In an open-air garage by Hell’s Kitchen, friends and fans of Ro James mingle as they prepare for the artist to take the stage. Five girls in khaki jackets sell drinks in the back – a menu composed exclusively of Heineken and tequila, donning titles from Ro James’ upcoming album ELDORADO – as the crowd appreciates the night’s opening act; Brooklyn’s own Olivia Dope blasting out the best of the last three decades’ Rap, Hip-Hop and R&B. The crowd matches the scene – casual but immaculate – and it seems as though everyone is a friend of Ro James’, which inevitably means that they’re friends to one another.
The artist’s arrival, signaled by a call for NYC to make some noise, electrifies the audience as Ro James – donning the woolen poncho, gold rings and circular sunglasses displayed on James’ album cover – rides up to the venue on a vintage Royal Star Cadillac. The mood shifts immediately, all energies slow and are channeled toward one thing: the artist and his art. In the background, “Permission” – James’ top hit – plays as he steps up to the stage.
“ELDORADO represents the journey for me,” James starts, “it’s been years of hard work, dedication, gaining friends, losing friends, gaining love and losing love.” A member of the crowd calls out an “I love you;” James chuckles and responds, easy. Introducing his first song, “Ga$,” James finishes his introduction with “let’s do this for the music.”
And for the whole evening, the crowd complied. From “Already Knew That” to “A.D.I.D.a.S.,” everyone grooves with James; especially for the latter when he performs an a capella version of the track. James’ effortless, charismatic nature adds to his performance but his talent is beyond question; with natural rhythm and flow, James moves from mellow tones to booming vocals, breaking only to say, “I know there are a lot of singers in this place.” Voices join, sweet and almost childlike in comparison to James’ powerful and sensual singing, his sound resonating with voices like Miguel’s and D’Angelo’s. The beats, when present, are groovy and deep; the bass resonating in your chest, moving you to sway and jam with the music. He ends the evening the way it began by playing his top track, “Permission,” laughing and flirting with his fans in the front row, asking the audience to join in, sing along and become part of the family.
Watching Ro James command the stage on Tuesday night in an “El Dorado” poncho and black boots suggests he’s a long way from his beginnings, his musical affair originating in church with his father. His message, however, seems to remain the same; he thanks the crowd for “coming out and showing love,” offering Jack Daniels to anyone who cares, as his friend grabs the microphone to say, “R&B music is one of the most soulful things that we have in this community and we are doing our best to bring that back…Ro James is a key example of that. Thank you so much for keeping this alive.” As the crowd trickles out of the open garage door, the party spills out on to the street. Down the block, the heavy bass can still be heard, offering James’ music up to the world.
ELDORADO by Ro James is in stores Friday, May 25.
Available for Pre-Order on iTunes.
Stream Ro James on Spotify.