Photo by Max Sassaman
Ramond, a rapper and entrepreneur who hails from Denver, is no stranger to switching things up. He travels frequently and, before the pandemic, spent several months living in Europe to focus on his music and personal growth. So, his recent relocation to Mesa came as no surprise to his manager, friends or fans.
“Even if I’m in places I don’t know or have never been, I feel comfortable when I’m in the studio,” he explains. “Whatever’s going on outside, in the studio, things make sense.”
His inherent aplomb came in handy this past year, when there were, decidedly, a lot of things “going on outside.” Naturally, Ramond took to the studio.
Ramond collaborated with Denver-based hip hop artists A Meazy, Wil Guice and Chy Reco, and producer Mic Coats to release a song and music video called “I Can’t Breathe (Again),” which touches on topics such as social injustice and police brutality. The song has been streamed nearly 100,000 times on Spotify since its debut in July 2020.
A renaissance man in his own right, Ramond also recently helped develop an app called BBLK that serves as a directory for black-owned businesses across all 50 states. The platform’s principal goals are to bolster the black community’s economic growth, donate a portion of its proceeds to HBCUs and establish annual scholarships for black students.
Other endeavors include an executive producer credit for the Black Sands soundtrack, a song produced by two-time Grammy-winner Jon-John Robinson and a highly acclaimed album called Seeds.
We caught up with the multi-hyphenate on his past accomplishments, present place of residence and future ambitions.
What inspired your move from Denver to Mesa and what has the transition been like?
I was at a stage where I felt like exploring a new city and getting a refreshing new start. Sometimes you need to just break into a new level of yourself and your music and it takes getting into new spaces. In 2018, I took a jump and lived in Europe for three months. I was based in Vienna. I got to say Prague and Amsterdam. I hadn’t grown mentally like that in any other three-month period in my life, so I was just inspired by that.
Tell me about growing up in Denver and how it shaped you as a person and a musician.
I think Denver is a melting pot. I always consider Denver “mild.” It’s real laidback, mellow. That’s kind of maybe what inspired my take on music – being real conversational and in tune with stuff. Sometimes if you move too fast, you can’t see what’s really going on. I was quiet growing up, I observed a lot, so I can sit back and put what I see back into music and I think that comes out in cool ways sometimes.
That’s interesting that you say you were quiet growing up. You seem so outspoken now, especially with your music.
[Music] was changing my personality and putting me out there a little more, having to talk to people and be more outgoing, just because I had to be. If you just sit there with your mixtape, nobody’s going to get it. Having a couple friends and getting out there a little bit more transitioned my personality a little bit through high school and into college.
That’s a perfect segue into your music. Let’s talk about your recent release, “I Can’t Breathe (Again),” which quickly became a powerful anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. Can you tell me about the writing and production process?
We knew we wanted to make a song about everything that was going on at the time. The country was just really heavy after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The moment was just really heavy. We knew we wanted to make something to capture that and it was a tough time for all of us to even talk about it. We got to the studio and the only thing that was done was the beat… and maybe for the first hour, all we did was just talk about what was going on. We had all the artists that were part of it, and we were just talking while the beat played in the background and got a feel for how everybody felt at that time. Then, we had the singer come through and he did the “I Can’t Breathe” chorus and then after that, it was almost like a therapy session because we were all talking about what we wanted to do and he laid the hook. From then on, it just flowed through us. Every time one of us went to the booth and did a verse, it was like we were taking that therapy session with us. I’ve never been a part of something that powerful, just because of how it felt and what we talked about. Music gives you a voice that other people don’t have, so to be able to speak for myself and others was a powerful moment for sure.
The song also has a music video that features protest footage and BLM murals as the backdrop. Why was it important for you to include that imagery?
We knew the guys that did the murals and while they were painting them, they were listening to the song. It just felt all connected. We needed the visuals to be as powerful as the song. The visuals being that powerful and having those images in it makes you feel something. Even though it’s just a painting, it’s still looking in their eyes and seeing that was a person. I think a lot of people look past the fact that these are people with families. How would you feel if that was your uncle or your cousin or son?
The song gained a lot of steam on local and national radio stations and streaming platforms. Explain to me what it’s like for a song with such a strong and important message get that kind of attention.
For me, it’s everything. While we were in the session, nobody was thinking about how far the song would go. It was really about just speaking on what needed to be spoke on. I had never heard as many people tell me that they had heard one of my songs and cried when they heard it. It was everything. The way that people connected to that song and still do to this day is powerful. Even my grandma heard it and said, “You’re really capturing a moment in history and you guys do it in a beautiful way.”
Let’s talk about your app, which spotlights and connects consumers to black-owned businesses. What did you feel was missing in the market that inspired you to develop this platform?
At that time, I really wanted to create a way for people to support these businesses that needed support. Around that time I was seeing people asking, “Where can I find a black-owned business?” and you shouldn’t always have to post a status and let three to five people post under it. Can we create a centralized place to find something in your area and go support it on purpose?
You also executive produced the soundtrack for Black Sands. Tell me about that project and how it differed from your other musical endeavors?
That was a really fun project. It’s like Avatar meets Black Panther. It’s an animated series based on kings and queens in Egypt and different storylines based on characters of that time. When I saw some of the imagery, I just thought it was amazing. As far as the process of creating the album, it was the same but different. I just wanted to make sure I understood the story enough to where I was able to put myself in the shoes of some of the characters because my music is really personal. Some of my most recent music is just in tune with my experiences, so I took that same approach – if I was in this character’s shoes or in this realm, what would I see? What would I feel? What would I be going through? All the artists I brought on it, at least 99 percent, are all from Denver. I wanted to highlight some of the artists from my city, too, and have them get into that realm with me, too.
You also produced a song with Jon-John Robinson, who has worked with some of the biggest name in the biz. Tell me what it was like collaborating with him.
I put out Seeds right before I went to Europe, so when I got back the first thing [my manager] said he wanted to do was connect with a producer that he knows named Jon-John Robinson. I definitely knew who he was because I grew up on ’90s R&B. He was like let’s take a trip to Dallas and just connect… we’ll just meet and chop it up. I was nervous. He’s a big name that’s worked with people from TLC to Diana Ross. Huge names. But I see him and it’s just nothing but love right when he sees me. And he’s like, “I love what I’ve heard from you.” He had a really cool energy about him. We ended up talking for a couple hours and just got into creating a song.
What do you want your new Arizona fans to know about you and your music? What are your goals for your time here?
With my music, it’s to seek a new perspective, to look at things everybody looks at, but a little bit outside of that scope. One of my biggest goals for while I’m out here is to do the second installment of Seeds. I want to call it Seeds 2. I want to record it all in Phoenix and just take in the new vibes out here and see how the new experiences I go through out here will connect to everything I’ve been through so far. I’m excited to start a new journey out here.