Tell us about yourself ?
I’m James the Ronin, I´m a veteran and a teacher. I started releasing monthly singles back in January of this year with no plans on stopping, I have songs for next year going now. I did some ghostwriting before and wanted to try to take my words into my own hands. I’m from the US, lived all over, then traveled the world for awhile and learned Spanish. Met the love of my life in Mexico and have been here ever since.
How long you been in performing arts ? Share some details of initial days / learning days / experimenting days to grow to BE WHAT YOU ARE TODAY
I started pretty early. My family was musical. We all sang in church every week. I learned to read music there. We all had to learn the trumpet in my family, and play in the band, later on in life I learned the guitar and bass, eventually landing with the piano last.
As far as lyrically, I received a traumatic brain injury in Iraq. After the military was done with me for that, I had a lot to process. I wanted to do what I was doing, for the next 15 years, but life is like that. So for some reason, I think my brain might have re-wired itself in creative ways, or maybe I just needed an outlet, but I began to explode poetry, paintings, sculptures, drawings. I never had this strong of an impulse to create like this before. So I wrote a lot over the next few years as writing was easier than speaking after the TBI.
I have a book of my poetry that’s around 200 pages. This James the Ronin thing all really started from the isolation of the pandemic. I wanted to do something for myself. My wife mentioned “your musical, you write well. Why not try it yourself?”. So I began to learn new platforms and recording methods. This is the style that was born out of my experiments. This was the style that felt right. My first songs were recorded with a phone under a blanket. It wasn’t easy, I still have speech problems from the brain injury, but I made it work and I have developed a little since then.
As far as the helmet goes, that idea came from my wife as well. For several personal reasons, I hesitated on releasing the music. She mentioned one day in passing, “you should wear a mask” and instantly my mind went further, I should make a robot helmet. I began to sketch and draw ideas, then I spent three months of trial and error creating what I did.
Eventually, I took my first helmet to a cosplay contact who took it a little further, making a mold and creating a plastic copy, but months later it still wasn’t where I wanted it to be. So I took it to another contact I made along the way who is an expert in creating replica Star Wars armour. He’s an engineer, named Alex Rodriguez. His attention to detail brought the helmet to where it is now. I am very grateful to all of them for their input and help in my project.
What was most attractive part for you to be in this industry ?
The most attractive part of being in this industry was just being heard. If anything, I had more fear for the glamour and recognition than anything. I’m not really interested in that side of the game at all. I just want my words and music to be heard and maybe even felt. I have this stuff inside, it just has to come out. I don’t want to live my life wondering what would have happened if…so I went for it.
Share some experiences ( good or bad ) any that made you grow in life or profession ?
Some experiences that made me grow in life were a trip to NASA in high school, and certainly my time in Iraq. That changed everything that came after. Besides that, as I mentioned before, my family moved around alot, so we were pretty close knit. Then normal stuff, everybody got married and moved across the country. After survivors guilt from Iraq, and dealing with my own shit, I managed to work my way through university and get a degree.
Things were finally looking up, when I got a phone call from across the country. My sister had passed away in a terrible situation. It broke all of us. Not three years later my brother took his own life out of depression from the loss. Then two years after that my father took his own life as well, unable to deal with the loss of everybody. I was damaged goods for some time after all of that. I may still be, but I certainly still have my moments. I keep their pictures close. There’s not a single day I don’t think about them. Life is precious, life is short, suicide is never the option.
Who inspired you ? How do you work on creating your own signature style ? How do you analyze all this to be known as you and BE YOU ?
I am inspired by everything, space, the sky, trees, nature, the mountains. But standouts in my genre musically were Goodie Mob, Wu-Tang Clan, Outkast, Talib Kwali and Kid Cudi. I felt that music at a deeper level within the genre. As far as my style, MF Doom and Daft Punk have to receive some credit. I feel lost somewhere between them both, at a much more humble level. They are greats. Speaking of greats, the work and career of David Bowie inspire me very much.
As far as following market trends, I would refer to something I heard Jay-Z say on an interview. I´m paraphrasing but he was talking about the trend of auto-tuning , and how sometimes we may feel tempted to do what everyone else is doing when we see it doing well. But it’s important to also be different and not sound like others as well. If you feel it, do it, if you don’t then don’t. I like it for some people, but I’m not a fan of it for myself. I want to sound like me. Like a juxtaposition, I look like a robot and sound like a human.
What do you want to convey through your music?
I want to give those who are thoughtful and reflective a public voice of hip hop support, and for those who may not be, perhaps I might trigger something with a question or thought shared.
Story behind making of your new track / Album?
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, Iit 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.
Any interesting trivia about making of song ?
One interesting fact is that this was the first song I ever wrote for this project. I mean, once I decided to do this as James the Ronin wearing a helmet and go for this for real. This was my first, I’m only releasing it now because I think it fits the month of September well. Whatever that vibe is, it just seemed to fit.
People who you would like to thank ?
I would like to thank my wife and kids for their support in all the hours I put into this late at night. I would also like to thank Vince at The Forge Agency for all of his hard work and personal support.
People who you would like to work with and people you idolize to be like professionally ?
Kid Cudi is a music idol for sure, would love to work with him. Ceelo Greene and Andre 3000 are master creators as well. Missy Elliot is a goddess of the industry. I would work with anyone, I feel like good things come from collaboration. You learn so much more in a team setting.
Where do you see your music 3 years from now ?
I have dreams of steady growth, nothing overnight, please. Giving sold out concerts somewhere, with people who know the lyrics and follow along, with huge visuals. Maybe an updated helmet. My day job converted to full time studio work.
How would you like to stretch your boundaries of genre in future projects ?
I would like to collaborate with a metal band in the future, as well as stretch into my love of jazz more.
Message for Fans and listeners. (
Life is short, make it matter.
About Talk Show Host : Harry Johal as Featured on Reader’s Digest