We talk with Ro Ransom about his new project "Ro Ransom Is The Future," New York rap, the possibility of "Howling at Hades 2," wrestling and 50 Cent.
As a teenager, Ro Ransom went by the moniker Nero. Although his talent for rhyming was evident even back then, it's hard to know who exactly you are or who you will become when you're just a 15 or 16-year old kid. You're not legally an adult. You're still asking your parents for permission, being forced to do so in certain situations. You're still living in your mom's house. Shit, your parents might still be giving you an allowance (or telling you to find a part-time job). You have to do fucking homework. You're not independent, to say the least. So Nero was still growing up (perhaps literally) and evolving into the rapper and the person we know him as today- Ro Ransom. The evolution of Nero to Ro has been documented in plain sight, the blogosphere first picked him up as Nero and continued to post him when he opted to solidify his sound and his name as Ro Ransom. The grown-ass-man we know as Ro Ransom is now eyeing a rap game takeover, or at least, a New York takeover. With that, he's got his own NY style in pocket, one that was influenced by his experiences in the city, which is a side of the city we don't often hear about in rap: the Upper West Side. Don't let that scare you off. As rap continues to spread to places previously unheard from, like Sweden, why can't the Upper West Side get some shine?
After giving us an appetizer of sorts, a re-introduction to Nero Ro Ransom with Ransomnia in 2012, Ro fell back into hiding, once again trying to perfect and advance his sound. The quest for perfection was helped along by his now go-to producer, RobGotBeats. A relatively unknown producer at the time, Ro identified with his hunger (and his sound too, obviously), and the two hit it off. RobGotBeats, along with Jayex, were the main components in Ro's latest effort, what will eventually be a three-disc release, Ro Ransom Is The Future. Now that the future has arrived, we got on the phone with Ro to discuss the past, the present, and that one time R. Kelly took his beat.
Ro Ransom: Hey
HNHH: What’s up?
Ro: I’m good, I’m chilling, I’m grinding what’s up with you?
HNHH: Good, it’s been a busy day. So, basically, I wanna start talking to you taking things back in the day when I first discovered you and you were still going by Nero. What happened to Nero and what initiated the name change to Ro Ransom?
Ro: Well, it was a few things. Number one being that, I knew I was...I don’t wanna say I didn’t want to be associated with the music at the time anymore, but I knew I was about to start making different music, like I was growing up. When I was Nero and doing all that shit I was 16.
HNHH: Oh that’s crazy.
Ro: Yeah, I was like me at 20 is not about to me at where I am right now. So I knew I was about to make a stark change in my content, and I knew one of the best ways to go about that would be to change my name. And really the Ro in Ro Ransom was a derivative from Nero, I was calling myself Ro Ransom back then. That was just the nickname that stuck.
HNHH: Why not like Young Coyote?
Ro: Uh, that was actually tossed around.
HNHH: I feel like that coulda been cool.
Ro: That was actually tossed around, I think there was a band called the Young Coyotes. That might have been what stopped it. But that was definitely one of the ideas we were playing with.
HNHH: What’s your real name, if you don’t mind me asking.
Ro: My real name is Noah, that’s what my mom calls me. Everyone else calls me Ro, but my mom calls me Noah.
HNHH: Ok. I actually tried searching for some of your old music recently just ‘cause I wanted to go back to it and yeah, it is kinda hard to find now with the name change and everything. But I feel like the way I first discovered you was kinda through Ricky Hil. So I’m just wondering if you guys are still on good terms, do you still talk to him? You used to collab so often and now it’s far and few between.
Ro: I’ll say this. This’ll be my quote about Ricky Hil. I love him, he’s probably the only rapper I consider an actual friend. I spent so much time with that man and he’s such a genuine person. We’re still great, our relationship is great. The only thing that happened was, he moved to L.A. and fell back from releasing music for a while, he was going through some personal things. But now he’s getting back into the swing of things and I mean, Howling at Hades 2 was something we recently discussed doing.
HNHH: Yeah that was gunna be my next question…Would there ever be another joint project? That’d be dope.
Ro: [Laughs] Yeah. I dunno if I could ever make a joint project with another rapper, just because we’ve built such chemistry. I feel like the juxtaposition of who I am and who he is, is so perfect, like the synergy is perfect, that I don’t think it’d ever be right. It’s kinda like, well, it’s not like this at all, but like if you have a kid with a person—we had this kid that was Howling at Hades1 and now I’m joined at the hip with this guy forever. You know what I mean, you will always have that kid with that person, and yeah, technically you could go have other kids, but there’s something that will always link you back to that person. I feel like we make great music together. We’re for sure talking about Howling at Hades 2, that might be what I do next.
HNHH: That’d be dope. You were saying how he [Rich] fell back, but you kinda fell back too for a period of time. Can you talk about what was going on when you disappeared from the rap game? Was that inbetween your name change stage? I can’t think of the exact time frame.
Ro: Yeah there was a couple of moments, the main one being after I dropped Ransomnia. That was 2012 and I probably didn’t drop anything else until he next Spring which is like 8 or 10 months after that. I was dealing with a lot of shit, I talk about it on the new mixtape, on like "All We Are," dealing with drug addiction, OD-ing, that wasn’t fun. Just dealing with shortcomings. When I made Ransomnia, as soon as I put it out kind of immediately felt like I could have made a better mixtape than this. I didn’t know really know what to do immediately after, cause there was for sure energy that was created from that mixtape and there were a lot of eyes on me but I kinda didn’t know what I was supposed to do next—I was just trapped, caught out there, drugs didn’t help…
HNHH: But wasn’t Ro Ransom Is The Future always the plan? I feel like I’ve been hearing about that tape for so long before you actually started releasing songs. It was always like, ‘it’s coming.’
Ro: The way my projects come together is kinda like the book “The Alchemist.” It’s like, the main character in that book, he just wants to go see the pyramids. But it’s never that easy. He’s just going around, walking around, I think it’s in the Middle East he’s just like yo I wanna go see the pyramids. To get to the pyramids he has to work at a fucking bookstore, he has to help this guy count his sheep and then he loses the sheep and so he ends up going through all this and all he wanted to do at the end of the day is go see the pyramids. Kinda the way my projects have been laid out is the same way, ‘cause originally after I did Alive & Vibrant and Howling at Hades, I had a concept for an album called Momentum. That’s all I was concerned with, that’s all I was thinking about doing. But, Mike Waxx, who I was working with at the time, was telling me like, yo, I think with this name change you need to put something out that re-introduces yourself before you go into this heavy concept project you want to do. And that’s what Ransomnia ended up being. Coming off of Ransomnia, I wanted to stamp a little bit deeper into the ground what and who Ro Ransom is and was. I knew that I wanted to make something that was a little bit more laser-sharp as to who I am. That’s where Ro Ransom Is The Future came from. Ro: Which is kinda still me on this journey to the pyramids, which is Momentum that I was talking about earlier. So it was kinda in the plans, and kinda something that just ended up happening. I started working more closely with RobGotBeats and Jayex we just looked up and had a bunch fo amazing records.
HNHH: Yeah actually I wanna get to RobGotBeats later. Going back to Ransomnia, obviously there was a track called “So Throwed” which was really good, and then R. Kelly took the beat for his album Black Panties, which was whatever. I just found it so funny, my brother was the first person to point this out to me and he was so pissed on your behalf, he’s like, how did this happen?! Were you upset about it? I guess Cardo sold him the beat? It just seems like such a random connection for you to have.
Ro: [Laughs] Yeah. If I don’t ever do anything else, I’ll be able to say that Zoro himself, R. Kelly, stole a song from me. Pretty much that’s what it was. I woke up one day and my Twitter was blowing up, and people were hitting me like yo, man, some people were saying like Ro stole a song from R. Kelly and some people were like damn R. Kelly stole a song from Ro, like what’s going on. That must have been what it was, Cardo and I did that record back in 2012, and he must have just re-sold the beat to R. Kelly for his album, I haven’t talked to Cardo in ages. I was never upset, for a few reasons, one, I knew my song was better. I heard the R. Kelly song and I was just like this isn’t as good as “So Throwed,” I know it isn’t. It just felt like, oh, this is a cool thing I can say, R. Kelly stole my song.
HNHH: Yeah [laughs]. Okay so getting back to RobGotBeats. Who is Rob? How does he have all these beats? This is like just so recent that you started working with him. Did you work with him on Ransomnia? I don’t remember the name.
Ro: [Laughs]. Yeah I mean it’s crazy this whole S-Rank thing that has kinda become a monster much larger than I. I’ve known Rob kinda for years now, loosely. I just remember that him and Jayex, they would give Mike Waxx these beats, they would say like, I know you’re working with Ro, I know you have these connections with these rappers you’re working with, they were just hungry to work. I had been working with Jayex, he has a few records on Ransomnia, but Rob, we made a couple of songs but nothing that found a home on a project somewhere. I remember I recorded the “CM Punk” record, the “CM Punk” record was to a different beat originally, but we didn’t like the beat after a while. So we hit Rob cause we knew had the fire in him and wanted to make some hot shit. So we were like yo man, can you take this acapella and put something under it. So first he made a beat and we were like hmmm, this is good, but this isn’t blowing my mind right now. He coulda bitched, like, fuck you suck my dick I worked hard on this beat. But he didn’t, he went back and made like six more beats until we had the record that ended up being “CM Punk.” After Ransomnia…to me, one of the things I didn’t like about that project was sonically it was all over the place. It was a Cardo beat here, a Rob beat here, a Brandun Deshay beat here. It has it’s undertones but it wasn’t one world. I knew my next goal was to make a project that felt like a world, that felt you were entering one solid thing. That’s when me and Rob and Jayex got together and decided we were gunna make this album front to back. Yeah, we all have that same passion, that same fire, that’s the reason me and Rob have this great working relationship. We just wanna be great and we just wanna make amazing things, and we’re willing to put in the work it takes to get there. That’s why he has so many beats ‘cause we’re never satisfied. We’re already working on new shit.
HNHH: So we can expect you guys to continue this relationship into the future—are there other producers you’d work with, or is kinda like now that’s it, he’s your go-to?
Ro: Well, I’m always open to hear what other people have to offer, cause you never know. Sometimes I go in my email and find some crazy shit I never heard. But what me, Rob and Jay have is a special synergy. It’s almost like a family vibe, we have so much in common. They know my sound, and we all have the same influences like we all love Aaliyah, Timbaland, Missy, Ginuwine. We always joke around we’re the new Timbaland, Aaliyah, Missy and Ginuwine except I’m all three artists and they’re Timbaland. I hope we keep making bodies of work together, cause to me that would make the most sense. I’m tryna paint this picture of New York City that’s never really been told before, and they kinda know what colors I like using.
HNHH: What you said about New York City—I mean now there’s not really any need to be like ‘this sounds like New York’ ‘cause everyone’s doing whatever they want, but what do you associate your sound with in terms of a city?
Ro: To me, RRITF totally sounds like New York. It’s hard to pinpoint what Ro Ransom sounds like before this mixtape but to me now the stone is much more chiselled, it’s clear. A song like “Party In The Dark,” “Turn The Lights Off,” and “Hallucinate” these songs have sonic undertones that are super consistent, and I think that it 100% sounds like New York City to me. I remember we were in the high rises the other day at this hotel, I was kicking it with a couple people from my team, and my homie, he had never heard the tape before, I had never played it for me, this was like a week before it dropped. We had this super like, 34th floor, huge windows, view of the city and everything was lit up, and when I pressed play on “Party In The Dark” he was like holy shit, this is what New York lit up at night sounds like. To me, there is no rapper alive besides me painting the picture. I know this ‘cause I’m in the city, I’m fucking with the kids in the city. I’m at the party, with the girls in the city and they all tell me the same thing, like wow, we finally feel like there is someone putting on for these other neighbourhoods that were never represented. ‘Cause I mean if you look at rap history, there’s only been a few niches of New York represented, there’s been Harlem, Queensbridge...and clearly Hov, Nas, Dipset, all these people did it at an amazing level and they’re legends.
HNHH: Yeah but yours is like a more futuristic [sound], New York has to evolve in terms of sounds. What do you think about rappers like Troy Ave that are trying to bring New York backwards in terms of sound?
Ro: It’s always tough when I get asked about other rappers, but to a certain extent, I know it’s the cliché thing to say, I’m really not listening to these guys. I’m listening to Justin all day, I’m listening to Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Alice in Chains. The whole time I was working on RRITF I didn’t listen to any rap. It’s funny because when the tape dropped I had a couple of people tell me, like, yo “Party in the Dark” reminds me of “On Sight” the way the album starts and it’s super energetic. I hadn’t even heard Yeezus. But New York definitely has some talent, A$AP Rocky is great, Joey Bada$$ is nice, Action Bronson and those guys, but there’s only so much that I hear. But I can say that I’m not really with bringing shit backwards. I love what Joey Bada$$ does cause he’s like, this is what I like, I’m gunna do what thefuck I want, I don’t care what radio sounds like. Shout out to Capital Steez because a lot of people used to tell me that he was a big fan, I’m upset I never got to meet him. I fuck with Pro Era. I might be rambling I don’t remember what the question was.
HNHH: No no it was just about New York rap and the sound.
Ro: What I know for sure is that what I’m doing and what I’m about do next as far as New York City and the Upper West Side, which is where I’m from, has never ever in the history of rap music ever been done before, which excites me at least.
HNHH: You mentioned in your e-mail to me that you basically recorded all of the stuff we heard on RRITF a year or two ago?
Ro: Yeah everything on RRITF disc one was probably done…as far as recording, probably about this time last year. Mixing and mastering was a super strenuous process and tweaking and going back, but I’ve been sitting with disc one for awhile.
HNHH: I just find it’s kinda funny ‘cause it’s like our past is your future. But were you worried at all just because of the fact you recorded these a while ago they weren’t as…like did they not represent the present-day you?
Ro: Not really. I for sure wasn’t worried because me, Rob and Jayex we make stuff ahead…Like time was passing, mixtapes were dropping, albums were dropping and people were dropping projects and I’m like this shit still holds up, this still sounds relevant, like I coulda made it yesterday. I’m also excited to show my evolution and my growth ‘cause since making that project and recording it and putting it out, I’ve already evolved and I already know what I’ma do different and leap frog forward and make new stuff. Ro Ransom Is The Future disc 2 drops on the 13th and that’s songs that didn’t make the first one like “Killa Cam” and “Masquerade 2015.”
HNHH: Ok so is it still gunna be three discs?
Ro: Yeah RRITF is three discs.
HNHH: So, the remaining two discs, the other one you just said it’s tracks we’ve kinda already heard but didn’t make the project, is there really recent stuff, like the past few months?
Ro: Oh yes the most recent material is gunna be on RRITF disc three. I’m in the studio right now laying shit down for that. The tapes are all very different, disc 1 sounds like what it is, sounds like an album, it’s very methodical, the songs are big, big hooks and what not, more importantly than anything else it tells a story. Disc 2 is more so a bonus disc, it’s like the songs people have been asking me for that downloads were never able for, paired with a couple of songs that didn’t make the main disc. Disc 3 is gunna be hidden freestyles, all freestyles, me taking other peoples’ beats and ripping them to absolute threads. There’s a couple hidden freestyles out now, like the “Lorde Drive By”, the Britney Spears “Gimme More Shit” I did.
HNHH: Yeah, that’s cool. I’m assuming you took inspiration for the title from 50 Cent. What do you think about 50 Cent these days? Are you feeling the G-Unit reunion?
Ro: Yeah I did 100% take that, that’s where the title came from, ‘cause I feel like what 50 was for New York then I need to be for New York now or no one else will do it. I remember when I was 12 I begged my mom to buy me The Massacre, I was like pleaseeee, I’ll do the dishes, clean my room, get good grades, I wanted the album so bad. And I still have the exact same copy of it I drew on and ripped pages from. 50 Cent has been an interesting part of my upbringing. For a while when I was kid I listened to rock mainly, I listened to like Sum41 and Blink-182, that’s where I was with it, I was watching like Fuse. When I found Eminem I just latched on to him. Eminem is like a second father to me the way I latched on to his music. When he co-signed 50 Cent I was like I’m in! Anyone Eminem said was good I was like I’m in, I’m buying it. So I for sure fuck with the fact that G-Unit was able to put whatever dumb shit aside and start fuck with each other again.
HNHH: Mhhhmm. Okay you’re obsessed with wrestling. I don’t know anything about wrestling. What’s one thing I should know about wrestling?
Ro: You should know that…this what I tell people all the time. People say wrestling is fake or whatever, I get what they’re tryna say, but it’s a super ignorant statement. Number one, there is no difference between wrestling and any other form of entertainment. When you go see a fucking kung-fu movie and like motherfuckers are fucking each other up you sit there and go, oh this shit is so insane, you don’t go like this is fucking fake. Rappers get on songs and talk about moving kesy and flying in private jets and shit and you never did that. What’s worse? Literally, these rappers have just as fabricated gimmicks and outfits and foolish characters just as much as wrestling. So I would say to someone it’s just like anything else, the same emotional release I found listening to The Eminem Show when I was 9 and like I was on the school bus and bullies were knocking out my teeth and throwing my books out the window, is the same solace I find from watching a CM Punk and John Cena match. It’s just an escape, it’s entertainment. It’s super personal.
HNHH: Have you been into it for a really long time?
Ro: Yeah I’ve been watching wrestling for as far back as I can remember. I grew up on that shit. There’s a wrestler called Jeff Hardy, and I kinda think I’m the rap Jeff Hardy, because I remember being 11 years old, and people would fuck with me ‘cause I dressed different, and acted different and quote-unquote talked “white.” Jeff Hardy was like that in wrestling, ‘cause wrestling was full of these 275-pound dudes, and he was skinny, and he had like blue hair, and he wore face paint and he was kinda like strange man but people loved him and women loved him and kids loved him and he was successful. It made me feel like wow, I can 100% be myself and be successful. Something as little as that, people don’t realize how much it affected me and how much that helped my growth. So yeah, wrestling is dope.
HNHH: [Laughs]. So I just wanted to go back, you mentioned Momentum at the beginning of our conversation. I wanted to ask what’s the next step after Ro Ransom Is The Future? After three discs are out, is it still gunna be Momentum, whatever that is?
Ro: Yeah, right now I’m calling this the ‘As I go up in flames era’ cause I’m gunna just keep dropping fire and keeping the pressure on until I go up in flames. I’m having a spiritball moment, you know what, I’m not even having a spiritball moment, the Dragonball Z leeches will know what I mean when I say this, I’m having a moment when Vegito met Magna and he blew themselves up to save his fuckin’ family, even though it didn’t work, I’m having that kinda moment. Or when Goku fought on Namitha…
HNHH: I have no idea what you’re saying right now [laughs].
Ro: I know you don’t, it’s basically a self-sacrifice. I’m spazzing on everything that gets put in front of me until I can’t no more. Right now I’m finishing up disc 3 of RRITF, and I may or may not be doing Howling at Hades 2, that’s something that’s being discussed. When I make Momentum, it’s really gunna be special.
HNHH: You mentioned a concept, so can you expand on that, what is the concept?
Ro: Yeah, it’s gunna be the 2015 Thriller. Anyone who is reading this can remember the day I said this, I’m gunna make the new Thriller. I wanna tell the story of my city, tell the story of the Upper West Side. Tell the story of Riverside, Westend. 92ND and Columbus. This place where I’m from that never gets spoken about, and the stories that are from there that never get spoken about, and all the fucked up things I’ve seen, and all the good times that I’ve had. Just the cultures where I’m from, and the way we are, and the way we dress. I’m turn it into a movie, an audio movie. It’ll for sure be unlike anything I think anyone’s ever heard before. That’ll probably be some time next year. Right now of course is about RRITF, the three-disc extravaganza. Videos are coming, I’m doing a website, it’s coming soon, it’s gunna be journals from me to go along with every song on the tape, merch, shows.
HNHH: That’s dope. One last question: are you eating off rap at this point?
Ro: Yeah I’m eating off rap, but that doesn’t stop me from doing other things. I’m just such a ball of energy, I can’t sit still. I might write an article about Lorde, a rapper might call me in to do his whole art direction for his album and his marketing, I might model for the Reebok campaign, ‘cause I just don’t know how to sit still. Rap doesn’t stop me from staying busy.