The latest addition to the discography of Ro James, comes in his debut album, EL DORADO. Staying true to his own sound, James continues in his lane of prose and sonic (although the former still leaves you wanting more) that seems to be inspired by the late Prince and is even reminiscent of now contemporary music icons Miguel and Frank Ocean. Even though latter of those two is just as elusive as the Batman in Gotham’s daylight hours (Don’t worry Frank, we still wait patiently for the follow-up to Channel Orange).
The first single off the album, “Permission” features James and his soaring falsetto yips and smooth riffs and runs, with just enough grit to match his edgy Rock and Roll aesthetic. Wailing sirens and ticking high-hats emote current day trap music, which much of todays music offerings seem to draw inspiration from. James can sometimes remind the listener of young Maxwell, as he smoothly transitions from his higher vocal register to his lows, a technique that has been synonymous with Maxwell’s artistry. It isn’t a coincidence that “Permission” is his lead single. It’s arguably his strongest offering off of EL DORADO. With a sample from Willie Hutch’s “Brothers Gonna Work It Out”, James sings a lustful ode to consensual sex, which manages to be intimate, steamy, and still remains fresh to the ears.
Though at times the album does fall short of the highs that “Permission” offers, it gets close with “Already Knew That” and “Last Cigarette”. The former fits in shape with the vibe and sound of Miguel’s “Coffee” and the latter evoking something more reminiscent of traditional R&B. Speaking of Miguel, the comparisons to Miguel aren’t unfounded. Some of his runs, songwriting and even his image can bring forth Miguel vibes, but to be fair, its not as if Miguel can stake sole claim to this. As I mentioned before the late Prince, paved the way for both of these artist and many more inspired by him.
James does a lot of things well on EL DORADO, but his writing does leave a desire for wanting more. Lines like “I’ma treat you like you’re my last cigarette” almost seem to miss the mark. But strangely this can be forgiven, his tone and technique and actually being a singer adds something different to today’s musical soundscape. Clocking in at 45 minutes, EL DORADO feels like parts of it are missing. Almost like the listener is being shortchanged. Ro James has talent as writer and singer, but it feels like he’s shaping his own artistry. Trying to define himself as less of a newcomer following Miguel or Frank Ocean, and more of the soulful crooner that still has plenty of upwards mobility.