On the edge of Downtown Raleigh, just off of Peace Street, sits an old white building with a grayish blue door and window frame that has been faded by the sun over time. Inside, sitting on a computer chair facing two monitors and an audio mixer soundboard, is 20-year-old producer and engineer, Travis Ross.
Ross began his music career in 2005 to compete with his sister who had recently signed to a label. At 10 years of age, Ross began rapping in pursuit of a sibling rivalry. But his true calling was behind the computer screen, mixing and mastering.
“The whole music thing started because I was jealous of my sister,” Ross said. “She had just signed to this “label”, so I wanted to one-up her.”
Not only did the passion for music come at an early age, but the fact he never viewed music from a fan perspective was a dynamic as well. “I was always trying to make music,” he said. “So the people I was looking up to were people who I saw working like 9th Wonder, a producer who’s from Raleigh.”
In 2010, Ross made his way to the Los Angeles for his first Grammy Camp at age 15. “The person you’re looking at now is a product of Grammy Camp 2010.” Grammy Camp gives opportunities to high school students looking to pursue a career in the music industry with guidance from experienced teachers and counselors. Ross was part of the first camp that included hip-hop in the showcase while receiving a full scholarship from the Hot Topic Foundation.
“I was really in a shell before that experience and it really changed my life,” he said. “It was a, ‘Yo, this is really possible because I was selected out of all these people to go here’.”
While at Grammy Camp, Ross and his production team had the privilege of traveling to Santa Monica to visit Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ Flyte Time West recording studio. Jam and Lewis are well known for their R&B production while working with names like Prince, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Usher.
“Every inch of bare wall had platinum records on it,”Ross said. Ross also found inspiration as he compared the colossal location to a ‘”playground.”
Before catching a bus to Santa Monica, one of his counselors David Edwards, a Raleigh native, emphasized an interaction with Jam & Lewis’ engineer –another Raleigh native- Tremaine Williams.
Ross introduced himself to Williams at the studio and made small talk about their home city. On the way out of Flyte Time Studios, he ran into the engineer again.
“Jimmy Jam and Lewis had a strict demo policy where if you wanted them to hear your demo you couldn’t hand it to them, you had to send it in,” Ross recalled. “So everyone there that had music for them to listen to couldn’t give it to them.”
Although Ross was shy and only 15 years old, it didn’t stop him from trying to get his foot further in the door. “I saw Tremaine as I was walking out and handed him my CD and he’s like ‘you know really I can’t take this,’” Ross detailed. “I was like ‘oh, my bad’ and then he puts it behind a desk or something and was like ‘I got you.’ So I was the only one that got a CD to stay in the studio.”
Grammy Camp held a finale showcase at the end of the 10 days at the El Rey Theatre. Ross co-wrote and produced the final song.
His time at Grammy Camp 2010 helped him acquire an internship at Playgound Studios in Durham the following summer of 2011. He then made his way to Brooklyn, NY to continue perfecting his musical inclination his senior year of high school at Grammy Camp 2012.
One of the main elements he picked up from both Grammy Camp sessions was the importance of networking. “I have friends all over the country now that I can send music to and be like ‘Yo, let me know what you think,’” he said. “One of the dudes I was real close with at Grammy Camp in 2012, he’s a producer, goes to NYU and works for Beyonce’s label and Sony music.”
For almost a year and a half now, Ross has also been traveling back and forth from the Capital City to Greensboro for a project for Glass Castle Entertainment. He spoke to a Glass Castle Entertainment producer over Twitter and was soon asked to engineer for their artist, B-Elz. “At the time I had $20 in my pocket and really no expectations,” Ross explained. “I thought I would go out there and record for a day, get $150 and come back.”
Unexpectedly, he ended up staying with B-Elz in his condo for the next week. “It was like that whole week was when my life changed,” he said. “[B-Elz’s] manager used to manage Ski Beatz during Dead Presidents [A 1996 Jay-Z track that went gold], which made it legit.”
“I took the last money out of my pocket, put it in the tank, and went to Greensboro and didn’t look back,” Ross stated.
On March 2, 2013, the owner of Evenform Studios, Jesse Clark, received a phone call from local rapper, CB Smooth. The context of the conversation inquired a studio session that included a DMX feature. DMX, a three-time Grammy nominated artist, would be in Ross’ presence in just hours.
“The session was scheduled at 10 pm that night,” he said. “I got to the studio around 8 and cleaned every square inch for about an hour and a half, two hours.”
Local artist CB Smooth arrived at the studio at the scheduled time and waited with Ross.
“Around one o’clock [CB Smooth] gets a call from DMX’s producer, who arrives and plays beats for a straight hour,” Ross recollected. “Around two o’clock we get a call that DMX is outside, but fell asleep on the way from Charlotte.”
After DMX’s security checks the studio, his road manager mentioned that DMX would want food when he wakes up. All eyes are on Ross. Smooth then hands Ross $100 to get cuisine up the street at Mr. Pizza. Ross pulls up to the pizza spot and — it’s closed
“How do you call back DMX’s road manager and tell him ‘I don’t know what to get to eat, because it’s closed?’” he said. “In that second I was spazzing in the car. I think I blacked out, I was yelling at myself, doin’ crazy stuff.” After going bananas in the car for a few minutes, he extracted the fortitude to call DMX’s road manager and received the suggestion of a nearby Jimmy John’s.
“I pull up to Jimmy Johns and I end up spending 80 or 90 dollars, get like 10 sandwiches, and six or seven drinks. I get back to the studio and put the subs on the table and I think one or two people get a sub.”
“DMX comes in and his entire presence in the studio was less than 30 minutes,” Ross stated. “He didn’t touch one sandwich, drink one drink, eat one pickle, or take one bite of chips.”
Between 8 pm and well after 2 am, Ross was preoccupied with the anticipation and anxiety to make an impression on a big-named artist stepping foot in Evenform. “What hit me was this industry is more preparation than what goes into it.”
The near future for Ross incorporates ambition as well as an attainable vision. He finds it conceivable to start up his own production company, and possibly his own studio.
In the meantime, Ross hopes to evolve the Raleigh rap scene, but in an organic way. “In all honesty, you have to look outside of trying to put your city on the map because when you look at it from the bigger picture, that’s not what it’s about at all.”
He continues to produce for his crew members of Hot-Torch-a rap group he and two friends created in 8th grade and have been active since then-which as he describes as “way deeper than music.”
Persistently making appealing music and working with like-minded people is what he believes should be done to make the city of Raleigh more prominent in the rap scene.
“I think there are a lot of talented people in North Carolina,” he said. “What really holds us back is that we want to be like everywhere else. “If we just do what we do and build that up, everything should fall in to place.”
You can find Ross on twitter @TRossNC