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Meet Alternative & Experimental Hip-Hop Artist James the Ronin

We’ve interviewed another talented artist who goes by the name “James the Ronin”. James has a unique approach to making music and videos, and if you’re looking for something new and exciting, then this is for you.

I have worked with another director here in Mexico on lyric videos for some earlier projects, but this is my first true music video.  I reached out to a talented digital artist known only as cockroach brain, based on his incredibly creative work; you should see his Instagram.  His work is so unique.  He produced a short video that inspired  me, and we began to discuss the possibility of this video for my song What You Do.  

My concept for the video is inspired by a near death experience from 2009.  I had a head injury that gave me seizures.  One night I had a really strong one, to everyone there I just collapsed, and stopped breathing for about 5-10 minutes.   What I saw during that time changed my life forever.  Suffice it to say it was a cosmic journey which brought me to a place and taught me many things.  I realized how much we only think we know, and that we are all connected.  I explained all of this to cockroach brain and I told him I didn’t want the video to be a recreation of that experience, but to be what my experience inspired in him.  I more or less gave him free rein to do whatever he wanted from that story.  He sent me some images that blew my mind and I am very happy with his final product, it was a great pleasure to work with him.   We are currently planning another video for a single I am dropping in February of next year.  

Lisa: Hi James! What first got you into music?

James: Hello! I love this story; I was a small kid playing in the garage. I found my dad’s dusty old record collection from when he was younger. Had no ideas, no preconceived notions of who these people were, just the album art and the music. Found the record player and started going through the albums. Started with The Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bill Withers, many others. I sat in the garage with dust floating and was transported, I could feel it. It was surreal, I loved the sounds before I knew anything about these artists. It was a defining moment for me. I never even knew my dad had listened to these artists before, he was super conservative. After that, we all had to learn the trumpet in my family and then I learned the guitar and bass, eventually landing with the piano.

Lisa: What would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for your music career?

James: I have a day job teaching, and only a few family and friends close to me know about what I am doing. Music and words are my passion, they help me remember who I am.

Lisa: How would you describe the music that you typically create?

James: My music is an alternative/experimental hip hop, I don’t sound like anyone. The words that come out are deeper, I try to tell a story or have something to say. Despite my robotic appearance I am anti auto-tune at the moment, like a juxtaposition, I want it to sound like an actual human even if I don’t look like one. Similar to the old records in the garage, I thought the human imperfections were a beautiful part of the overall work.

Lisa: What is your creative process like?

James: Wow, so it comes in all forms. I have a short window to create after my youngest child falls asleep. So everything is very concentrated. Sometimes I have the words in my mind and discover a sound that fits the emotion I’m trying to create with the words. Sometimes it’s the exact opposite, and sometimes I build as I go. It’s a very focused process.

Lisa: I really loved your song “What You Do”. Can you tell me more about it?

James: Thank you very much, I appreciate that. Sure, so on this track I had the synth. Loved the feeling it created. Then added the drums on top of the melody. The vibe it gave me was as if I was flying through space. I loved that. I remembered an experience, and the words began to flow out. I captured them and had it all together in about a week.

Lisa: Tell me more about your near-death experience from 2009 and how that inspired your video.

James: So, I had a head injury from Iraq that gave me seizures. One night I had a really strong one at a friend’s place. To everyone there I just collapsed and stopped breathing for about 5-10 minutes. What I saw during that time changed my life forever. I saw the room spin around as if I was flushed out of a toilet bowl in reverse, leaving my body. The roof of the apartment, the city, the planet all sped away from me like a two-handed basketball pass. Then other planets, all flying past, I couldn’t feel my body at all. Then it all got faster and faster, until all the lights converged into a horizon. I got to a place that seemed to be made of light, beautifully impossible to describe with words. Was there for a bit. Then it all went in reverse, the horizon in reverse, slowing down I saw the planets again, then back to earth and the city. As, whatever I was, got back to the apartment everything went white and I could see what looked like the back of a simple Halloween mask, just the eyes, nose and mouth shape cut out in the white light. I felt I was being pulled toward the back of the mask by my mouth. When I got to the mask, the physical me, felt his body, and opened his eyes. One of my friends was pulling my tongue out of my mouth to try and get me to open my airway.I was a conservative Christian at the time, and my preacher became angry at me when I told him what I had seen. But it was more real than this place. I wanted to go back, It was like being a cup of water poured into a river. The cup of water was still there, but part of something bigger. I learned so many things from that experience: we are all connected, and we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do, and that’s okay. I explained all of this to Cockroach Brain and I told him I didn’t want the video to be a recreation of that experience, but to be what my experience inspired in him. I more or less gave him free rein to do whatever he wanted from that story. He sent me some images that blew my mind and I am very happy with his final product, it was a great pleasure to work with him. We are currently planning another video for a single I am dropping in February of next year.

Lisa: What non-musical entities and ideas have impacted your music?

James: Non-musical, hmm. Space travel fascinates me. Spirituality and religion have had an impact on me since the experience I mentioned as well. I notice we do so many things of questionable ethics based on our beliefs, when that impacts others I feel it. Other than that my grandfather, Michael Jordan and Steve McQueen are big heroes of mine.

Lisa: What is the best advice you’ve been given?

James: If you don’t know what something is, know what it isn ́t.

Lisa: You are currently planning another video for a single you are dropping in February of next year. What can we expect?

James: Haha, so this song is made for moving the hips. Inspired by my wife. She is of Mayan descent. She has a serious spiritual energy that I can’t understand or explain. I don ́t know if I believe in past lives, I ́ve seen evidence both for and against it. But, if she had a past life, she was certainly a shaman of some kind. So, I wanted to capture that idea. I made this track; the music and words grew together out of a mental image I had of her dressed like a mayan priestess dancing up a temple. She meets me at the top, after I travel through space and time to find her. Cockroach Brain is on it, it’s gonna be great.

Lisa: At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?

James: I hope people take away a different perspective, and perhaps reflect on deeper things.

Follow James:

YouTube

Spotify

Apple Music

Instagram

What do you think?

Written by Lisa

Lisa is an undergraduate at Universitá Degli Studi di Roma, she is currently studying course in modern pop culture. She loves to write about and live for the music.

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