Singer-songwriter Kevin Ross on Going Independent, Believing in Your Gift, and His Album, Audacity
From certified pen-killer to popping performer, Kevin Ross is the perfect blend of good melodies with a touch of magic.
For Ross, a native of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., music has been running through his bloodstream since knee-high. The singer-songwriter was bred from a family full of musicians, which ultimately tugged at his own creative heartstrings and influenced his early decision to explore the art.
After furthering his education in the skill and catching the eye of industry veteran Troy Taylor, during an appearance on BET’s 106 & Park’s ‘Wild Out Wednesday’ segment, Ross still had no idea of what was to come. From there, his career jetted to new places, as did he, making a residential leap from the DMV to the ATL. Ross then put his composing expertise to use, adding renowned acts Trey Songz, Jamie Foxx, and a number of other record-breaking artists to his growing list of lyric-writing credits.
Still a vocalist at his core, KR went from doing Motown tributes to signing a contract with the iconic label in 2012, where he went on to tour with game-changers Maxwell and Ne-Yo and release three EPs and a debut album, The Awakening. Though his single, “Long Song Away,” blew up the charts, it was his genius mash-ups of classic soundtracks and intros that broke the internet. Whereas Ross had already drawn thousands of supporters in with his previous work, he brilliantly quadrupled those with his peculiar way of using his out-of-this-world vocal tool to spin legendary songs into viral, modern-day jams. To this day, Kevin Ross still succeeds in doing so.
In fact, he’s been in this studio cooking up more of the adored hits we grew to know him for. Ross recently walked away from his deal at Motown Records and made one with himself, as he recently launched his company, Art Society Music Group. Finally free and highly favored, the crooner has plans to continue crafting masterpieces for all of his listeners across the globe, with his soon-to-be-unveiled second LP, Audacity.
As you can see, Kevin Ross is still kicking it and killing it, and he’s bringing his audacity with every step that he takes.
Check out our sit-down conversation with Mr. Ross himself below!
Parlé Mag: So, it’s been a minute since we’ve heard from you, musically. What would you say you learned about yourself and your artistry during this time away from the scene?
Kevin Ross: Just appreciating the time, appreciating the fact of being able to execute my thoughts and plans. Starting my own company, ASMG, which is Art Society Music Group, that’s definitely been a big learning curve… for me. At this point in my life, independence and freedom are the most important things to me, as an artist and a budding businessman. So, I think those have kind of been valuable lessons and valuable things that I’ve learned during this time of not putting out any music. Also, to not just be so anxious about putting out music, but more so understand what it is, as far as the totality of putting out a body of work.
Parlé Mag: I get it, totally.
Kevin Ross: And making sure that it lasts longer than a week after putting it out. So, I think that’s important for me as well.
Parlé Mag: Like you said, you recently announced the birth of your own label, Art Society Music Group. How has it been transitioning from a major overhead, such as Motown Records, to now independent? Any challenges?
Kevin Ross: I mean, of course, there are differences—as far as, like you mentioned, the financial overhead. But, also, I think that with having something as intimate as Art Society Music Group—the intention behind every decision that’s made, the intention behind every partnership, it’s more so geared toward the greater good of the artist or the greater good of what we want to accomplish, as an end goal. You know? Versus something that’s temporary or momentary of the time. We want something that’ll last.
Parlé Mag: So, why did you choose the independent route, and what do you hope will be different about being an independent musician?
Kevin Ross: I chose the independent route just strictly because freedom was more important to me. Going to a major label, you have people who champion you, whether it’s an A&R who signs you, whether it’s the president of the company. But so many characters and players within the game change. As new people are coming in, you have to kind of use your spirit of discernment to say, “Okay, well, will this make sense for me? Will I still kind of be considered a priority? Was I considered a priority with the people who were championing me?” I had to take all of those factors into consideration, and that’s what led me to become independent.
Now, I do feel like being independent has its ups and downs; it has its moments. Ultimately, there’s no one to blame. [laughs] So, I think that accountability will definitely be something that I take ownership of and take pride in. For better or for worse. I’ve learned my most valuable lessons when I’ve held myself accountable and without having someone else influence my decision.
Parlé Mag: Do you plan on signing other artists in the future?
Kevin Ross: Yeah! In the future, future, future. [laughs]
Parlé Mag: [laughs] Ah, okay, I see!
Kevin Ross: We’re ways away from that, though. Because, truthfully, you want to make sure that the brand that you build works, that you know what you’re talking about, and you’re practicing what you preach. So, it’s not a thing of, “Oh, I’m a businessman, and I’m going to sign people just because.” I want to make sure that I can make myself work, where I can execute my ideas and my vision of what I want my artistry to be, career-wise, and make sure that I execute the trajectory of what I have for myself. I know that with every artist, it’s a different formula, but once I do that, I know that I can help and kind of guide artists onto a better path. However, for me, I would never sign an artist; I would only do partnerships.
Parlé Mag: Your album, Audacity, is also released through your label. Talk to us about this project and what sets it apart from your previous work.
Kevin Ross: Audacity is rawer; it’s grittier. You get to experience a lot more sides of me, as an artist and as a man. Just having the freedom to create and do a lot of trial and error, that’s the beauty of being an artist who has that luxury. [This album will] take the audience on a journey. That’s what I’m most excited about with Audacity, for people to explore these different facets of me and a plethora of music I wasn’t able to touch on… on the first project.
Parlé Mag: One of the singles from Audacity is a song titled “Thing Called Love.” What’s the meaning behind the track?
Kevin Ross: “Thing Called Love” is pretty much explaining what some men may feel during this timeframe of taking relationships to the next level. Whether it’s engagement, whether it’s marriage, whether it’s actually claiming a woman as your girlfriend. [laughs] Whatever it is. I’m speaking more toward how I look at certain people who are around me, especially my guy friends. You know, like, how we, sometimes, tend to be a little self-destructive. In a way of, we’ll let good things pass us by; we’ll let good things disintegrate because we feel like we’re not ready, we’re not worthy of it, or we can’t express it. We can’t express it to one another, and we can’t express it to the person that we’re seeing.
Parlé Mag: Oh, yeah, that’s a good one! We’re all guilty of it, at some point.
Kevin Ross: Exactly. Or, if it’s not having the tools and not being capable of being good at a “thing called love” or articulating and communicating what we need, what we feel like we need to work on, as a man, as it pertains to love. So, yeah, it’s one of those kinds of records.
Parlé Mag: Being that you did take a brief hiatus, are there any reservations when it comes to dropping the new album?
Kevin Ross: Nah, I mean, honestly, it’s going to be what it’s going to be, as far as the reception of it. I think that if you’re true to who you are, you’re true to your art and your craft, and you have confidence in that, then people will come along for the ride. Just like with my last album. Technically, on a front of album reception, it helps for me to create self-synergy and energy around the beginning of what Kevin Ross is. But it still didn’t do what I may have wanted it to do, or the people around me may have wanted it to do. So, there were valuable lessons learned from that as well.
If anything, I’m starting back up from a good place, where the bar isn’t so high, to begin with. [laughs] You know what I mean?
Parlé Mag: True, true!
Kevin Ross: My job is to make good music. Whoever catches on to it is whoever catches on to it. It’s just a lot more to it than me being afraid of putting it out. I can’t even think about it; I just need to make sure that I’m confident in it, that I love it, and that I can deliver it onstage. The rest will take care of itself; God will make sure that everything falls into place.
Parlé Mag: So, as a songwriter-turned-artist, I’m pretty sure that coming into this game, you felt like you had some things to prove. Do you still feel that way? If so, why?
Kevin Ross: The only thing that I have to prove is to myself, to be honest. If I try to prove anything to anybody else, it’s like a dead-end. As long as I have goals and plans set and a vision, I know where I need to go. I know where my marks are, and I know what I need to hit. So, if anything, I got to prove it to myself and make sure that I’m proud of the work that I’m doing.
When we live for other people, we’ll never really find true happiness. That’s often the case. Whether you’re old or whatever, when people are on their deathbeds, someone will say, “What is one of the things that you regret in life?” They always say that they never lived their life to the fullest, and they wish they would’ve spent more time with their family. They wish they could’ve done things that, really, all it takes is just something within yourself. It’s making that conscious decision and saying, “This is what I want to do, with my time.” It has nothing to do with anyone else’s opinion. I know it’s hard; it’s hard with social media. Everybody’s in your business, everybody feels like they know better, they know best.
One opinion matters more than the other. Different things like that. But, honestly, it’s a fine line that we have to walk. It’s a certain confidence that you have to exude to say, “Though I’m in a generation where everyone’s opinions matter, I have to look out for my star player.” And that’s you. It’s your life.
Parlé Mag: Yes! A lot of us lose sight of that.
Kevin Ross: You came into this world solo, and you’re going to leave this world solo. So, at the end of the day, you got to make sure that you’re good; you got to make sure that you’re straight.
Parlé Mag: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about male R&B artists? And how do you hope your music will change that perspective?
Kevin Ross: [laughs] Ummm! I wouldn’t even say there are misconceptions because I think that a lot of people play into the misconceptions, too. So, it can’t be a misconception if it’s played into. I don’t think there’s a misconception that hasn’t been kind of overplayed by artists. So, nah, I don’t think there’s a misconception; I just think that there are a plethora and variety of different kind of artists out there, who just don’t sing about a couple of subjects, or every one show isn’t the same. Everyone has their own thoughts, has their own perspective.
Parlé Mag: Looking at all that you’ve accomplished, what’s the most rewarding part about what you do?
Kevin Ross: That I can do it and keep my life going, that I can do it and I’ve actually made a career out of it. So many people worry so much about being a star, that they don’t focus on having a career. There’s a difference between being a star and having a career. You could be a star and not be able to pay your bills; you could be a star and be bankrupt. [laughs] So, it’s really about what matters most to you. Does it matter—as far as the public reception of you—being successful but you’re miserable? Or having a career that could stand twenty, thirty, forty years, of you doing what you love and not having to work another job? I’m blessed to have experienced that. For the past four or five years, I’ve been able to do music full-time.
Parlé Mag: Wow, that’s truly a blessing.
Kevin Ross: When I first started music, I had to do all of these odd jobs in order to make ends meet. So, I know what it’s like to be on both sides of the fence, where you’re writing in the studio but you work at Subway. You know what I’m saying? [laughs] Different things like that… just to balance out your means. So, to me, it’s a proud moment, just to make sure that I’m able to take care of home base.
Parlé Mag: In an industry that’s constantly evolving, how do you manage to not lose sight of yourself and your creativity?
Kevin Ross: That’s all within self. Self-esteem, self-awareness. God has given us all gifts; God has made all of us different, so it’s easy to get caught up in what the industry wants. Sometimes, they may want a lot of carbon copies. Like, if this is successful, then they want more of that to happen, a million times. [laughs] It’s hard for artists to find themselves when the demand is not “them;” it’s something else. So, it’s just about staying true to who you are and persevering. One thing that I didn’t have, coming into the business, was a vision. I had hopes and dreams, but I didn’t have like set goals that I wanted to accomplish. I knew that I was talented, and I knew that God had given me something that I needed to share with the world. I didn’t know how this gift would impact people and what I wanted to be the end result of Kevin Ross.
I just knew that it was going to take me somewhere, and it did. When it took me somewhere, and then once I got to that ‘somewhere’ place, which was pretty much a gray area, it was me having a conversation with God. He told me, “This is what you asked for! You weren’t clear, so you can’t expect a clear outcome. You can’t expect clarity when you weren’t clear from the jump.” I was grateful for that revelation. So, now, moving forward, I have to be clear; I have to be concise about what I ask for, what I desire and move in that direction. I can’t let anything deter me or distract me from what my vision is.
Parlé Mag: What’s something you wish someone would’ve told you when you first started out?
Kevin Ross: Man! Patience! Be patient. When I came into the industry, mentorship had a price, people who you wanted to help you had a price. It’s like, “In order for me to help you, let’s do business with one another.” Versus it being, “I genuinely want to help you. I genuinely want you to win, in order to make the music business better.” That is one of the biggest things I’ve learned, to do it better than the people who brought me into it. Just to say, “Okay, be patient, be slow to anger. It’s bigger than you.” You have to diplomatically handle certain situations. Even though you are a creative, and you use a lot of your emotions, business isn’t based on emotion. That’s tough for an artist; that’s tough for people who… all they know is emotion. It takes emotion for them to make this emotional music, and then you expect for them to turn it on and off.
They have to develop that over time, and if you don’t tell them, artists will always look crazy. Creatives will always look unstable, and it’s like, they’re unstable creatures, they’re sensitive. It took that level of sensitivity for you to get this music; what do you expect?
Parlé Mag: Right!
Kevin Ross: So, telling artists to “develop a thicker skin,” “develop a tougher skin,” you have to be clear on what you want and stand firm in that. I try to do that with the people I’m in contact with, as far as up and coming artist and the new generation. Once again, practicing what I preach. That’s very important to me.
Parlé Mag: You’ve collaborated with the greats. Could you tell us the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? And how has it contributed to the person you are today?
Kevin Ross: The best advice that I’ve received was from Maxwell. He was like, “Never do a song that you don’t see yourself doing twenty years from now. Because you’re going to regret it!” [laughs]
Parlé Mag: [laughs]
Kevin Ross: It was a surreal moment for me! That was my first tour, and it was with Maxwell! So, that, within itself, showed me everything that I needed to know. It showed me where my life was headed, where my career could be, and I’ll never take that for granted. I’ll also never do a song that I can’t see myself doing twenty years from now! [laughs]
Parlé Mag: When it’s all said and done, how do you want people to remember Kevin Ross?
Kevin Ross: I want people to remember Kevin Ross as a lover, as a teacher, and most importantly, as an artist advocate, that—beyond my endeavors and what I want for my artistry—wants to make the music business better. I want to make the music business better for creatives, for executives, A&Rs, journalists. Anybody who’s within this medium. I just think that it could be better; there’s a lot that we can work on. I want to represent change, evolution, and bring my creative community together, to figure out better ways to help the next generation. This industry, right now, is dark, twisted, and demented. It’s been like that for lots of years, for tons of years, decades. Within that dark realm, there is God, there is light, there is hope for better. So, I’m not willing to accept ‘that’s just the way it is,’ ‘that’s just how the game goes.’
Parlé Mag: Moving forward, what’s next for you?
Kevin Ross: Audacity! That’s next. It’s the next statement piece; it’s the next album that’s in the arsenal. I’m super excited! With every album, with every phase, with every chapter, it means a lot more to me than just a body of work. It represents a period of my life. Audacity is a period of my life where I asked for my release from a major label, and I experienced having people who were close to me disappear and leave. I had to build my self-reliance, have the audacity to continue moving on, to be the man I want to be, to be the artist advocate I will always be. Every time that I come out, I want it to be more than just a moment, but a movement, for the people who follow me. More than just songs, but anthems and things that they can play over and over again in their daily lives. I want to be a soundtrack to their life. That’s what I grew up on. The amazing Frankie Beverly and other classic artists like that. Just to see the power that they have, when these people come to their concerts, is admirable.
I see these sixty, seventy-year-old people turn into twenty-one-year-olds again! That’s just real! I think it’s a beautiful thing… that music has the power to do those kinds of things, and it matters to us. We’re just experiencing that with B2K’s The Millennium Tour. You know how we would always be like, “The auntie and uncles are going to see Keith Sweat?”
Parlé Mag: Yes, yes!
Kevin Ross: Now, we aren’t auntie and uncles, but we have to accept the fact that we’re currently in a generation where there’s a generation ahead of us. The first time in a long time, as far as in Hip-Hop and R&B, there are certain artists that our generation may not naturally connect to. We’re just like, “I don’t get it!” [laughs] It scared half of us because everything that came out for the last seven or so years, we understood it because it was a part of us. Now, it’s like, your little brothers, sisters, and cousins are in an industry that has us saying, “What in the hell is going on?” It’s a different ballgame. So, for me, as an artist, I’ve always had an old soul. I’m literally just coming into myself, coming into a place where my peers and myself are finally about to catch up with one another and making the music that [this generation] can enjoy and connect to. It’s great!
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