Ro Ransom has a story to tell. And it’s not one that you’ve heard before. It’s not pretty. It’s far from a fairytale. Yet, there’s beauty amidst all the chaos. Chaos that he finds comfort in and can always recognize as home. A place where the fight for survival is the only thing that makes you feel alive. The setting is modern day New York City, or Deadman Wonderland as he likes to call it. Specifically, the Upper West Side.
Ro notes that just because he may rest his head in Harlem, there’s nothing Harlem “about him,” or his music for that matter. He’s been shaped by the Upper West, an area where he spends much of his time. Where he has played witness to stories that have yet to be told on a musical soundscape. To Ro, every borough, every block, has had their story told. From Harlem to Queens to the Bronx, rap legends have shed light on their corners, telling the raw and unfiltered realities that the residents of these areas encounter daily. Every area, but one. Ro Ransom is set to change that. He’s embarked on a journey to inject something new to the rap game. It’s something that hasn’t been seen or heard before, a nod to the genre-bleeding music he’s so apt to create.
As a new resident of New York, and someone who’s followed Ro’s career since his humble beginnings, I made it a point for us to meet and dive into his story further. With his new project Ro Ransom Is The Future still fresh on the internet, we decide to hit up his favorite pizza spot — Two Boots, located on 95th & Broadway. After demolishing some slices (and cookies — don’t sleep on those, either) we indulged into a realm that’s entirely his own, and spoke about his past, present and future.
UPC: Before taking on the name Ro Ransom, you used to go by Nero. One of my favorite tracks before you disappeared and reappeared as Ro was “A Momento.” I believe it was a precursor for Momentum, but that has yet to come out, right?
Ro: Momentum means a lot of things. One of the things it means… if you look at the way my career has gone, I’ve always dropped some crazy shit and then gone away. Or just dropped the hardest mixtape ever and then no one sees me for 6 months. I’ve never been able to build the amount of momentum necessary to get to where I want to go, and so that’s partially where that title comes from. It also plays into, lowkey, comes from Alive & Vibrant: Relive The Moment. It’s supposed to be a tie-in between Relive The Moment and the project I want to do with my album for the album title. It has a lot of different meanings and it’s still going to happen, it’s gonna be pretty much the modern day Thriller. That’s all I can say about it at this point.
If you notice a lot of the things I do, there’s a consistent theme between all my projects’ titlings, and its time. Relive The Moment is reliving the classic shit. It’s that moment in time. Ro Ransom Is The Future. It’s a moment in time. Even Ransomnia, being a play off insomnia, the time that you’re awake. Momentum, playing into time velocity. It’s all so different, and some people being like ‘You fuckin’ suck now, you need to go back to rapping on Black Moon shit,’ it’s all the same shit. The core of what it is is still the same.
UPC: I first came across you back in the day when I used to roam illRoots and found Alive & Vibrant. Fast-forward to today and you still have a great relationship with their team, from previously being managed by Mike Waxx to having them direct your videos. Not to mention Karla [hustleGRL] helping you on the PR end. Basically, all young kids who are killing shit in their own respective fields. How is it working with them and being able to have a team like that backing you?
Ro: It’s exactly that. When I met Mike, he was doing an MF Doom mixtape, and needed rappers to rap on MF Doom beats, and it was Myspace and I liked MF Doom. It wasn’t like, ‘Aw man, you’re about to be this young new visionary that’s about to take over the game.’ We were all just doing shit. Same with Karla. We were all just tryna be the best at what we do. When you do that and you apply yourself like that, you’re bound to run into likeminded people. I don’t know what it’s like. I never saw it like that. It’s just, that’s Mike. That’s the homie Mike Carson. Or that’s just whoever. I never looked at it like a pedestal thing. I’m very grateful for everything they’ve done for me and I’m very appreciative that we’re able to accomplish and able to do all the fly shit we were able to drop. And all the influential shit we did. A lot of shit that’s out here now is shit that we started. For that, I put that on a pedestal. But I never looked at it as anything other than this is just the homies.
UPC: I know you’re pretty close with Rich Hil. How did your relationship with him come about?
Ro: Mike was always a fan of Rich, and I wasn’t. I hated his shit. I didn’t get it. And most people don’t. Rich is an acquired taste, not something everyone is gonna get. So I hated his shit but Mike would always be like, ‘No, you need to check him out, please listen to him, listen to him, listen to him.’ I don’t know man it was four years ago, we got booked for a show together, opening up for Curren$y or something. I met him there, and he was being a dick that day. I don’t think we ever really talked about it but he was like yelling at one of the dudes who worked at the venue and I came to find out later that the dude that worked for the venue was being a dick… I just had a weird first impression of him, but as we did a couple songs together, I remember we did a song over the Lil Wayne “Single” instrumental that never came out. He was like, ‘Yo I never let anyone ever write the hook of a song on a collab before, like you’re the first person I ever let do the hook.’ And I don’t know, it just built from there. He went to rehab, came back and we did Howling at Hades. Certain things you can’t describe or plan for. There’s just a certain chemistry that’s just there. I don’t think I could ever do a whole project with someone that wasn’t him just because we have such a way that we work, and I know what he’s gonna do and he knows what I’m gonna do and we’ve done it so many times that it’s a routine. He’s one of my closest friends. He’s the only rapper that I’ll consider a friend really.
UPC: That literally dropped right when I was listening to more of his stuff too, so it was perfect timing. Your guys’ styles work well together. Can we expect more?
Ro: We’ve talked about doing a Howling at Hades 2. We’ve for sure talked about it. Haven’t recorded anything yet. It’s a thing that could very well happen. I’m in a zone right now. I can’t stop writing, I feel like I’m one of the best rappers alive. Not only do I feel I have to prove it now and I feel like people don’t really understand that so I have to kick down the door with a megaphone and show them that. In that sense, there’s enough bars for everybody. We can do a Howling at Hades 2, we can do anything. I’m in a zone right now, and I know the way he records is super in abundance so that’s a thing that can for sure happen.
UPC: Is there anyone in the industry that you would love to work with?
Ro: Timbaland. Everything I do comes from something Aaliyah did, something Missy did, or something Ginuwine did, or something Justin [Timberlake] did, and he’s the commonality in all of that. Timbaland for sure. There’s only two people I want to work with in the whole industry. The other one is Lorde. That’s the only two. I don’t have any desire. I don’t have a wish list for me. I just don’t know. Like, I like Drake, I just don’t know what that song would sound like. I know if me and Timbaland did some shit that would be crazy. I know if me and Lorde did some shit that would be crazy. She’s like the illest out. I think people are about to understand on a higher level how amazing she is, because it’s real easy for people to miss it when you have a hit as big as “Royals” was. I’m sure she’s about to come back with some shit that’s gonna fuck everybody up.
UPC: Just from browsing your Tumblr and seeing the questions your fans ask, I can tell there’s a lot of things they can relate with you on. I feel like it’s hard for fans to relate to other rappers the way they relate with you just because of what their subject matter is. Most people either don’t know about you, or if they do, they fuck with you heavy. How does it feel to have a following like that?
Ro: Yeah man that’s why I do it, that’s who I do it for. Those kids. I make music specifically for those kids, because I know what it feels like [when] nobody understands. I know what it feels like to feel like I’m the only person like me on the planet. I know what that feels like. And I know when I make shit there are kids that feel like that and when they hear my shit they’re like, ‘Yooo what the fuck, there’s finally somebody who’s speaking for me, there’s finally somebody who’s telling my stories. And doing it in a cool way.’ A lot of rappers have anime bars and they’re lame as hell. A lot of rappers have video game references or wrestling references and they’re corny as fuck. It’s lame. But when I do it, I do it in a way that they feel like they can own up to this shit. The stuff that people might’ve called them weird about they can feel confident about it. And I think that’s why those people gravitate towards me at the level at which they do. When I do things it makes them look at themselves differently. It makes them be like, ‘Wow, he can take the shit that makes him different and own it, I can take the shit that makes me different and own it.’ That’s not an easy thing to do, so I think that’s why they appreciate me so much and I feel like my purpose is to help those people and it feels great that it’s working.
UPC: What does Deadman Wonderland mean to you?
Ro: To me, I don’t really live in New York. I live in Deadman Wonderland. There’s been a ton of rappers from New York. But there’s never been a rapper from where I’m from. People associate the term New York with Nas, Cam, Jay, Big, whoever else. That shit’s not me. That’s not me, and that’s not where I’m from. I’m not from Bed-Stuy, I didn’t sell crack. I’m not from that. That’s just not me. So I watched this anime called Deadman Wonderland that was about this alternative style jail, that you had to fight to survive, it was just a really crazy show that had a lot of parallels with New York. Like a place, you go there and everyone seems crazy but to them it’s normal. [A] place that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. In a more psychological way. Anyone from New York has a million stories. Anyone from New York has been through some shit. There’s nobody here that’s just normal. That just doesn’t exist. In that sense that parallel was drawn. And a lot of other ways it feels like that’s the place that I inhabit.
UPC: Do you ever feel any sort of pressure trying to give a voice for a place that has yet to be heard?
Ro: I feel like that’s what I have to do. If I wasn’t, who would I be? If I just rapped about whatever everyone else is rapping about, if I just was a Harlem rapper, just doing the same musical shit, then the rap game wouldn’t need me. Who needs another million-in-one same rapper. I should go be a librarian. The fact that I do have this story to tell is the reason I’m here. I wouldn’t have a reason to be here if I didn’t. It’s like a gift and a curse. I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to be here for a real reason. Whereas a lot of people rap cause they’re like, ‘I’m about to make all this money,’ and it’s like no, you’re not. There’s no money in the music industry.
UPC: Have you traveled anywhere outside of the states?
Ro: Nah man, I was actually supposed to go on tour in Australia, but it didn’t happen. I’ve been trapped in the city. It’s like Deadman Wonderland is a jail. It’s not an easy place to escape from. But I love it. I was raised in this chaos. I breathe this. This is the water I was watered with. I don’t know if I could live anywhere else for an extended period of time. I would start freaking out. I would start getting withdrawal. I need the insanity that is New York City.
UPC: I like how the story on Ro Ransom Is The Future (Disc 1) picked up right where you left off, starting the intro with the same hook from “Coyote Meets World,” the outro from Ransomnia. What’s the plan with Disc 2 and Disc 3?
Ro: Disc 1 is what it is. Disc 2 is gonna be compiled of songs that didn’t make the cut. But not like that whack shit files. Like all this shit is hard. “Killa Cam” will be on there. I never released downloads to any of these songs. “Masquerade 2015” is gonna be on there. It’s gonna be shorter. Then Disc 3 will be compiled of freestyles. Me just blacking the fuck out and being the best at what I do for 40 or 50 minutes. That’ll probably come 2 or 3 weeks after that. I’m gonna hold you over for the winter.
UPC: Are you happy with the reception?
Ro: Everybody loves it. I just can’t wait for everybody to see how much farther I’m gonna go. RRITF is just chapter one. It’s a necessary chapter one. It’s a story I had to tell. It’s a sound I needed to introduce to the world. It’s the S-Rank sound. Me, Rob[GotBeats] and Jayex. Our first mission together as a trio. Everybody loves it. I’m gonna do everything I can to continue to evolve and continue to grow so they love my next shit too. So nobody gets bored.
UPC: There weren’t any features on RRITF aside from your producers, RobGotBeats and Jayex. Is there a reason for this?
Ro: I just didn’t feel the need. It just got to the point where I could do features, but why? I literally asked myself why do people even do features. It’s a trend people do. It’s like, ‘Oh you’re supposed to. You’re supposed to get a hook from this guy, get a verse from this guy.’ I’m just tryna tell the story of my life in my city. And I’m tryna carve out the niche of my sound. And my unique sonic take on this hip-hop shit. Why am I gonna have some rapper who’s not even from here try to get on my song and my album about this city, just cause they have a name? That doesn’t make sense with what I’m tryna do. Those 2 and 2 don’t equal 4. I just figured this shit’s about S-Rank. This shit’s about what I’m bringing to the table. It’s called Ro Ransom Is The Future. This shit’s about me. Really its about Jayex and Rob and what they’re capable of. We’re just getting started.
UPC: Your references literally go from Yu-Gi-Oh!, to anime, to wrestling. That Blue-Eyes White Dragon line you dropped on “Jayex Let The Beat Build” was insane.
Ro: That’s like the hardest line. It’s not just like, I didn’t just say I’m gonna pull your card like Yu-Gi-Oh!, I really gave a specific reference that was fly too. I really gave you something with swag. I always try to do that. That line is crazy. Even when I came up with that I was like this is crazy. [laughs]
UPC: What is it about anime that appeals to you?
Ro: Part of it was, growing up that’s just what was on. To be specific, I was in Queens in an Asian neighborhood. I was around Asian people. That’s just what was cool to me. I didn’t want to join a gang or fight or do some other shit. Dragon Ball Z would come on and I just wanted to see what Goku would do next, that shit was fly to me. Even hood niggas watched DBZ, don’t let them tell you that they didn’t. Like they did. I’m just not ashamed. What draws me to it now is that there’s deep ass stories. There’s anime that captivates me more. Everybody loves Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, all these shows, there’s been anime shows like that for years. It just wasn’t a cool thing for cool America to put mainstream. They didn’t wanna market that and there wasn’t a market for that. There’s shows that fuck your head up like ‘Ohhh shit.’ There’s been shows like that. Death Note was Dexter way before Dexter. I guess RRITF is ahead. Watching some shit that the people weren’t ready for yet. I write songs like anime. The mixtape is like anime. It’s crazy, no one even knows the story of the mixtape yet. Like “Impossible” is the beginning. People don’t realize that. “Impossible” is where the story starts. Everything else in the mixtape happens after “Impossible.” And I set it up that way, it’s some anime shit. They’re not gonna just let you know out the gate. They might hit you in the second-to-last episode like ‘Oh, the flashback to some crazy shit,’ and I make my music that way.
UPC: What would you recommend to someone just getting into anime?
Ro: For sure Death Note. It’s only like 35 or 36 episodes so it’s not a big commitment. Anyone who reads this shit, I promise you, if you watch Death Note your life will never be the same. You’re gonna look at everything different. To me, other than DBZ, as the greatest anime of all time, Soul Eater. I could write a whole album about Soul Eater. But if someone said give me one thing to go watch it would for sure be Death Note. It’s just a mind fuck. People have this stereotype about anime that it’s just dudes fighting with dragons and swords and shit. And it’s like no, there’s no fighting. It’s like a detective show. Very psychological and very intelligent. You have to think while watching it. And it makes you smarter.
UPC: I feel like it’s any TV show, just the visuals are different.
Ro: That’s literally what anime means, just drawn a certain way.
UPC: I’ve been revisiting Dragon Ball Z lately so I have to ask this. If Ro Ransom was Goku, where in his journey is he currently at?
Ro: Man, y’all haven’t even seen Super Saiyan. This is like Kaio-ken. Maybe fighting Raditz or something. This is maybe Kaio-ken x20. I know I’m about to go Super Saiyan, I know what I’m capable of. Its like Goku in that Kaio-ken could still fuck anybody up. You know what I mean. We’re just at the beginning, I know that for sure.
UPC: How was your creative process for this project different from others?
Ro: It was way more different. I put way more into the songs. Way more into the song writing. A lot of Ransomnia is like me just saying some shit, the hook comes in, me saying some shit and the hook comes back. Like this is, you don’t know where the fuck I’mma take you next. Like you didn’t know “Turn The Lights Off” was gonna be a continuation of “Party In The Dark.” I hit you outta left field with that shit. You didn’t know on “See You There” I was gonna say I just did that. So it was a very methodical process. The sequencing was very methodical. Everything is in the place that it’s in for a very specific reason. Every song means something in reference to the last song. Every song means something in reference to the song that comes after it. Even the interludes, even the skits. Everything was done very methodically and meticulously, and I can’t say the same about Ransomnia. I definitely wanted to evolve and make something more immersive. Make something more encapturing. You have to sit down and listen to this shit and it’s taking you somewhere else. There was a very mental and strategic process in that sense. Nothing happened by accident this time around. “Limousine” wasn’t even suppose to be anything. That was like, I just had studio time, and I had beats, and I didn’t want to waste studio time so I just wrote anything. You know what I mean. And that’s the first thing that came out. It’s a good song but everythong was super planned out and thought out this time around. So that’s the main difference between this and Ransomnia.
UPC: What projects influenced your sound on RRITF?
Ro: The biggest influence is probably the last Nirvana album, In Utero. I mean “Hallucinate,” the bridge is lyrics from that album. The chorus to “All We Are” is lyrics from that album. Was very much into Nirvana. Was very much into grunge, was very much into Alice in Chains‘ Dirt album, Mudhoney, a bunch of shit. Sonic Youth. But like I said, always Missy. I feel like I’m the new Missy. I really do.
UPC: I saw you made the comparison that you, Jayex and RobGotBeats are the new Missy & Timbaland.
Ro: I’m like Missy, Ginuwine, I’m like all those things. That always I’ll be apart of. Supa Dupa Fly, and the second album Da Real World, which was sampled for “Let Me Go.” That was a Missy sample. And they’re on the same wave as me, Jayex and Rob. I was for sure listening to a lot of grunge. I was in a dark place. It was a dark album. But it was also pop. “Party In The Dark” is pop. “Hallucinate” is pop. Very much so on purpose. “See You There” is pop. I’m always tryna expand my horizons and that’s more so what I gravitate towards. It’s like I said, if I listen to Action Bronson all weekend and I try to make a Action Bronson album, I’m not bringing anything new to rap. There’s already an Action Bronson. So I’m gonna go listen to Kurt [Cobain] and see what I can pull from him. And sometimes I feel like he speaks through some. Sometimes I feel like Aaliyah speaks through me. Sometimes I feel like… I remember times when I wouldn’t even remember writing some shit, and I’d be referencing Tupac, or referencing Kurt, or referencing Aaliyah. And that’s partially where the S-Rank ghost comes from. It’s deep, that ties all back to the Deadman Wonderland shit. Those influences grab me. Like I don’t have a choice. That’s just what I’m drawn towards.
UPC: Who’s one other artist from the city that you feel is representing properly?
Ro: You know who’s Deadman Wonderland to me, even though I can’t fuckin’ get him in the studio with me and he acts like we’re not boys, he needs to fuck with me, ’cause we will take each other’s shit to the next level [laughs]. This dude named Youth Is Dead. Incredible. Genius. Probably the best song writer I’ve ever known. To me, he represents, he comes from the same place I come from, he has the same vision of New York City that I have. We’re on the same wavelength as far as that’s concerned. He’s the artist that I feel gets it. And I’m not saying I hate New York rappers, I just heard some new Joey Bada$$ shit, that “Christ Conscious” shit, I was like this shit is hard. You know what I mean. A$AP Rocky is hard. I fuck with what everyone is doing, I just don’t feel like that my story of my neighborhoods is being told, so in that sense I’m not fucking with everyone. I don’t see me in this. So I need to make what me is. And in that sense I’m on my own. It’s weird.
UPC: Obviously you put on for the Upper West. At the end of the day, what do you want to obtain through music?
Ro: I for sure feel like it’s part of it. Mainly, I’m tryna save these kids lives. That’s number one. I don’t know if I would be alive if it wasn’t for Pac. Or Cudi. Or Eminem. And I’m tryna be that to these kids that are 13, 14, 15, 16, now. So that’s my goal above all else. But I feel like I can do that within painting a picture of my city in a way that’s never been done. Those aren’t conflicting goals. Those two goals go hand in hand.
UPC: You like contributing articles to music sites like Pigeons & Planes, obviously illRoots, HotNewHipHop and more. As an artist, being able to voice your opinion in a medium other than music is pretty interesting and I’m sure it has garnered you a few more fans, and probably enemies too. What made you want to write pieces like that?
Ro: I had this fine ass model follow me after that Lorde article so I was like skrrrrrrt [laughs]. But nah, sometimes I have cool ass ideas that a song cannot tell. Like I couldn’t have wrote a song like “Lorde is the best rapper alive.” It wouldn’t have made sense. I mean I could, but it wouldn’t make sense. It makes more sense in the medium that I wrote it in and I mean I wrote about Encore, I wrote about [FKA] twigs for HotNewHipHop, and those are just like… I don’t say I’mma be a writer, so I’mma write these articles. It’s just whenever that whim comes and I just feel that idea, I just get it all out. And it becomes what it becomes. I got an article, I wrote about how Meteora is better than Hybrid Theory, and no one will admit it. Nobody wrote that until I wrote it. So it’s just shit I feel that tugs my heartstrings and I need to say, that I can’t do in a song or graphics or some other shit. It just becomes a piece. I might write a book. That’s still in talks. I might write a book on some crazy shit. That might be a thing that happens in the near future.
UPC: A different story?
Ro: It would still be… I’ll put it like this. Those two goals I said I had, it still fits those two goals.
UPC: Naturally, you rap about style and fashion, too. Where do you get your inspiration from? Any specific brands?
Ro: I don’t really fuck with brands like that anymore. One day I woke up and just said this is…
UPC: I like that you make your own gear.
Ro: Yeah, 60% of the shit I wear is mine. I just woke up one day and said this is a rat race that never ends. Every year, there’s some new shit that you gotta be up on. You gotta be up on the new shit, oh that Alexander Wang is from last year. And, oh you got them old Rick Owens. Why am I doing this? Let’s really take a strong look at why are we doing this. It’s just a continuation of who’s got the biggest dick in the room, and it’s just a continuation of everyone’s so insecure about who they are as a person that they need that shit to feel good. My whole closet is like old Triple H t-shirts and like Marilyn Manson t-shirts and Nine Inch Nails. What I wear is an extension of what I’m into and what I like. I’ll fuckin’ tie a Jeff Hardy t-shirt around my head and just go outside like that. I really don’t care. I was Raven for Halloween. I’m not playing that game anymore, I’ve graduated from that. Really my style icons are like Jeff Hardy, Raven, for sure I like Rihanna, she’s always forward. Layne Staley, he’s another one that was ahead of the game. Just different shit. I like people who are on some different shit.
UPC: Besides recording and making this music what do you do in your free time?
Ro: A lot of my time is making records for sure. The rest of my time is like… I’m a journalist damn near. You know how Anderson Cooper, he goes to like Kuwait or some shit. He’s on the scene with bombs going off and he’s like I’m here tryna tell y’all about this shit. That’s what I do. That’s what I am to this city. That’s what I am to these neighborhoods. I’m at these parties. I’m with these girls. At these events. At Fashion Week. I’m soaking in every nook and cranny of this city so I can tell the story the right way. I mean I do a ton of shit. Like you said I do articles. I graphic design, did all the art direction for this whole mixtape.
UPC: Oh wow, I didn’t know that was you.
Ro: Yeah man, every piece of art you saw for this tape was me. The clothing line on deck. I wear all my own shit. Like Coyote Yakuza, I manage that 100%. I got my hand in a lot of shit. I haven’t even watched anime in a minute cause I don’t have the time. Directing videos. I co-directed “Anaconda Vise,” I’m co-directing the new stuff I’m working on. Writing treatments.
UPC: Is there anything else you want to get out there?
Ro: I feel like a lot of rappers are obsolete. I feel like a lot of rappers are trying to be a thing that’s been dead for 10 years and exist in a capacity that isn’t entertaining anymore. I think that’s why you see a guy like Young Thug winning, I think that why you see a guy like Kendrick Lamar winning, or even Childish Gambino. This is a new era. That’s just what I want to stress, that this is a new era, we’re in a new moment in time, I’m about to make some shit that y’all have never seen or heard before in history. I’m really about to invent some shit. RRITF might be the last, at least for a while, real rap mixtape or project that I do. Unless lighting strikes twice and I do Howling at Hades 2. Because right now I’m working on creating this new genre called “dark pop.” I’m about to do some whole new shit. Me, Rob and Jayex are in the lab, in the dungeon, cooking up some whole other other shit that’s never really been done.
UPC: When you say “dark pop” I just think of Charles Hamilton for whatever reason. Did you listen to him?
Ro: Yeah, in that moment I listened. Life is crazy. Dark pop is about to be some 2085 shit. For sure. Let it be known we are in the lab cooking up the crazy shit but for now y’all can spin RRITF. I don’t know when this interview is coming out, but Disc 2 and 3 are coming. Who else you know drop a 3-song mixtape? S-Rank is the movement. S-Rank is the new sound. S-Rank is the level that we’re working at. And it really means striving for perfection, and anything less is unbearable. It’s so painful to make anything that just feels okay, or good, or great. Like, great is not enough. We’re trying to make the best shit that’s ever been done. So that’s what S-Rank is all about, and that’s where I’m at right now. That’s what I feel I had to say.