either if it’s real.

If it’s your dream that you’ve worked hard to get to a certain place, nobody should be able to stop that. Anybody that’s joining energies with you should be able to say, “Let’s get this together.” So, “Lost My Mind” is about the idea of losing your mind and choosing which way to go. The Biggie sample, man it’s kinda crazy. I’m signed to ByStorm/RCA Records. Mark Pitts is my OG. It’s an honor to be under them too because I’m from New York. So, growing up, 90s hip-hop was NEW YORK and Mark Pitts was a part of that. When I was with Salaam, I was literally just mumbling and rapping the feeling because I knew the feeling I wanted to have in the hook and he was like, “Yo I have an idea” and he put the Biggie verse on there.

What can you tell us about your Mirrors EP and how does that compare to Smoke?

I had just come up out of a relationship, came off tour, did my own tour…and really tried to find the time to have a peaceful moment so I could gather all of the things I’ve been through and being able to talk about it. It’s hard. I was just in a place where it was kind of hazy. I was just creating music with people — Ryan Toby, Verse Simmonds —  just a lot of different people. When you see fire, you see smoke and when you see smoke you know there’s a fire. It’s like I got all this music that I’ve been holding and just growing with. I wanted to put something out eventually. I’m not the type of person who just puts music out. I want people to appreciate it and I feel like we’re in a time where we’re just oversaturating music. With Smoke, I’m in a haze but at the same time, I’m out that shit. I’ve been creating some fire shit. I decided to call it Smoke & Mirrors because in life everything is fucking smoke and mirrors. The Mirrors part is about reflection for me. In a time of, through the smoke, through the fire, through the breakups, through being on the road — all of that shit — it’s something that you’re moving so fast and you don’t have time to really breathe and appreciate it, take a moment to see how far you’ve come.

You seem to incorporate cars into your music, somehow. You have an EP called Cadillac, your debut album is titled Eldorado and your Smoke EP has a truck in the artwork. Is this all on purpose or by coincidence? 

Man, first of all, I love cars [laughs]. Me and my dad have that thing in common. I kind of tie that into all of my work. Everything I do is inspired by family and certain things — and myself. My father loves cars and my mother is really into fashion, so I got both.

Photo credit: Cheril Sanchez

How did you approach your second album? What was the process like compared to your first album?

I won’t say harder but it was different because Coke, Jack and Cadillacs was all me. I had nobody in my ear, concept-wise, saying “you should do this” or “you should put this here.” Eldorado was my first time going to the label saying “I don’t want to do this, this is who I am” and accepting their advice too, so we can create something timeless. My next album is the same process — growing with people who now are a part of your trajectory, your growth and who you are…I had a concept from the jump but the thing is finding the sound that matches the concept. It was definitely harder but I enjoyed the process and everybody …

Do you have a title set for your sophomore project?

I’ve been going back and forth between two titles but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be Ro Mantic MP3.

Are there any features on the album?

I got some people I’m working with but I wanted it to come out with no features because I really wanted people to vibe to me, my sound and my feeling. I’m a rebel.

Follow Ro James on Instagram at @RoJamesXIX. Stream his Smoke EP below.

Keithan is the founder/editor-in-chief of Rated R&B

Exclusive: Harmony Samuels Talks Producing Janet Jackson’s New Single ‘Made For Now’

Harmony Samuels’ impressive production resume is constantly growing. After working with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Destiny’s Child and Brandy, he adds music icon Janet Jackson to the list of his high-profile collaborations. The London native is the genius behind the production of Jackson’s new single “Made For Now” featuring Daddy Yankee.

How did you end up collaborating with Janet?

Janet’s A&R is a good friend of mine — [ Jareiq ‘JQ’ Kabara ]. He’s a good dude. I’ve known him for about 10 years. He called me and was like, “I want you to come meet Janet and talk to her about her next record.” I was really intrigued because I just couldn’t believe that I would be working with Janet. Long and behold, she was preparing to go on tour last year and I got to meet her. I was in her room and she so elegantly walks in and as she comes in, she’s like, “Hey! Whose birthday is May 16?” and I’m like, “Me” and she’s like, “We share the same birthday.” I was like, “Yes, connection!” I never knew that her birthday was the same day as mine, which was great. I was really excited that we had something in common.

Then she starts to explain what she wants from her album and her record. And basically, she expressed she wanted a record that brought people together. She wanted to bring the world together. She wanted to talk about love — her having a son now she appreciates life way differently. With all the devastation and so much destruction happening in the world, she wanted something to bring people together. She wanted to see people dance. She wanted to see people happy.

What was the process of creating “Made For Now”?

We held a writing camp for ten days with four or five writers all from different cultural backgrounds and different history. When we started writing the record, I kept thinking I had to do something Janet hadn’t done before but still makes her feel like Janet. It was a hard task because she’s done a lot (laughs) —  from Control to Velvet Rope to her last album [Unbreakable]. That’s a lot of music to try to find something that she’s never done before. So I’m sitting around and I was like, “What she hasn’t done? She hasn’t done anything Afrocentric. She hasn’t done anything with like Afrobeats.” So to make sure, I went and checked her song history and her number ones. I made a few records that have been successful in that world in the past— Destiny’s Child’s “Say Yes” was a huge example of that. So, I wanted to do that again. I wanted to bring the world together that way. And you know cultural stuff, when you go to carnivals and festivals, it always brings people together. There’s a colorless line that happens.

I was getting dressed one morning and the way the song starts, that exact line was playing in my head. I looked up like, “Jesus are you for real?” I put the melody on my phone and I rushed to the studio. Within an hour, I make the track and everybody is like, “Yo, this is crazy.” [Janet] and her brother Randy came to the studio and when they heard the record, they love it. They thought it was perfect. [Janet] went in the booth, added her own vibe and made the record hers.

We actually went into the studio to cut the record with another legendary producer Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. You can understand my excitement. Not only did I get to work with Janet but Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in the studio She turned around and she said to me, “I really love this record. I believe it’s special.”

When did Daddy Yankee get involved?

A few months later as the song was being developed, JQ calls me and says, “Hey man! I’m going to put Daddy Yankee on the record, what you think?” And I was like, “Hell yeah.” I thought it was perfect because it now brings another world. I was really excited. Just working with him at the shoot and watching him perform, was an awesome experience.

How many different versions of the record were created?

Well, it was over a span of six to nine months of getting it all together. There were at least nine versions. We just tried so many different versions but this version felt like it kept everybody engaged. We were really, really proud of the outcome.

There’s also an EP in the works. What can you say about that?

I worked on most of the EP. Each song has a different feel. Each song has a different style. She bodies it! She does her thing.

Is there anything you discovered about yourself throughout the process of working with a legend?

Patience (laughs) and staying calm. When you’re working with icons, you move when it’s time to move. I felt like she was always willing to try different things. My patience allowed me to try different versions and try different things regardless if I felt like it was right or if I didn’t like the idea. It was just awesome to experiment and open yourself up for change and trials. And just being around someone who is so iconic, yet so humble. She’s so humble and so genuine.

Follow Harmony Samuels on Instagram @HarmonySamuels.

Ro James Releases New Single ‘Excuse Me’

Ro James "Excuse Me" single artwork

Somebody’s got Ro James fucked up on his new song, “Excuse Me.” Co-produced by Tricky Stewart and Jean-Pierre Medor, the mellow tune finds James reflecting a relationship where he was giving more than he was receiving.

“You had it easy but you just couldn’t play your part / Our heart was starving while you focused on so many parts / Out of the line, it’s way too old to be acting up,” he sings.

“Excuse Me” is the first single from James’ upcoming sophomore album that will release in November via ByStorm Entertainment/RCA Records. “Feels good to be back,” James wrote on Instagram. “This process has been different, a growing process for sure. [I] had to take some time for my mental.”

In a recent interview with Rated R&B, James compared the approach of his second album to his debut album, Eldorado. “Eldorado was my first time going to the label saying, ‘I don’t want to do this, this is who I am’ and accepting their advice too, so we can create something timeless,” he said. “My next album is the same process — growing with people who now are a part of your trajectory, your growth and who you are. I had a concept from the jump but the thing is finding the sound that matches the concept. It was definitely harder but I enjoyed the process.”

Listen to “Excuse Me” below.

Ro James is ‘Selfish About Mary’ on New Song

Ro James gets stingy with his ganja on his brand new song called “Selfish About Mary.” On the cloudy track, inspired by ideas with English musician Arrow Benjamin, James compares his weakness for marijuana to a special lady whose love he won’t share with anyone else.

James has been in a generous mood when it comes to releasing new music. He shared a tune titled “Excuse Me” in June and Smoke, a four-track EP in March. The authentic crooner is readying his next gift, Mirrors, the second-helping of his extended play.

“Mirrors part is about reflection for me,” James revealed exclusively to Rated R&B. “In a time of, through the smoke, through the fire, through the breakups, through being on the road — all of that shit — it’s something that you’re moving so fast and you don’t have time to really breathe and appreciate it, take a moment to see how far you’ve come.”

James is currently working on his sophomore album that has a tentative title of Ro Mantic MP3.

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