There's nothing extravagant about the small room where local producer Romero Mosley mixed his terrific debut, Lucid Dreams. Except for a small painting featuring the album cover's artwork, the walls are barren. Only one of the light bulbs in the ceiling light works, making the room appear rather dark. A drum kit sits in one corner of the room, and a beat-up trumpet rests on the floor in another corner. On a glass top desk, Mosley has assembled his equipment: a keyboard, a laptop and the Machine, a board he bought after he learned hip-hop producer No I.D. mixed Jay-Z's "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" on a similar piece of equipment. He's connected a couple of small speakers to the laptop, and a copy of Steely Dan's Aja sits atop one of them.
Though primitive, the space enabled Mosley to masterfully record Lucid Dreams, a mixtape of sorts that features vocal contributions from some of the city's best R&B singers and rappers and provides jazz-influenced beats for them to sing or rap over. Mosley recorded the album locally at White Audio, Lava Room Recordings and Clockwork Recordings but did much of the final production work at his home studio.
"The acoustics aren't great in this room, but this is where it all started," says Mosley one afternoon. Dressed in a brown pants and a white T-shirt, he wears his oversized baseball cap pulled down over his ears. Courteous and soft-spoken, he has an air about him that speaks to the deep thinking that went into Lucid Dreams.
Mosley originally played trumpet in middle school and then turned his attention to the drums. His dad plays saxophone (and has a cameo on Lucid Dreams) and his mother sings so music was a big part of his life from day one.
"I grew up around music my whole life," says the Cleveland native. "As a kid, I would make beats on cafeteria tabletops, and I always looked up to different producers."
Last year, he got his first big break when he executive produced Black Lilly, a self-released album from local R&B singer Lolah Brown, who's currently on tour with Rihanna. They knew each other in high school and then kept in touch throughout the years.
"She reached out to me and wanted me to be a part of it," he says. "I didn't make any of the beats on a drum machine, but I arranged and co-wrote some of the songs and picked different beats. I had to reach out to different producers and keep the continuity of the album. I acted as the A&R/executive producer. It turned out great. Her vocal ability is out of this world."
While he didn't mix Black Lilly himself, he realized he could have. He had all the proper equipment, but it was gathering dust. So he took piano lessons and then started talking to local musicians about collaborating.
"This was just something I needed to do," says Mosley, who works as an underwriter at Progressive Insurance.
The mixtape starts with "This Moment," an intro that features a drum loop from an orchestra composition and includes a sample of a Jay-Z interview.
"I felt like what [Jay-Z] was saying was poignant," says Mosley. "The chords and everything else in that song is [played by] me."
Mosley had to dig deep for some of the album's samples. The Outkast-like "Welcome to Jamtown (So High)" includes a sample from a song by the Silvers, an old R&B group that rappers Kendrick Lamar and Young Jeezy have sampled.
"I added some drum loops to the sample," he says.
He also recruited local rapper 100 Proof because he felt like he "had the right vibe for it." And local pianist Kenny Bell plays some organ on the track as well. While he and Bell were working on the song, local R&B singer Qui Marche came by the studio and started humming along to it.
"I was like, 'Stop,'" Mosley recalls. "I asked her if she would come into the studio and sing along to it. We did a couple of takes, and she was uncomfortable because she wasn't feeling well. Her voice sounds a bit raspier than normal, but I think that's awesome because it brings out the soul of the song."
Brown adds some soulful vocals to the jazzy "Dead in My Sleep," which features a sample from Wale's Mixtape about Nothing. "I always liked the vibe to that drum loop," he says. "With the right keyboards and guitar added to it, it turned out okay."
Local rap sensations King Chip and Ray Cash contribute respectively to "Same Ol'" and "Ms. Blue Dream."
"'Same Ol' has a Cali swing to it," Mosley says. "It could be on the soundtrack to Menace to Society or Boyz N the Hood. The bass line is from Bones Thugs N Harmony's 'For the Love of Money.' Chip is perfect. That's part of the zone he's in right now. He's from St. Clair, the same neighborhood as Bone Thugs. It only made sense."
Chip took the original track that Mosley sent him in an entirely different direction.
"I told him I wanted it to be celebratory but it's the complete opposite," he says. "It's all about the bullshit he goes through in his neighborhood. I appreciate the flip he did. It really resonates. We're all trying to make our way, from Bill Gates to the guy mopping floors."
And "Ms. Blue Dream," a love song that includes references to marijuana, includes a brisk beat that keeps time with Cash's steady flow.
"I've always been a fan of Cash's music," Mosley says. "He's always been consistent. He's a real musical guy. He's not your average rapper who just spits. He has a great ear for melody and for cadence. When he recorded the song, it was just magic."
Mosley says he wants to put together a live band to perform tracks from Lucid Dreams, and he's currently fielding offers from local rappers and R&B singers who want to work with him.
"I'm working on putting together a live show," he says. "I want a cool venue. That's the thing. I did a concert last year with me and [local rapper] K-Nyce and that was great. Now that I'm doing this, it's an entity of its own, and I want to do a showcase. I have the artists in mind that I want to rock with. There's so much live instrumentation on the album in every song that it only makes sense. This is not a project for me to get rich or famous off. I just love music."