There have been rebels in music for as long as there have been musicians. Almost as soon as someone creates a formula for creating music, another musician comes along and breaks the rules. That’s life!! If these rebels did not force change, music would still be what it was centuries ago. While in college, I learned various composition methods. However, the professors made sure we students understood to explain why we broke those laws of musical composition when necessary.
Today, even though music has evolved there are still those we consider rebels. Perhaps because the term rebel is subjective. Our featured artist this week, Ro James can be considered a rebel. Surely, he has forged into new musical territory. He has also broken other rules to find his place in music.
Ronnie James Tucker, was born November 19, 1992 in Stuttgart, Germany. The son of a father in the military, Ro James moved around a lot throughout his young years. He was the typical young artist in the making, listening to very diverse music of Johnny Cash, Biggie, Tupac, Sly and the Family Stone and David Bowie. His father — a military man turned preacher — tried to push church music into his ears.
“We were kept from doing a lot of things like going to the movies and that’s what would make me rebel, because I was like, I don’t understand this,” he recalls. “All my friends are going to the movies and listening to all these different songs that I don’t even know because you’re only allowing me to listen to gospel songs.” Papa Tucker would also encourage his son to sing, but he wouldn’t utter a note in public after being intimidated by hearing his family’s talents in church. “They were so good at what they did,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I was that good.”
After reading about Ro James, and his childhood years, I was able to reflect upon my time growing up. When I finally decided to seriously study music, I felt that my father had a plan. He wanted me to learn how to read and write music, regardless of the genre. Of course, he was a jazz musician and he only listened to jazz music. He only encouraged me to listen to jazz. However, as I started to move toward the music industry, he really did not care what style music I liked. I don’t think he cared if I arranged salsa, compas, R&B or jazz music. Yes, I did get the opportunity to work within all the aforementioned genres.
Ro James’ father was very different. Even though my father preferred listening to jazz music, he had a respect for all popular music. He enjoyed what the artist was doing musically, and understood their musical effort. I guess that’s why I chose to publish Weekly Music Commentary. In my younger years my father instilled in me the ear of appreciation when it comes to all music.
What brought about that spirit to rebel against the way of his father? As I mentioned earlier, Ro James’ father was a military man. Most military families move to various locations extensively. James spent his childhood in different corners of the country including Indiana, California, Hawaii, Oklahoma and eventually his current place of residence, New York. He admits that the change in scenery influenced him to try and fit in. “As a kid, you go [to these different places] and everybody’s not wearing Jordans, they’re wearing cowboy boots. And it’s like, I want some cowboy boots too!” he says.
The move to New York is the one that started the musical ball to roll for Ro James. Through his aunt, a former singer for Prince, James learned to embrace the idea of different by discovering his musical muse in Purple Rain. “His ability to be himself and not really care what anyone else thought, I just related,” he says. “You feel like you’re a part of the crowd and you have to fit [in], but you really don’t fit.”His skills as a songwriter began with the song “Portrait”, leading up to a credit on the single “Use Me” by R&B singer Miguel after forming a bond with him on MySpace.
James performed in and around New York with artists such as Luke James and Wynter Gordon. In 2013 he released his first EP, a three-part entitled Coke, Jack and Cadillacs. Each part represented important themes in his life – first love, first drink, first car. James signed with ByStorm Entertainment/RCA Records in 2015 and subsequently released “Permission”, his first single from a major record label, reaching number 37 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. His début album, Eldorado was released May 27, 2016.
For most of us this was our introduction to Ro James and what seemed to be the beginning of a promising career. I have listened to Eldorado since the fall of last year, and it is stellar work. Ro James is young in the music business and still young in age. However, he writes and performs with sensibilities beyond his young years. That’s a common statement with many of today’s artists, but it should mean career longevity. We’ll see!
Ro James still considers himself a rebel – musical and otherwise. He is a rebel at the beginning of something big after a long journey. His album ELDORADO, is inspired by the place he calls his city of gold. “I wanted to liken that to my journey from Indiana to New York — New York being my city of gold — and just pursuing my dream,” he says. “That’s where I started.”