Ro James XIX: R&B’s Newest Experiment
Ro James XIX is so romantic it inspired his name. The breakup with his first love pretty much spawned his career until now—making sultry R’n’B, more risqué than Chris Brown, but still respecting women. James reveals a vulnerable side in his music à a The Weeknd, that has all the chicks crooning along, in some cases even higher than him.
James’s body of work so far includes a trilogy of EPs that has generated most of his buzz.
His distressed melodies are not calculated enough to stifle emotion; his record “Lisa,” featuring Asher Roth and production by Blended Babies, originated as a freestyle, and sees James letting his subconscious flow over a blend of hard drums, skittering hi-hats and guitar.
“I want to be able to have my guy friends listen to the music and be like, ‘I can relate to that’,” says James. “I’m saying the type of things I want to say as a man that you might not always be able to articulate.”
James is out in L.A. currently, on a mission to “make a fuller sound”, as well as to continue to weave together all of the diverse influences that make up his artistry. He’s got a slew of mixtapes ready to drop, as well as a project he’s working on with producer Happy Perez. He’s also getting back in the studio with Blended Babies, with whom he first connected after Warner Bros. Records flew him out from New York to play a showcase in the backyard of their offices in L.A.
Whenever he’s out on the West Coast, he takes some time out from working to spend time with his lady friends, about whom he’s constantly learning.
“A girl told me recently here in L.A. that she listens to my EP every day because she feels I know how to respect women,” he says. “I was like ‘Wow’,” admits James, surprised because of some of the more suggestive lyrics in his records. “Girls tell me they love the vulnerability in my music and so that type of input helps me remain balanced.”
Although it sounds all gravy for this New York City-based crooner, who gets to spend his work hours in the sun and around all these pretty ladies, it wasn’t always. Seeing as he hopped around so much as a kid, from army bases in Hawaii to Oklahoma, Germany, Indiana, and Texas, James admits he found it hard to find a center growing up. For high school he moved in with his dad, a pastor and gospel singer in Indiana, and although he had this rad style the other kids weren’t necessarily feeling it. Here was this New York boy—James having lived with his mother’s side prior in NYC—taking influences from New York hip-hop, his Panamanian heritage and of all things, cowboys, throwing them all together and rocking out.
“Growing up listening to Jodeci they wore a lot of leather and black and you know, I used to try and dress like that,” says James, who admits he didn’t always feel comfortable being himself away from the bustling hub of NYC. Luckily, he had a reminder.
“My tooth chipped and I was like, ‘Yes!’ I went and got a gold tooth. It kind of gave me a balance of the hip-hop right there, of having to be hip-hop. It gave me that feeling.”
After high school, James returned to New York City, where he immediately fell in with the creative crowd and started becoming his own artist. He attended a lot of the cool New York City parties, at such VIP spots as Mansion, GoldBar and Lotus, where he would routinely bump into inspiring figures in his industry such as Nas, Kelis, and Slick Rick. They were immediately intrigued by James’s unique pastiche of styles, from Panamanian to country to grunge, and figured he wanted to be a designer—until they heard him sing.
Gradually by hanging around the old heads, and listening to the greats like Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway and Prince, James learned how to build emotions in song, which resulted in him working with artists such as Melanie Fiona, Miguel, and Trey Songz in the early years of their careers, as well as attending better parties.
“It was about the culture and the feeling, the energy. It put a fire in me and now to see it gone, I want it to be there.”