This is how Ramii and Desta won The Cut US
© Supermaniak – Maria Jose Govea/Red Bull Content Pool
After bonding over a love of NBA and neo-soul stars Erykah Badu and D'Angelo, songwriter-producer duo Ramii and Desta harnessed their creative chemistry to win The Cut US. But what's next for them?
Finding your creative footing takes time when you're making music alone. Missteps and dead-ends are part of a fulfilling, but often frustrating, process. That process becomes exponentially more difficult when you're paired with a brand-new creative partner. In addition to searching for common ground, you must push for and accept compromises on the road to finishing a single song. Two egos, two artistic visions, must become one.
On competitive songwriting series The Cut, 18 producers and songwriters were randomly paired and tasked with composing a hit in just 10 hours at the Red Bull Music Studio in Los Angeles, California. They had to develop a creative synergy immediately, or face mounting frustrations as the clock ticked down. The show tested each artist's musical ability as much as it did their in-studio mentality. To collaborate under such pressure required a precise combination of talent, self-assurance, congeniality and maturity.
Watch the final episode of Season 2 of The Cut below:
Everything is on the line
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In the end, it was producer/DJ Ramii and singer-songwriter Desta Dawn who found the winning formula. Together, they created two polished and moving neo-soul songs, earning the approval of their fellow contestants and the studio team. In the first round they composed All That I Need, an upbeat and empowering self-love anthem for women rebounding from a break-up. For the second round – the final – the pair went in a different direction entirely.
Their winning track, Make You Mine, is a sensual love song bolstered by Desta's stirring vocals and Ramii's warm, layered arrangements. Listening to both songs, it's remarkable to think that they'd never worked together before The Cut. Like any pair of collaborators, though, they had to find their foundation before they could begin.
Listen to Ramii & Desta's Pass The Aux takeover:
"It took some time to vibe. Desta was picky, which I’m glad about. She pushed me. She wanted something musical and soulful. I hadn't made anything like that in a while, even though I'm capable of doing it. I was making a lot of rap beats at the time," Ramii explains. "Once we got the foundation down, it became easy. The thing about creating music is that creating a foundation is the hardest part."
When Desta reflects on first meeting Ramii, she remembers them joking about the strength of the NBA teams from their respective hometowns. Born and raised in Oakland, Desta roots for the Golden State Warriors, while Ramii, a native Clevelander, rides for the Cavaliers. Soon, though, the two bonded over the similarities of their cultural backgrounds. "A lot of Ethiopian and Middle Eastern foods are very similar. Because half of my family is half Yemeni, Ramii and I were relating to each other through our cultures. That was pretty dope," says Desta.
He just wanted to make sure that we had the best song at the end of it
After playing some of their music for one another, Ramii and Desta discovered they had a shared affinity for the music of neo-soul paragons like Erykah Badu and D'Angelo. Also, they both revered '90s R'n'B groups like Dru Hill. With their creative foundation established, they worked on All That I Need until Ramii felt it was guaranteed to take them to the next round.
"What really stands out during the making of that song is that there was this bridge that I wanted to have in it," Desta says. "We recorded it and laid everything down. Then, when we came in to listen to everyone's songs, the bridge was taken out. I looked at Ramii and then when we got a little break, I was like, 'What did you do? Why would you take it out?' He was like, 'I'm telling you, it just didn't sound right. Every time I tried to edit it, it wouldn't match'."
Watch Desta Dawn and Ramii perform All That I Need
Desta Dawn x Ramii – All That I Need
Ultimately, Ramii's decision to remove the bridge worked in their favour: their peers in the first round voted them into the final. More importantly, his creative decision established a level of trust between him and Desta. "Having that disagreement and then him making the final decision and us winning gave me some ease and also some trust in him," Desta says. "He definitely proved to me early on that he took into account how I feel and all of my opinions. He just wanted to make sure that we had the best song at the end of it."
Ramii developed his keen ear at an early age. Although he grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, he found musical lodestars in West Coast rappers like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and 2Pac, all of whom his older brothers played constantly. Ramii had a natural sense of rhythm, but he initially applied that to the basketball court. As a point guard, he arranged his team-mates on offence in the same way he'd later arrange instruments.
When he began producing in high school, Ramii developed quickly. Within a few years, he'd produced songs for rising Cleveland rappers like Kid Cudi, Chip The Ripper and Machine Gun Kelly. As Ramii saw his peers leave the city, though, he knew he needed to move to Los Angeles to turn his passion into a viable career. After a few years of couch surfing and maxing out credit cards, he got on his feet. He subleased a retail store with a recording studio inside that allowed him to work any time. He took advantage of every spare minute.
Watch Desta Dawn and Ramii perform their track Make You Mine
Desta Dawn x Ramii – Make You Mine
"If I wouldn't have won [the competition], I would've been pissed. The two years that I had that store, I was making music every day for 10 hours," Ramii says. "I really put the work in. I know that I got good."
Unlike Ramii, Desta knew she wanted to be a musician early on. She taught herself to read by singing the words in her books and performed at family and community events in Oakland throughout her youth. Her family played music from their native Ethiopia in the house, but Desta's elder siblings, like Ramii's, turned her on to the music that would shape her artistic sensibilities. Throughout high school, Desta was enamoured with neo-soul and R'n'B. Brandy, Badu, Monica, Aliyah, India Arie – she knew all of their lyrics and sang them often.
I love finding new talent and helping build them up
Desta knew that she wanted to sing for a living, but she appeased her parents and went to a performing arts college in Los Angeles. Quickly dissatisfied with the school, as well as its creatively stifling rules, she dropped out and worked day jobs to support her music. At 21, a year after dropping out, she released her debut EP, 602. An auspicious debut, the power of Desta's voice and the quality of her songwriting attracted The Cut.
During the second round of The Cut however, Desta struggled with her lyrics. Despite her strong writing, her self-consciousness proved to be a momentary hurdle. "The lyrics took longer for the second song.... I think a lot of times I get in my head and second-guess myself. So I was writing and rewriting," she explains. "I can't remember how long it took me, but it was cutting it close. The second one, I definitely felt the pressure. It was like there was a clock ticking in my ear."
While Desta wrestled with the lyrics for what became Make You Mine, Ramii was relaxed and confident. He was elated to have an entire studio to himself. With a team of musicians on site for The Cut, Ramii used as many as he could to create the song's rich instrumental. “I wanted to incorporate everybody. I can play keys and stuff, but I'm not as good as the key player who was there," he says. "The thing about being a good producer is that you have to utilise what you've got."
Now that they’ve won The Cut, both Ramii and Desta have greater confidence in themselves and the road ahead.
Ramii continues to work in the studio every day, pushing himself like only a former athlete can. He recently released two singles, Midnight Children and Pretend, both of which depart from the beats he usually makes for rappers. That said, Ramii has placements on rap records in the works. In addition to focusing on his own career, he continues to look out for artists like Desta, who he can find a collaborative kinship with. "I want to keep producing and, more so, doing it on my terms," he says. "I'm excited to continue to find new talent. I love finding new talent and helping build them up."
Though Desta continues to work a day job, she signed a publishing deal with Red Bull Records after winning The Cut. Since then, she's been in more studio sessions than she had in all of the years before. "It's great to be part of a team," she says. "This is the first time since coming to LA that I've been part of a music team that's really confident in my sound and my singing and writing capabilities, whether that's for myself or other artists."
Desta and Ramii worked together again shortly after The Cut wrapped. In the days ahead, when their recording schedules align, they plan to return to the studio to create more bangers. When that happens, they'll already have a foundation and all the time they need.