Imagine the sonic signature of an artist whose early influences include Ella Fitzgerald, The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s,” Veruca Salt, Tool, ‘90s grunge and Hall & Oates. Of course, the customary next statement is supposed to neatly reveal that Rama Duke—the namesake of this bio—is that very vocalist.
But it’s not that easy. You are about to meet a musical tour de force all to herself. Rama is a singer and songwriter with the ability to wring every iota of emotion from a lyric… and in the next verse, roar with a delicious ferocity that makes one’s bones tremble. Ask Rama to define her style: “Loud, passionate and unapologetic,” she says. “I might call it ‘grunge soul’.”
As one of the initial signings to Los Angeles-based multi-media/music company 1520 Entertainment, founder and CEO Jared Lee Gosselin says, “The first time I worked with Rama some years ago, I was struck by her raw, limitless passion. She puts so much of herself into every note, word and phrase; with incredible respect—and awareness of—the context of the music and the arrangement. She also understands how to universally appeal to the audience.”
In fact, 1520’s launch single, an inspired re-rub of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1992 smash “Under the Bridge,” is an ideal platform for Rama’s guts and gusto. In her commanding duet with lyricist Chino XL—who was once mentored by Rick Rubin—the song serves up its message of strife and search for redemption, recharged for a new generation.
Chino, who contributes an originally written flow that supplant the song’s original verses, offers: “For me, ‘Bridge’ is about overcoming a less than perfect childhood, and the struggles of youth. I relate to its message about survival, of never bowing down as you work to overcome whatever the darkness brings.”
Add Rama’s interpretation of the Peppers’ original chorus, loaded with 8-cylinder fervor: “I don’t ever want to feel, like I did that day/Take me to the place I love, take me all the way.” She says, “As a child who moved all over the place, I was always wearing headphones and listening to music that came out raw where the singer wasn’t afraid to say what they felt. I understand the struggle and I think that is part of everything I sing.”
That said, early on, Rama’s mom surrounded her with love—and music. The pair vacuumed and did laundry together on weekends, singing along to Madonna, Michael Jackson and Hall & Oates, as she also inhaled MTV videos. She was also drawn to the disparate charms of Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Buffett, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Green Day.
All of this led to an unbridled and prodigious ability to spontaneously create melodies, which Rama would record on her boom box cassette recorder, proudly pushing “play” for her parents and friends. “I always knew I had a voice, but it wasn’t a really serious interest,” she says. That was about to change. After relocating to Los Angeles as a teen, family nudged Rama to audition for the Los Angeles School of the Performing Arts and with production company Popcorn. Both accepted. On the same day.
That soon led to Rama’s signing with Hollywood Records, which itself was on fire with Hillary Duff, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Breaking Benjamin and Plain White T’s. “I worked with a lot of producers, from Jazzy Jeff to Scott Storch to Dallas Austin,” Rama says. “The plan went from pop to R&B to electronic, even jazz.” While she developed writing chops and grew to know working in the recording studio, ultimately “the label had no idea what to do with a black woman who wanted to sing rock.”
Rama then aligned with Scott Chesak, songwriter, producer and keyboardist with The All-American Rejects. She says, “We wrote a killer album. Everything I’d been told I couldn’t do we did. This time, being commercial was the last thing on my mind. It was about being honest and unapologetic.”
As Rama’s voice—and electrifying persona—continued to gain notice in the L.A. scene, Dallas Austin again came calling. The multi-platinum producer and founder of Rowdy Records was staging a musical/performance art tour and remembered a track Rama recorded with him years earlier.
“He wanted to use our unreleased track, ‘Done,’ for the Dallas Austin Experience tour, with me singing onstage,” Rama says. As the show grew in scope, she was designated a full-time member of the onstage troupe. The show traveled to more than two-dozen cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Atlanta. Now signed to Austin’s Rowdy Records, Rama worked alongside George Clinton, Bobby Brown and Macy Gray —onstage and in the studio—still working toward that moment when the spotlight would focus on her.
The time is now. Signed to 1520, and working directly with Grammy-winning Jared Lee Gosselin, Rama Duke is at last able to express all, front and center. He says, “We’ve known each other for so long. I’m the lucky one here.” She adds, “For so long I was asked to fit a certain mold or sing songs formulated for radio. Jared gets me.”
As “Under the Bridge” mounts its campaign via radio and Spotify, social media, YouTube/VeVo and the like, Rama is working with 1520 toward her long-lived missive. “It’s true, nothing comes close to rock for me, but I see the beauty in all music and, hey I’m good at it, so why not express myself wherever it feels real,” Rama says.
That includes contributing vocals to a number of targeted EDM tracks aimed to propel the genre beyond its increasingly wearying radio-ready generic vocal signature. “It has taken a few turns to get here, but this is the right time and place. I know I’m heading down the right road,” Rama says. “What matters most is reaching people and sharing my message of strength and perseverance.”
1520 ENTERAINMENT BIO
Innovation in today’s music industry—and on the radio—is most often generated far and away from the corporate confines of the major label machine. To move the needle and genuinely shake things up, takes one part kaleidoscopic vision, a heap of artistic talent and a generous helping of leadership.
That is the missive of burgeoning 360-degree record label and management firm 1520 Entertainment. Based in Los Angeles, the company is that rare modern-day upstart with a fundamental focus on artist development. Instead of relying on its acts to serve up the finished product for marketing and distribution, 1520 is involved throughout the creative process, starting with its 15,500sf North Hollywood recording and production facility.
1520’s services include music production, mixing, mastering, PR & marketing strategies, video production, brand integration, and brand & artist development. Its musical specialities: Pop, EDM, R&B, Hip-Hop and Rock. And here’s where things get interesting: Not only is the firm creating music genre by genre, but it is forging unique collaborations that mesh elements from all of the above.
If change is the name of their game, it all starts at the front door. The company’s name “1520” was inspired by the renowned Bronx address 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, known worldwide as the birthplace of Hip Hop. Yes, innovation, revolution and ingenuity are at the forefront here.
Already making its mark is the label’s first release, a fiery reworking of “Under the Bridge,” the 1992 global hit from Red Hot Chili Peppers. It has been transformed from a moody expose about alienation and drug despondency into a passionate plea—as a duet—for redemption and one’s personal truth. Lyricist Chino XL leads the charge with newly created verses that reinvent the story from an inner city perspective, accompanied by Rama Duke’s rock chorus that sports 8-cylinder gusto via a flaming, fierce female vocal.
The company was founded by four music industry veterans, each offering their own lofty pedigree. Producer Jared Lee Gosselin—who won a Latin Grammy in 2013 for Beto Cuevas’ album “Transformacion”—has also helped guide the careers of Velvet Revolver, Serj Tankian, DMC, Macy Gray, India.Arie, KRS-One and Musiq Soulchild. He notes, “We want our artists be their creative best. Of course, we want to see each one succeed, but we also want to be upfront, work honestly through each step and ultimately, create a cohesive team.”
Platinum-selling producer, songwriter, engineer—and talent manager—Christopher Rosa has worked with such music royalty as Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart, Jamie Foxx, Chris Brown, Kelly Clarkson, Usher, Sevyn, Luke Christopher, Raven Symone, Luke James, RuPaul, and Tank. In addition to helping guide those acts to Grammy wins, he himself has been awarded two first-place and one runner-up L.A. Music Awards.
Rosa has also worked with advertising campaigns for Pringles and Velveeta Cheese, as a producer for Disney’s “Princess Diaries” and “Cheetah Girls” soundtracks, and with such Disney TV shows as “Shake it Up” and “I’m in the Band.” “By walking the line between creativity and business, 1520 is best able to allow our artists to retain their integrity, while the business end can find success in today’s very challenging marketplace. Our vision has developed the flexibility to accomplish both.”
Third founding partner Shaun Fabos (a.k.a. D1) brings to the stable a career that has contributed to everything from major motion pictures to platinum artists. That includes mixing for Musiq Soulchild, Raheem DeVaughn, Jamecia Bennet, Alicia Madison, and Tina DeCara. He says, “We want to be known as a label that has an artist’s back for real. That’s’ the foundation of changing the industry’s bad rep from the major labels. Thanks to The Fab Factory, we can ensure artists have time to fine-tune their projects to perfection, while keeping everybody’s costs down. We built this cutting edge facility with the highest standards for mixing and production.”
And Steve Fabos serves in the executive role as creator of 1520’s Fab Factory Studio. His goal is to continue as the primary driver to expand the facility as a cutting-edge and idyllic creative space for artists in multiple mediums to produce music alongside all of its auxiliary elements. Regarding the collective goal of the four principals and the 1520 mission, Fabos says, “For many years in the entertainment business, we have worked together and had great respect for one another. We are all keenly aware that this business can be improved—and we recognize that the power of four can lead to positive changes in our industry.”
With such a force field guiding 1520 Entertainment, the label’s roster is quickly taking shape. Partnerships have been signed with Rama Duke, Chino XL, Lexy Panterra, Aaryn Rose, Danny Kash, Jackie Vae, Nova Rockafeller, Javon Armond, Chloe Crush (a.k.a. Chloe Riley) Avehre and “American Idol” alumni Blake Lewis. The company’s goal is to release a single each month throughout 2017, promptly getting artists’ musical wares into the marketplace without fussy overthinking.
With its next bold step forward, Gosselin says, “We are determined to create a major change in music today. That begins with a better way to treat artists so they are inspired to create the best art possible. We are 100 percent behind them to make sure their innovative music is heard around the world.”