Author: Zach Adams
Ro Ransom: the Harlem- born rapper talks breaking into the rap game, his love for TLC and more.
Ro Ransom is far from your typical rapper – and he intends to keep that distance.
“I was never going to be a gangsta rapper, I’m sorry,” he said, speaking to WSUM over the phone. “I love TLC too much.”
A Harlem native, Ransom prides himself on going against the grain, and his music is a testament to that. His latest single, “Wraith,” a dark and swaggering ode to the “grind,” was primarily inspired not by the seminal hip-hop icons of the 1990s but by female-driven R&B powerhouses such as TLC and Destiny’s Child.
“We were listening to them all day before we made it,” he said. “That’s the music that made me fall in love with music in the first place.”
Ransom grew up surrounded by music – his mother and father met while they played in the same band together. Ransom vividly remembers his dad bringing him into the studio starting at a young age.
“I was seeing him make music, be at the mixing board, be at the drumkit,” he said. “It wasn’t hard for me to find [music], it was all around me.”
That he was surrounded by music from an early age explains Ransom’s wide-ranging smorgasbord of musical influences. He’s listed Sum-41 and Gorillaz in the same breath as Gwen Stefani and Fergie. While hip-hop stalwarts Eminem and Drake have had profound influences on Ransom, he cites Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” as one of the songs that changed his life.
“I’ve never had a song make me feel that way,” Ransom said, describing himself as having been “hypnotized” by it.
Ransom tries to channel that very feeling in his own music.
“That was kind of my goal, to tap back into what made me love music in the first place.”
Though he’s been releasing music for years, going by the name “Nero” as a teenager, Ransom had a breakthrough with his 2015 hit “See Me Fall.” Since then, the self-proclaimed “Mystery Boy” has kept busy: he independently released his mixtape Momentum, signed a record deal with SamePlate Entertainment and Sony Music, and went on tour with pop superstar Dua Lipa.
“How ironic is that? The first tour I go on is with a pop star, a strong, talented woman like her.”
He even compared the British starlet to one of his all-time favorites, TLC: “’New Rules’ is kind of like to the new ‘No Scrubs,’” he asserted. “It’s just that empowerment and telling women that they don’t have to put up with a guy’s bullshit.”
While many independent rappers are wary of big-name record labels, Ransom has gone into his partnership with SamePlate and Sony Music with open arms and an open mind.
“They wanted to work with me because of who I am,” he explained, “because I have this very distinct vision of what it is I want to do and what I want to be.”
It’s that originality and unabashed uniqueness that Ransom insists on retaining. “I wasn’t about to get in bed with anybody that wasn’t going to let me be Ro Ransom to the fullest, because I know that once you dilute an artist in that way, it’s just not gonna work.”
Equally as influenced by Nelly Furtado as he is Eminem, Ransom is now gearing up to release his EP Possessed, which he said will expose audiences to his two inner sides.
“I can either give you something smooth or silky, or I can rap 50 bars at your head,” he said. That combination of fiery hip-hop bars and fierce R&B flare makes for an eclectic and exciting sound, one that prompted SoundCloud to deem him an “Artist to Watch” for 2018.
Despite his recent successes and his enthusiasm about the future, Ransom recognizes that making it in the rap game is a bumpy road. Making it as a nail polish sporting, Fergie-loving crossover act is even tougher.
“It’s not as simple, it’s not as fast,” he explained, “because I’m presenting something that’s a little bit unfamiliar in some ways.”
Unfamiliar doesn’t always equate to unsuccessful, however.
“When [Drake] first came out I was like, this guy sings AND raps? This guy’s rapping on Tears for Fears samples like, this’ll never work […] Drake was an outcast, and he became the standard.”
Whether Ransom is paving the way for a new standard or forging his own unique path, what’s for certain is that he’s a breath of fresh air. The risk of being unabashedly original in an industry often marked as homogenous, according to him, is a risk worth taking.
“That’s what the challenge is,” he noted, “but the payoff is greater at the end of the day.”
You can listen to WSUM’s full, 15-minute conversation with Ro here
Ro’s EP Possessed is due out later this summer. Listen to his latest single “Wraith,” here: