Kevin Ross had never felt more alive. The singer had gone from
performing once every three months to opening for R&B/Soul legend Maxwell
five times a week, and his nostalgia-flecked, soul-drenched repertoire
resonated with audiences. In demand, he swiftly released an EP (Dialogue in the Grey) boasting features
from Ne-Yo and T.I., produced and performed a song for a national
commercial (Glade) and was tapped for a spot on Ne-Yo's sold-out tour -- all in
the same year. He'd been praying, asking if he should really be an artist, and
the answer seemed to be a resounding "yes."
And then suddenly, Ross found himself in a career desert.
"It felt dark and dismal to have this great peak, then sink again. I didn't know what was next" the Washington, D.C. native says now. "But someone told me that to be great, you have to go through great things -- not just great wins, but great tragedy. It's about getting back into the fight no matter how dinged up you get."
In the wake of that struggle, Ross has emerged stronger and more determined than ever. Praised by ABC as having an "expansive, entrancing and enigmatic modern R&B style," the singer was named "Best New R&B Artist" of 2014 by AOL and was the ASCAP's 2016 Rhythm and Soul Award Winner. He's been featured on NBA spots, "Grey's Anatomy" and called a "one-man quartet" by okayplayer. "Long Song Away," a love song that's kissed by Ross' sweet vocals and just begging for a slow dance, quickly racked up almost half a million views on YouTube, cracked Top 3 on Urban Adult Contemporary radio. And he shows no signs of backing down: To the delight of his 100,000+ followers on Facebook and 71,000+ followers on Instagram, this year he'll head back out on tour with another one of R&B's most promising ones-to-watch, Ro James.
Growing up, the "hustle mentality" of D.C. was impressed upon him as his father's side of the family was full of singers. Still, there was plenty of fun injected into the fray, and Ross' house constantly swayed to the sounds of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Prince and Patrice Rushen. "If it felt good, it was played," he says.
After covering a medley of Stevie Wonder's hits for a Motown Tribute his sophomore year of high school (Duke Ellington School of the Arts), Ross realized his destiny. He won a partial scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music, and by age 18 was already trekking into New York City to audition for background singing slots for Alicia Keys and Usher. He wasn't chosen, but instead of defeating him, the rejection sharpened him.
"'Man, I must suck!'" he remembers thinking. He chuckles. "But I learned you have to be able to build your own world, like Steve Jobs said. So I started to fuse my love for jazz and hip hop and soul and create a nostalgic feel that moves music forward. I'm a bridge between the old and the new."
Moving to Atlanta, he spent his first year after college pinging back and forth from studio to studio. It was hard, he says, but it paid off -- within the year, he scored his first big placement with Jamie Foxx. Signing with Motown Records, he released his solo debut, 2014's Dialogue in the Grey EP, and reached the pinnacle of his career -- or so he thought.
With his soulful major label debut, The Awakening, due in March 2017, Ross is poised to introduce himself not as a star streaking across the sky, but as an artist making timeless music with timely appeal. Armed with hard-earned knowledge, he strips away social media posturing and obsession with material things and speaks to what really matters in life.
"People get so obsessed with money or the look of it. We forgot about truth. We forgot people hurt, that they want to feel something." he explains.
"It's my audacity to say, I will make it. I made it past step one. So now I can't stop," he continues. "If you're given a gift from God, you gotta use it."