Singer Kevin Ross has become a fixture on radio making history as an independent musician. On his latest EP ‘Midnight Microdoses, Vol. 1,’ the musician has unlocked the secrets to a long career, ensuring R&B isn’t dead, and setting history in the R&B space.
His single “Look My Way” entered the top 10 on Billboard’s Adult R&B airplay with the EP that it appears on Midnight Microdoses, Vol. 1, pulling in over 2 million streams in its first week. To some, the producer is grossly slept on. But to him, he’s right where he wants to be. Just ahead of his inaugural Father’s Day celebration, in conversation with contributing writer Flisadam Pointer, the pair discussed his new EP Midnight Microdoses, Vol. 1, R&B’s evolution, his production company Art Society Music Group, and more. Check out the full conversation below.
TRNB: After parting from the majors, you set out to build your own imprint. Could you tell me a bit more about your mission with the Art Society Music Group (AMG)?
Kevin Ross: “Art Society Music Group is the name of my production company. The moniker is God-engineered, vision-driven. I can’t operate without God’s hand on it. AMG is definitely going to be a future home for a lot of artists as it pertains to doing partnership deals. In the indie space, we’re blazing a trail and building bridges. In February, we made history as the first R&B production company to have two records on Billboard. When we did it, I didn’t know that I was making history. I just thought that it just be a cool feat to accomplish because I have a presence on radio.
There’s still a lot of history to be made within the genre. There are still a lot of bridges that need to be built. It’s a lot going on within the genre between the new and old guard. So right now, AMG is at the forefront of it and are making waves.”
That is an interesting point to dive into – the old guard versus the new guard. There’s a constant debate about R&B’s current standing. So I wanted to hear your take on that. Do you think R&B is dead?
“The old guard’s version of R&B is dead. They’re the reason why R&B is dead – because they killed it. There’s nobody to blame but them. At the end of the day, the old guard didn’t do right by us. They didn’t pass along the information because they were selfish. The old guard hasn’t taken accountability for the things that they didn’t do. And they didn’t help us because they still felt like it. They still feel like it’s their glory day, and it’s not. I’m here to take it. I’m not here to ask for no permission. I’m not here to check in with anybody and say, ‘Hey, is it cool? If I bump you off this chart?’ No, it’s my time.
The biggest difference between the 90s and 2000s, and now is marketing dollars. Nobody wants to talk about that. Labels are funding million-dollar videos or the millions of dollars that they shoved into all of these deals. They understood R&B was profitable. Now, we’re in the streaming game. People started earning a fraction of a penny per stream. Things needed to change. It didn’t mean that R&B isn’t profitable but that we need to revolutionize it, our thinking, and the records that we would deliver.
The R&B space that we’re in now is alive and well. There are a lot of thriving major label artists and independent artists, such as Brent Faiyaz, Victoria Monét, myself, Kenyon Dixon, Alex Isley, and so many others. Thank God for our beautiful Black women that healed us – H.E.R., Summer Walker, and Jazmine Sullivan have come to the forefront to save the goddamn day. And I’m not surprised that it took Black women to do the job. And I feel sorry that they had to clean up a whole lot of mess that the old guard created.”
You do a lot of your own engineering, songwriting, vocal production, and more. How do you juggle it all? Do you have a favorite?
“I don’t have a favorite. But I will say this, Esther Dean once said to me, ‘Kevin, you’re like a Swiss army knife.’ So I was like, ‘Can you can you elaborate?’ So she’s like, ‘Well, like, whatever needed you can do, or you have a system for it.’ This allows me to navigate through different rooms. I’m able to find what’s missing. If there’s a bunch of writers and we have to find a vibe and guess what? I’m producing for the day. I’m gonna whip out my keyboard. I’m going to get what needs to be done because I execute. You got producers, you got writers, and you just need a vocal producer, or you need somebody to do backgrounds I’m just all about making sure that we have a finished product. So before I’m a musician, I’ve been blessed with the gift of finishing things – to the point of completion.”
Do you think that has something to do with your background in arts education and training? We’re in the do-it-yourself stage.
“It’s imperative for discovery within children and young adults. Education allows you to understand who you are or who you can become – the possibility of what you can be. I found myself in that. I found out what I could be. Everything that I saw as a 16-year-old has materialized because I was placed in an environment that cultivated that. An education nurtured just the thought you’re going to need that inkling or inclination of what I could be. So I think arts education is important, of course. It’s not necessary. It is important for you to be no matter where you start, you still have to become a student. Then once you’re in the game, you always got to be a student. Education equips you to be malleable to learning. It is important that we raise up the next generation and give them that knowledge – have them understand that there is a history and that they should respect. It’s not about being stuffy. It’s not about being pompous. It’s not about using your knowledge and your IQ to intimidate other people but to give a broader picture.”
Speaking of music, let’s talk about your latest project, Midnight Microdose, Vol. 1 starting with the title itself. What was the inspiration behind the title?
“I have most of my decent ideas at night, you know, in the middle of the night, having a newborn baby. I wanted to set the tone beginning with the title. I started to realize that I’ve become known for my very brief songs. That was one of the biggest things that people were saying on Twitter and in every conversation, like, ‘I love it. It’s just so short.’ But a song being short has never stopped someone from liking the artist. It’s only a quirk that they can just instantly recall, like, ‘Kevin Ross, I love his music, but his songs are just so bite-sized. By the time you get into it’s over.’ And I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to really lean into this.’
I just want you to know I single-handedly blame you for the new wave of short R&B songs, LOL.
“LOL. I’m doing my research as well to see what people like and what they don’t like. The goal isn’t streaming is that you’re satisfied. All that is good for is one stream. But if you’re not satisfied, you may run it back five times, and I’m making a cent from it. So it’s conducive to the climate that we’re in as it pertains to song and song structure.
I had a project out called Audacity – my first project as an independent artist and I had a song called ‘Let It Out.’ At the tail end of the song, there was a snippet of a song called ‘Inside.’ I was hoping that if people were to listen to the, to the record in its entirety. I’m so glad people liked it. So I went on to expound it into ‘Inside Freestyle.’
So it’s a combination of all of it when when I think about Midnight Microdose – it’s personal. It’s funny to me. It’s financially beneficial. It allows me to get closer to my fanbase as well. It became a great conversation as far as for the indie space to say okay, like, ‘Just because the song is within this space doesn’t mean that you can’t expound it.’”
You make baby-making music. So, of course, we got that sensual side on Midnight Microdose. But there was one topic that really stood out to me – the idea of being slept on. On such a short project, why was so important to address that topic?
“Because I think it’s hilarious. People really be upset that I’m ‘slept on.’ The cool thing is that it puts me into the algorithm as a discovery artist. So I always look at it from the optimistic side and say, ‘Look, I’m in discovery mode. I can do everything that I want to do without the world’s bright light.’ Do I believe I’m gonna have my John Legend ‘All of Me’ moment? Hell yeah. But at the same time, this is a journey, and I’ve been blessed enough to make this a career.
So when I looked at the comments, I was like, ‘I gotta respond.’ If people are going to sleep on Kevin Ross, let them sleep in the most comfortable spot. I have this level of exclusivity right now. I thrive in it because we can really have conversations with the music. It’s like going into a big city and you find a speakeasy that everybody doesn’t know about. When you bring other people into that speakeasy, they like, ‘Damn, have you found this spot?’”
You have a few other writers and a sprinkle of outside producers credited on the project. But you don’t have any vocal features. Tell me about that decision.
When I go into a project, I don’t really think about features. I think about the song and what’s needed. There’s a word or space that I can feel. Sometimes a feature can slow up your process as an artist because you’re colliding worlds. You don’t know what to expect. The artists may be cool, but the manager may not be, and vice versa. So I try to avoid a lot of that, but it doesn’t mean that I’m hard to work with. When I have a vision, and there are certain time restrictions, I’m going to fulfill that. There’s no feature or clearance issue that’s going to hold me back from getting what I need to get done. The most important thing is to make sure that I deliver whatever the message is to the audience first. We can go back and do remixes all day.”
Is there a dream collaboration? There are so many people that I could hear you with.
“That’s tough because it’s so many. I don’t even want to start the name game. I’ll just say this, I’m open. I really am. When I did the Creed III writing camp, I was like, ‘Ah, I like being collaborative, like bouncing ideas.’ It was so fun, but it was confirmation, too – working with brilliant artists. It was full of amazing moments.”
As for Vol 1, is there anything further coming from that? You did release a lyric video for ‘Don’t Pretend.’ Are you going to drop visuals?
“I’m gonna be honest. I’m not necessarily a fan of visuals. From a business standpoint, it’s always a loss. From an exposure standpoint. The sky’s the limit because that’s how people recognize you. However, it’s just not the most profitable. You have to spend 20 to 30 grand on the visual, and even if you get 5 million views, it’s still not coming anywhere close to what you’ve invested. But I think I found the solution. I’m gonna do visual microdoses. So it’s gonna be even more fun for me and even more condensed. This is gonna be what gets me excited about visuals, hopefully.”
Well, will you be going to get a tour anytime soon? Are we gonna get pop-up performances?
“Yeah, I’ve been doing a bunch of public performances. I will be going on a tour at the top of 2024. I really thrive in that element because it allows me to demonstrate more than what’s heard on the record. That’s where I really get to stretch out and expand the way that people want me to do on the record. I leave a lot of room from the lab to the performance. I really enjoyed that part of it because I get to really see the results are the fruits of our labor.”
You love a good volume one, volume two, etc. Is that going to happen in the future with Midnight Micodose?
“Yes! Vol. 2 comes out in September. I have some other stuff in the fall that I’m working on, like a collaborative project with a producer – which is going to live in the Midnight Microdose world. That should be very interesting.”