Ro James on His First GRAMMY Nom and the XIX Movement
For R&B breakout god Ro James, his first headlining tour XIX is more than just a tour; it’s a movement perpetuated by the anomalous unabashed call for consent in his GRAMMY-nominated single, “Permission.” If it weren’t obvious, he’s nothing if not forward-thinking, and confidence comes with the territory—growing up all over the world as an Army brat, he’s no stranger to being the new kid, and making himself known with each new venture seems to be his forte.
We sat down with the singer-songwriter to talk debut album ELDORADO, creative inspiration, The GRAMMYs, and all things XIX—catch the full interview below.
First of all, congrats on the nomination! What was it like when you found out?
Thank you! I found out with everyone else. I was sleeping, it was about 6am and my phone kept ringing and ringing until I woke up to multiple text and calls. One of my homegirls hit me like, “congrats babe on ya GRAMMY nomination!” The feeling is indescribable.
Can you tell us about the “Permission” performance that you were nominated for? Why do you think it has caught the attention of so many people? What makes it GRAMMY-worthy?
I’ve performed “Permission” over 100 times this year—I’m gonna assume the performance was the SoulTrain awards. I believe it caught the attention of so many people because it’s the perfect marriage of old school and new school. The Willie Hutch sample is familiar to many. However my delivery and approach is what makes it a whole new vibe. It’s GRAMMY-worthy because it’s real. Real music, real voice, real melody, and evokes feeling and emotion. Not to mention a classic if I say so myself…
Tell us about the makings of ELDORADO and what the reception has been like so far.
ELDORADO was a process and truly represents my journey. Life, love, and struggles as a man, which makes it easy for the homies to relate to, but sensual, sexy, and honest enough for women to embrace it. A 92 Eldorado was my first car so it represents the ride to getting to where I am now. I wanted to create my own lane. There are so many people chasing a formula and/or similar sound to stay safe and I went with what I felt was dope. I think people are receiving it well and catching on daily and I can appreciate that. Most of all, people are respecting it. That’s everything to me.
We know that you grew up in Germany, NYC, and a few other places—how did your nomadic upbringing help influence and shape your musical style?
Indeed I was born in Stuttgart, my father was in the Army. So I’ve lived everywhere. My mom is from Queens, NY and pops is from Indianapolis, Indiana. My family is also Panamanian so I’ve been exposed to so many cultures and so many genres of music—country, rock, gospel, reggae, soul, and hip hop.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style can be described as…eclectic. I do what I want and go based off of how I feel when I wake up. I wear a lot of black. I’ve lived in a lot of places—Oklahoma, Indiana, Hawaii, NYC and I pull from a little bit of everywhere but the agenda is always to be myself. I don’t copy although it’s said that there’s nothing new under the sun…I’d like to think the way I put things together is specific to my personality and the places I’ve been.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations?
Biggest inspirations are Stevie Wonder, André 3000, Prince, Bowie, Kim Burrell, Baby Face, H Town, Jodeci…
What was it like opening for Maxwell and Mary J. Blige?
Opening for Maxwell and Mary J. was an honor and a blessing. Maxwell has always been the smooth panty dropper. And Mary always gave us that hip hop and R&B. I feel like I’m the balance of both. The opportunity to share with an arena full of people was a huge jump from local pubs, etc. I learned so much watching them and speaking to them. It was the experience of a lifetime.
What are you most excited for with your first headlining tour, XIX?
I’m most excited for a full set. I remember being intimidated by the 20 minute set now I’m like, “Yo! I need an hour” [laughs]—which means I’ve grown a great deal. I’m excited to set the tone of my show the way I want, with the lights, staging—just excited about my evolution as an artist and performer. Taking it one day at a time.
What’s next in the pipeline for you, besides XIX?
XIX is the movement. The company, the brand, the creative agency, the label. I’m working on a kids’ brand. I’m working on my own brand, I’m getting into my acting. Working on the next album. Always moving forward—always positive energy. Working more with Precious Dreams—a non-profit that I believe in, that benefits kids without. I’m just looking forward to unfolding the layers of my creativity and allowing people to tap into what I’m really about.
Images courtesy of Sarah McColgan and Reuben Chapman
Check out Ro’s tour trailer and dates here, and stay tuned to Milk for more from music mavens we love.