Album Review: Ro James – ‘MANTIC’

Remember those conversations that R&B was dead? It’s been a conversation up for debate for at least almost ten years now, with a nice number of artists stepping up to the plate to keep the genre alive and well (aside from the “King of R&B” title war). Ro James has been one of those artists, who quietly started gaining recognition with his debut major label single “Permission” in 2015. Since then, the single went on to become a platinum seller, garnered a GRAMMY nomination and released his debut album Eldorado in 2016. Exactly four years later, Ro has released his sophomore effort, MANTIC.

Inspired by the “mantic” part out of the word “romantic” (Ro-mantic…get it?), the music on the German-born singer’s new release is all about divination and prophecy—seeking knowledge of the future through supernatural means. The vibes can be felt throughout the 15-track collection.

The album kicks off with the “intRo” titled “Powder Room,” setting off the tone for everything coming after it. Ro samples Usher’s Confessions underrated classic track “Can U Handle It?” on the SoundZ-produced “Last Time,” which has been making moves on Urban AC radio. Fun fact: did you know that Ro grew up a preacher’s kid? You would never know with the content on “Touchy Feely,” which details his night of a lit threesome situation. Speaking of being a “PK,” Ro was banned from listening to secular music growing up. But even so, you can tell he was inspired by his favorite artist and album, Prince’s Purple Rain. Those influences are stronger than ever on this album, on cuts such as “Be Mine,” “Excuse Me,” “Rose” and “You.” Although the comparisons to the Purple One vocally have been there since the 32 year-old debuted, he doesn’t come across has a “copy-and-paste” version and draws on his own vocal performance that separates him from most of today’s male R&B artists. 

Speaking of his fellow R&B brethren, Ro teamed up with Miguel on the vibey-collabo “Too Much,” previously co-writing the track “Use Me” on the singer’s 2012 sophomore album Kaleidoscope Dream. Virginia Beach, VA-native and Jazz/R&B musician Masego, has been making his rounds on a few projects lately, joins Ro on the laid back, jazzy “Slow Down.” 

“Without you, I feel incomplete/fading, come get the best of me,” sings Ro showcasing his vulnerable side on the stripped down “Baby Blue.” That side of Mr. James also comes alive on the recently released single “Plan B” featuring Brandy. The album comes full circle in the meaning of what brings out the “mantic” side in romance on the closing “outRo” titled “Look Of Things,” which was co-written and produced by Ryan Toby. Most remember Ryan from Sister Act 2 and the group City High, but he’s been a frequent collaborator of Ro as well as being one of the underrated writers in R&B and Pop.

As mentioned, MANTIC delivers the feels of what relationships go through. But aside from the topics, the album continues Ro’s exploration of pushing the boundaries with his sound of R&B. His daring approach with sounds ranging from Trap&B on “Outside The Box (How Bout That)” (previously heard on his 2018 EP Smoke), Alternative R&B and some 80s synth influences mixed with his vocals from his gospel upbringing makes Ro an exciting artist to see with his trajectory on the right path.

MANTIC is now available on streaming services and for purchasing at digital music retailers via ByStorm Entertainment and RCA Records.