A boy named ROSA
FEMALE is the debut project from the Surinamese/Native American multi-genre rapper, singer and producer, A boy named ROSA. Currently based in Amsterdam, he is a unique artist whose music is similar to Blood Orange with a bit of Frank Ocean mixed in, yet he throws in some eclectic pop moments. As you listen through the album, you are presented with a range of different sounds, all of which stem from his influences of being raised on hip-hop and finding artists such as Phil Collins and Janet Jackson. That sounds quite a combination, but it makes perfect sense when you listen to the album.
Touching on his experiences as a man, he is not afraid to express himself, and his songs range from celebrating modern-day women to speaking on mental health issues, addressing his views on masculinity, and so much more. FEMALE is an example of what ROSA has to offer and is an insight into the type of artist he is.
Speaking to him he touches on everything from making the album, defining genres, his stunning visuals, creativity, and so much more.
Your music is distinct in that it taps into various genres and sub-genres together; what was the inspiration for coming into your particular style of music?
Well, with my mum, I grew up listening to different sounds of music in my house. She was raised on soul music, so she played that in the house, but she was also very much into hip-hop.
And then, of course, I grew up developing my tastes and getting into different types of music, so naturally, I heard those sounds. Whether it was Phil Collins, whom I was exposed to what a great chorus was, or Janet Jackson, where pop music was made in a cool way and then the hip-hop I was listening to in the house, like Dr. Dre or Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg that was instinctively always inside of me. So when I started, I started rapping. Then that gradually grew into me knowing about how particular chorus sounds could be infectious and grab people, so I incorporated that more into my music, and then at a certain point, I threw in more pop elements and other things that I had just picked up and incorporated that more into my music. And so yeah, it ended up becoming the music that I make just by taking different things from different types of songs and styles of music and putting it together in a way that made sense to me.
How did you come up with the name FEMALE for the album, and what is the album concept?
I had a whole lot of songs that were based on my observations or dealings with women. Sometimes, they came from a heartbreak perspective, and sometimes from a weighty perspective. Sometimes, it came from the poke-the-bear perspective. I click better with women than other guys because I have a lot of women around me. I’m naturally just an observer, a learner, and a sponge. I can see how they excel emotionally, And I’ve always been more in tune with my emotional side than the average guy. Even though I’m a masculine guy, I am in tune with my feminine side, hence my name. A boy named ROSA is a play on the fact that a boy isn’t supposed to be named ROSA, but you know that’s me. I’m ROSA. This has been my whole brand. Also, from a typography perspective, it has male in the title. There’s a lot of layers in in me naming the project FEMALE. I’m proud of being an emotional guy and more in tune with that. And I carry that like a badge of honour. I’m very secure, and I can communicate and verbalize how I feel; I think before I speak and take into account all of the various variables that I can take in before I move before I say something. I’m very grounded in that and wanted to put that all in the concept of the album title.
Lyrically, you touch on a lot throughout the album: addiction, mental health, and other things. However, you layer them within lighthearted beats and lyrics. How could you delve into the writing of this album in the way you did?
Again, it traces back to my mum and the music she played in the house, like Madonna, Phil Collins, Eazy-E Snoop Dogg, and me like a sponge, absorbing how they wrote and sang songs. However, it is because I’m so observant, you take notes and look at people. I’m blessed with that because it helps me deal with the world. When I first started words I liked playing with words and double entendres and flipping them and double hidden meanings in bars, that was my thing. My singing still needed to be developed, but I knew how it worked. So, at a certain point, if I made a song with the verses in a traditional rap structure, I knew the chorus would need something that sticks. So eventually I decided to try singing the choruses myself, and it worked. Soon after I was like what if I grabbed you through being very, very direct with my lyrics and then come in with a chorus that’s just breaking the whole song open and not just necessarily in the traditional way either, but just me and how I use my voice. And so I started doing that, and I noticed that someone would be into a song because they hear the lyrics before the chorus came in, and they would think that it was someone else actually; I had this experience with Eye Candy because when I played it someone asked me who sang the chorus the bit where I’m singing She’s Shallow they were taken aback by it. They told me I needed to do more of it, so when I saw that, I started making full pop songs.
How would you describe the sound of the album?
That’s a good question. It’s alternative R & B; that’s what I call it. And this has been decided for me because it’s not really. I had to learn even with my music; I have two fan groups; one is super indie, and the other is more commercial and pop-leaning. I was being pulled in both directions often because I could make pop songs, but I always felt like I almost disowned those songs. I always wanted the immediate love or adoration that indie artists get. Indie artists can sing off-key, and it will be fine. And for a long time, I was caught between both roles. And then, recently, I decided, no, this is me; I can do both. And I’m going to own it. And I’m going to present that in this way. Labelling it alternative R & B is only because there’s no place yet for me without being judged. I found that experience when I put out Eye Candy; it was put in a playlist immediately, which was okay. It’s much easier to define because you can put the song in a box. But for example, with She Belongs to the Show, I put the original out before, and it fell on deaf ears, so that’s why I had to bring it back into the field and why I went so hard with Part 2 because I was like, this is me owning I can do it all. I will label alternative R&B because you need to put it in a box to be digestible.
In creating this album, was the labeling of your music something you were consciously aware of?
I think I’m too organized. Like I always think, I constantly analyze and I’m always aware. So I know what they fit into or may sound like when I create the songs, but my goal is always to make the best song. So that’s why, as you can hear on an album, I clearly didn’t listen, don’t cater to all of the indie fans and also not to the person who wants to hear the chorus 27 times. I just go off the best song. And, of course, I am aware of the Zeitgeist and what’s going on in sound, music, snares, kicks, etc. But my thing is to make the best song.
What moments stood out to you while you were making FEMALE?
I can recall making No More Red Wine for Her, the last song on the album. This was incredibly difficult to write, not from an emotional standpoint but a technical one. That song, I’m humbly saying this, but when I listen to it I’m still surprised at what I did with the words and the storytelling because I dive into my psyche of myself. And to the woman of the story, I really had to be honest. There’s one point in the song where I say to myself, ‘if she keeps acting like this, I’m just going to use her for her body’. And then the line after that is ‘maybe I’m just mad at myself for being in love with her’. So that duality, I had to write that down at some point. I had the first two verses written, and then I took a while to record the third first because I was overwhelmed with how far I had taken it. That’s the closer of the album. Because it’s designed to be like, you might only listen to this if it’s like five minutes. But it’s an odyssey of just words and a certain scenario that I paint.
The visuals have always been a vital part of your aesthetic and are very strong in how they match the music. This project mainly focuses on the video from She Belongs to the Show Part 2. What was the idea behind that video?
When I made the song, I knew that I wanted the visuals to be strong and that it would enhance the story of the song. I came up with the concept myself, and I directed the video with a woman called Liza Koifman, who also did the video for BLOW previously. The song is a celebration of women, so I wanted the video to be in that same vein in having different types of women. I didn’t want there to be models; I wanted to show these women who all have different heritage and celebrate their beauty and them as women like how you see them in the video. And yeah, with my videos, I always knew how I should approach my music, I never wanted them to be another video or have another concept of something you’ve seen before. I’ve always wanted to challenge myself creatively and do something that makes me stand out and has a cinematic feel. This video, as well as the first video I did for Drunk Girls, is something I always try to do to add other artistic elements to my songs.
As you introduce yourself to the world with this album, what does it mean to you?
I understand it will be a long journey, but I want to do it. With this album, I want to introduce myself to the world as a force to be reckoned with; Even as someone from Amsterdam, we may have one or two artists who came from the Netherlands whose footsteps I’m stepping in. With this album, I want people to know that you can do different things and have different tastes. You can like hip-hop and pop and might have to deal with gatekeepers along the way. I know that being yourself sounds like a cliché, but I’m truly being myself, and all the risks are falling on me because of that. But I have to because if I don’t, what am I doing? I won’t put out three back-to-back songs that sound like Eye Candy just because people like Eye Candy. And maybe I might shoot myself in the foot for that, but I’m going to do what I want at the end of the day, which shows in this album. Even for potential fans or listeners and potential people who want to work with me and bring me to another level, you have to understand that to bring sand to the beach, I’m not going to bring a whole sandcastle. This body of work is so diverse and is very much an introduction to what I can and can do; for anything that follows, I would be more comfortable releasing something more in a capsule and “one sound” after this. My creative juices are out there. If you want me with five Eye Candy‘s on one album, I can give you that, and if I want to make a particular kind of song, I can do that because now I’ve introduced myself as this artist, and anything is possible after this.
FEMALE is out now, follow A boy named ROSA via @aboynamedrosa
Interview Seneo Mwamba
Photography Patrick Tarek Kenawy