Revisiting Ro, Riding In His New ‘Eldorado’

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Ro James | Eldorado album art by Sarah McColgan c/o RCA | additional editing by Brad

 

Ro James, the first artist signed to a major recording label to trust and allow me to put my cameras in his face for a shoot as a documentarian, just dropped his debut album Eldorado through RCA. It’s a smooth ride that shifts into several lanes, thoughts and feelings—alternative soul, Hip-Hop, lust, religion, guilt, regret—while staying tethered to R&B and releasing much weed smoke from its exhaust pipe.

The album ends with the title cut, which is my favorite on the set. It’s an unhappy conclusion, where he sings about riding around in his dream car without his dream girl. I have this weird thing about me that sometimes appreciates movies and stories that aren’t wrapped up in a pretty little bow when they’re finished. In this case, Eldorado leaves me looking forward to Ro’s next album. There, I’m assuming, we’ll learn if he gets a new car and cute company to sit shotgun.

Our shoot was about a year ago. I wanted to revisit i am: Ro James for y’all to get an idea of who Ro is and, as you listen to Eldorado, to see where he’s going.

I’m super happy for Ro. To be frank, he’s on a label that’s already stacked with R&B-based stars. Usher, Chris Brown, Miguel, D’Angelo and R. Kelly are all on RCA. Getting record execs to make you a priority while those guys are rocking is a feat in and of itself. Not only did he do that, but he put out a dope album and now he’s on tour with another iconic panty-catcher: Maxwell.

The way I see it, Ro’s tank is full. And he’s got plenty road ahead of him.

Follow Ro James on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Ed note: The actual cover art for Eldorado looks like the image in that “GA$” YouTube clip up there. But I think my new shit is to mess around with art just to shake things up and beat the monotony of posting the exact images everyone else uses. No disrespect to the original photo. Sarah McColgan killed it. Just trying to switch things up. 

Wale’s “PYT”

My guy Wale moonwalks when he performs sometimes. And his new single’s hook and title are nods to the god Michael Jackson. So yeah, I’m in.

Nice simple hook for the radio. A couple of slick bars for the rap heads. Looking forward to seeing what his next album SHINE is like. I’m hoping to get an in-studio sneak peak soon.

For Students: Lights, Please

 

Here’s something that helped me a bunch with my Bernard Flowers piece. Sitting in the backyard of his house for the interview, the sunlight was barely good enough to get the job done. There’s a bunch of shoulda-wouldas I have about that shoot, to be honest. I should have:

  • Brought a proper light kit
  • Negotiated/Strongly encouraged/Demanded that the client pay for rental of a lighting kit on location
  • Suggest, as the director/leader of the shoot that we shoot it on the lawn where the light was directly on him
  • Scheduled the shoot so that we could maximize sunlight

Lessons learned.

Because I didn’t do those things, I had to learn a load of post-production tricks to fix the lighting and not have the interview portions of the video look like Bernard and I spoke in a dim room. This clip helped me a bunch.

Now pardon me; I’m going to look for an amazing new light kit to rock with on the road. Take care.

Alicia Keys: Unfamiliar with ‘In Common’

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Alicia Keys | Photo by Paola Kudacki c/o RCA | additional image editing by Brad)

 

“Who are you? / Who are you? / You look so familiar…” asks Alicia Keys on her new song “In Common.” I wonder the same of the singer.

When I first heard “In Common,” I was pleasantly surprised by just about everything it has to offer. This is not a traditional Alicia Keys track. Where is the piano-led melody that she sometimes lets guide her like Google Map directions? Where is the powerful vocalist that typically opens tracks slugging and wowing us with her voice at full strength?

Who is this? Alicia Keys? “Fallin’” Alicia Keys?  “Girl On Fire” Alicia Keys? Really?

Topically, she hits in a way that separates “Common” from the template she’s followed on her biggest records. Yeah, it’s a love song. And yeah, she’s got a ton of those. But this isn’t a “You broke my heart. Why?” song. Nor is it just an “I’m so thankful” song.

Nah. This is an “I’m kind of (like, really) a flawed person, but you love me. Why? Oh, you’re a little left of great, too. Let’s awkwardly dance together” song. But enough of my interpretation. Let’s read the hook’s lines:

“Who wants to love somebody like me? / You wanna love somebody like me? / If you could love somebody like me / You must be messed up, too.”

These are the questions of an insecure person finally feeling at ease with someone else, possibly for the first time. It’s complex. It’s cool. I love it.

She’s breathy on the verses, but very much in control. It’s both fragile and “Fire We Make” sexy. Aside from letting her voice soar in the background vocals towards the end, Power Ballad Alicia is nowhere to be found on “Common.” All these feels gliding over a hip-winding beat.

I’m still having trouble dropping “In Common” in just one genre. Most critics are calling the Illangello production “Latin-infused.” I hear that. But also some light reggae and dance vibes. And of course, there’s that inherent R&B blackness that’s ever-present in Keys’ timbre and delivery.

Let’s just call in good music. A sweet story about an imperfect pair finding themselves in each other weaved with the aforementioned hook and beat lends itself to such a result.

I’ve always been an Alicia Keys fan, but can’t say I’ve been thinking of her much lately in that, “When’s her album coming out? I need that!” way. Until now. I’m looking forward to her upcoming “In Common” performance on Saturday Night Live and the roll-out of her next project, which is hopefully coming sooner than later.

UPDATE:

Bernard Flowers: The Escape

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Bernard Flowers | Photo c/o Epic Records | watch The Escape below

 

Spaghetti and fried fish.

That’s what Bernard Flowers’ grandmother cooked several Fridays ago when I visited her Memphis home. At the end of each week, her family rolls through deep. At least 10 of them. The elder ones hang out in the kitchen with Granny, catching each other up on the latest. The children goof around in the living room, only pausing to watch Alvin and the Chipmunks on the television.

I was there to shoot Flowers for a two-part short for his label Epic. He comes from a great home. One so good to me that the cook wouldn’t allow me to hang off to the side like an outsider. No, I had to get a plate. And how could I resist? When a sweet old lady tells you to eat, grabs your hand and guides you to a full pot of pasta and piles of fish sitting on a paper towel blanket damp with grease, it’s go time.

Epic Records’ New R&B Act Bernard Flowers Talks Wooing L.A. Reid, Debuts ‘The Escape’ Documentary: Exclusive

Now contrast that with the sit-down interview I had with Bernard maybe an hour or two prior to dinner. We talked about worries I wouldn’t  imagine someone that comes from a “good home” would have. How could someone that’s had two involved parents (and three older siblings), proper schooling and a warm place to sleep and at night for all of his 23 years have some of the same fears as people that grew up with far less?

“When I’m in the studio, I don’t have to worry about watching my back or anybody trying to take anything from me. When my partners are with me, I don’t have to worry about anybody trying to kill them or trying to hurt them. I’m another person.”

– Bernard Flowers

As you’ll learn in The Escape, even when you have a strong support system within your four walls, stepping outside in Memphis leaves you open to outside problems. Flowers believes that, without music to save him, he would have ended up dead or in jail. The studio was and continues to be his safe haven.

I wrote a companion piece for Billboard, who premiered both parts of The Escape. So I’m not going to overwrite here.

 

What I will say is I enjoyed my time in Tennessee with Bernard, his friends and family. With that crew, his talent and Epic backing him, he’s got a good chance at making it as far as he wants.

Oh, and the spaghetti and fish combo was bomb. I hope you enjoy these vids I shot and edited like I did Grandma’s fixings.

You can find Bernard on Twitter, listen to his music here, and check him out on the ‘Gram there.