It’s been said that from humble beginnings come great things. Columbus rapper Alexander Dreamer’s manager and musical affiliates say this seems to be the route he’s heading.
“I don’t think a lot of artists are humble,” said Chris Hayes, a DJ and Ohio State alumnus who graduated in 2008. “I think a lot of artists aren’t willing to listen to critique and Dreamer is always hungry for that.”
When Alexander Dreamer is stripped of his stage name, he’s Jalen Ramsaw — a 20-year-old rapper who not only writes his own lyrics, but also produces and mixes every track. His inspiration to delve into music stemmed from industry giants such as Michael Jackson and Jay Z.
“There was a Michael Jackson film that combined his music videos into a story. That was a huge impact,” Ramsaw said.
But the push that sparked a focus on hip-hop came from a Grammy performance featuring Jay Z, Linkin Park and Paul McCartney.
“One year I remember watching the Grammys and (they) did this rendition of ‘Numb,’ ‘Encore’ and ‘Yesterday.’ Prior to that experience, I was a huge fan of music in general but not necessarily just hip-hop so I watched that and it made me research and dig into Jay Z’s catalogue. After Jay Z, I was introduced to Kanye and then Drake,” he said.
Ramsaw said he models his sound after those three hip-hop artists and contributes to the creative platform by composing songs based on how he enjoys his music. In fact, Kanye West’s scope as a musician led Ramsaw to approach self-producing his own records.
“(Jay Z) spoke to me as an artist as opposed to just an entertainer, so that made me try to develop and create my own rhymes but it wasn’t until I was introduced to Kanye West that I thought it was a good idea to produce music,” he said. “I wanted to rap but Kanye was doing both, and I was like, ‘Well, if Kanye is going to do both, then I should do both.’”
Ramsaw admitted the producing side of his work was also birthed more out of necessity than creative intent.
“I wouldn’t say I try to be good at everything. It’s more that I don’t want to pay somebody to produce my songs, so let me figure out how to do it. I don’t want to pay somebody to mix it, so let figure out how to do that,” he said.
In his last album, “Dancing With the Devil,” Ramsaw produced, engineered, wrote and mixed the entire product. Ramsaw said he sees this as a good thing for his brand and that he plans on continuing this in the future. Ramsaw, who is a student at two-year Columbus music program Groove U, is studying audio engineering and music business and he wants to continue learning about music to refine his craft.
“I’m in school to gain even more knowledge (and) I’m teaching myself along the way. This kind of thing you just keep developing your craft until you die or something,” he said.
Ramsaw’s manager, Joe Ades, said the ability to write lyrics and produce instrumentals simultaneously benefits the young rapper’s career from a business perspective.
“He writes and produces all his music, which means he owns 100 percent of all his publishing. Especially when he produces for other people, he automatically owns 50 percent of the record,” Ades said.
“Dancing With the Devil” is a 15-track album Ramsaw released in January. Ramsaw said he uses music to deal with issues and understand his environment, and “Dancing With the Devil” is a work about internal conflict.
“Right and wrong,” Ramsaw said. “Literally, the term to me means: you should not do certain things in life but you do them anyway. So for whatever reason, whether it’s enjoyable or you’re young and you don’t care or what have you.”
Although Ramsaw is still a young artist, his talents as a rapper grasped attention from an even younger age. Hayes, who works full time as a high school Spanish teacher, met Ramsaw when the rapper was 17 years old at Fort Hayes High School multicultural assembly and was impressed with the blossoming artist.
“Once he came out to the school and did his performance, that’s when I was wowed. He did an a cappella performance and freestyled and I was like, ‘this kid was really good,’” Hayes said. “He writes his own music, he produces his own beats, and does his own melodies and all that, and I was just blown away that a kid at 17 can do that.”
Hayes said although he was young at the time, the maturity of Ramsaw’s lyrical content was years ahead of his own.
“I think being a 17-year-old, you’re going to cognitively think like a 17-year-old,” Hayes said. “His music has always been ahead of his age, so when you listen to his music’s subject matter and what he talks about, anyone can relate to it and understand what he’s talking about.”
Ades agreed on Ramsaw’s maturity and said he goes into everything with an older mind, which adds to his confidence.
Ohio State alumnus and rapper Cal Scruby had work produced by Ramsaw praised his vision.
“Dreamer is a genius,” he said. “He’s got a really new age sound, and stuff people aren’t used to. I think he’s a little ahead of his time.”
It’s not the only thing that sets him apart — his manager said Ramsaw allows himself to be vulnerable and is open to critique.
“The thing about (Ramsaw) that’s different than other artists is he shows his vulnerability — he allows himself to be vulnerable with his music,” he said.
The rapper said criticism doesn’t hit him too hard because he likes to keep his mind opened. Ades pointed out an example of Ramsaw’s willingness to be criticized using Ramsaw’s musical progress.
“On his first album, ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ there’s multiple records on there that the original sound is completely different. ‘Before The Dawn’ — that record in my opinion is one of the best records on the album. That record to me was the worst record when we first started the album,” Ades said. “He was opened to changing it and because of that, it is now the best. That’s what’s definitely different than other artists — other artists tend to be set in their ways.”
Hayes said he feels Ramsaw’s growth as a musician is based on his life experiences, like transitioning out of school, but the driving force that will catapult his career is his hunger for knowledge as well as his humble character.
“He’s always super humble — one of the most humble guys I’ve ever met. He always accepts critique and I think that quality about him has and will continue to help his music in the future. No matter what happens with his career, he will always make amazing music because this is his passion and this is what he was born to do,” Hayes said.
Currently, Ramsaw is working on a follow-up to “Dancing With the Devil,” which he plans on releasing in early 2015. Rather than internal conflict, that album will focus on his growth into a young adult.
“My next project is inspired by now,” he said. “I have to grow even more in my transitional period of graduating and learning how to live on my own, be my own man, and take care of myself. That’s what I’m drawing inspiration from.”
Ramsaw’s also his share of difficulties, including the death of his mother earlier this year. Ades said he’s seen a lot of Ramsaw’s courteous character and has a lot of faith in him.
“This kid has been through so much and never asked for anything,” Ades said. “He’s just somebody who deserves to make it and we’ve been trying so hard but a lot of things in life try to knock him down, especially this year — he’s had a very rough year — but he’s going to pull through. You’re going to see this kid on TV in a few years. Trust me.”