Raemi doesn’t deliver neat, linear hooks so much as flicker and flutter along the beguiling contours of her melodies. Classical training has something to do with it; over years of formal instruction, opera study and choir rehearsals, she certainly learned the capabilities of her voice, and how to control it. It makes a difference, too, that she grew up in a Jamaican household, first in Toronto, then Memphis, taking in the cunning, stealthy rhythm patterns of the reggae and dancehall that her parents embraced as a household soundtrack. But there’s more than that behind the capricious expression on her debut project, Partly Cloudy. Over the course of its seven tracks, the R&B singer-songwriter, now based in Nashville, lets her attention drift across youthful vagaries with a casual and searching sense of openness, as though she’s welcoming changes in the weather.
Before she even moved here, Raemi began networking in the city’s R&B and hip-hop circles, an endeavor that accelerated when she was accepted into the Nashville independent artist residency program Creatives Day. At a local writing camp, she enlisted Brian Brown to contribute singing and rapping to her debut single “Find Me,” a song resplendent in its unhurried pursuit of self-knowledge. It was when she turned to producer A.B. Eastwood to beef up the drums on the track that she found a collaborator who could help her inflate her ideas, impulses and sensations into atmospheric music.
During “Overcompensate,” Raemi has a lot to play with rhythmically, glancing off polyrhythmic handclaps and crisp guitar upstrokes with her nimble vocal cadence as she coolly closes the door on a soured relationship. One track later, over the effervescent dance-pop groove of “Lowkey,” Raemi sings of testing the waters of new attraction, forward about her interest one minute and noncommittal the next, her many vocal lines weaving a delicately tangled web. There are interludes too, one of them, “Willow,” a dreamy, romantic fantasy that disintegrates into electronic noise. The greatest fluctuations unfold during “spaceships & clouds,” a track that filters the suave, energetic precision of both ‘60s doo-wop and ‘90s R&B vocal groups through a thick haze. Raemi details the daily grind with a hint of impatience, and embraces the urge to float off into the realm of herbally enhanced, imaginative escape. It’s an immersive debut from a mind mesmerized by possibility.
Here’s a transcript of our audio postcard introducing Raemi and the origins of her ruminative, rhythmic vibe. She sat down for an interview in the park, where she had a view of exactly the type of tree that she describes in her “Willow” interlude.
Intro: That song is a vibe. And I’m Jewly Hight here on WNXP to introduce you to the source of that sound and sensibility, newly emerging R&B singer songwriter Raemi. Her debut project, Partly Cloudy, is our record of the week. She shaped its open-ended ruminations and mellow, balmy rhythms with former Nashville Artist of the Month A.B. Eastwood after moving here last year. Even though they wrote and recorded the tracks in A.B.’s Shangri-La studio, Raemi conceived of the concept under the open sky, receptive to the subtle sensory features of the atmosphere, just as she says she’s always been.
Raemi: I would describe the setting that we’re in as a peaceful day at the park. I am seeing a beautiful willow tree. Birds chirping. There’s lots of leaves on the ground and the wind is blowing gracefully. Seems like it’s mostly sunny, but a little bit of partly cloudy vibes in the sky.
[music] Underneath the window/Say you’ll never let me go/Say you’ll never let me go
Growing up in a Jamaican household was a lot of fun. I was introduced to music at a very young age. My dad loves Bob Marley. Crazy story: He actually knew him. They grew up in the same town in Jamaica, Trench Town, Kingston. And at first we didn’t believe him. Me and my siblings were like, “You did not know Bob Marley!” But he was like, “I really did.” And his sons and we caught fish in the river together and would swim. And I was like, “That is so cool!”
And then there’s this one song by this artist named Shaggy called “Angel.” And I just remember dancing in the kitchen with my dad literally every day, every week to that song. That’s our song. And then I realized what rhythm was. In reggae music, there’s a lot of rhythm. There’s a lot of blues. There’s a lot of pockets that musicians stay in. And I didn’t realize what exactly that meant. I just knew that I could go along with it. I knew that I could stay in certain pockets and stay on a beat or stay with the rhythm, and it would just naturally flow through me.
I feel like going back to Jamaica to visit my parents family and see where they really grew up really put a lot into my heart of, “I know I’m supposed to be doing music at some point.” When I was around eight, I started writing. I remember I sat down and structured a song on my own and was like, “How did I even know how to do that?” And I did do choir all throughout my school years. I was classically trained in opera and contemporary as well.
I said, “As soon as I get to Nashville, I am going to make something shake. I’m going to get opportunities. I’m going to write more and I’m going to release a project.” I had already been thinking of the concept of Partly Cloudy. I just didn’t know what it was going to be exactly yet. I think it was the first week I was in the city that I just was exploring by myself. Where I was in front of the Capitol building, the clouds were insane. I was sitting on a hill and I just looked up. I was like, “You know, I get a lot of inspiration from the sky, from the settings outside, just having my mind being cleared so that it’s a lot more openness.” Essentially, the EP is based off of how the weather changes with our emotions.
A.B. and I never really had a conversation of him producing my EP. I was about to drop “Find Me” with Brian Brown and I went to A.B. so he could spice up the drums. And after we finished, I was like, “This is going on my EP, by the way.” He was like, “I didn’t know that I was going to be a part of it. Sweet.” Next thing you know, we started getting in the studio more to where we just started locking in every week. This one session we had for, like, 8 hours.
“Overcompensate” is one of my favorite tracks, and in the making of it, I had a voice memo ready for A.B. At that session, I was like, “I want to do something to this. I know I want this to be upbeat. I want the song to have this vibe very much like dancehall, afropop.” He just started putting some claps. I said, “Oh, that’s perfect.”
I feel like the song does give off an essential reggae and dancehall vibe to it. You know, it might not sound like the standard reggae track that you hear with the steel drums, but it is in the pocket of the history of the music behind it.
Outro: Raemi’s entire debut project feels the way that it does because of how her musical imagination was awakened by her own history. And Partly Cloudy is WNXP’s Record of the Week.