Not the same old ‘Smooth’



The same old Ramel Bradley walked into the studio. His beige Nikes matched his beige jacket perfectly. His hair was perfectly brushed; his smile flashed perfectly from his face. He stood confidently before the microphone as producers prepared another track for him to rip.

He appeared to be just that: the same old Ramel Bradley.

Then the music started and the words jumped from Bradley’s mouth, and one thing was clear: this was a different Ramel Bradley.

And that’s what Bradley is looking to show when his debut album, titled “Do You Know,” is released April 15. He wants you to know the Ramel “Smooth” Bradley the streets of Brooklyn and the basketball courts of Kentucky helped shape.

“I just have a talent and a life and emotions that I go through,” Bradley said. “That’s what I want to bring to everyone else. Let them know a little bit more of me. Step into my world, see how I see things.”

‘Do You Know’ Ramel?

Ramel Bradley did not hide in the shadows during his four-year career at UK.

He was the confident, if not a little cocky, point guard who challenged 7-footers to “do something,” threw up the Roc symbol to represent his Brooklyn roots and touted his “Smooth” nickname before he put on a UK uniform.

Off the court, Bradley still has the confident air. He always “has to look good, baby.” He walks through the studio with the same strut and same soft-but-assured voice that he had on the court.

But he insists his album will show a different side of the Ramel so many UK fans grew familiar with.

Bradley credits his childhood in Brooklyn as one of the biggest influences on his aspirations as a hip-hop artist. It was there — a city known for producing rappers like Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z and Fabolous, all of whom Bradley cited as influences — that Bradley learned to rap.

While Bradley touted his reputation as a New Yorker during his career at UK, he rarely mentioned details of his upbringing.

He grew up the only child of a single mother who worked “all the time” to support her son’s dreams, he said. His grandmother was a pastor, and if Bradley was not in church with her, he was on the basketball court.

Bradley was familiar with street life. He had “associates,” he said, who were into drugs and gang life. But he shied away from it.

“Thank God I didn’t have the mindset to go make money other ways,” Bradley said. “I had people that was involved in those kind of things. I could’ve been easily involved, but I wasn’t. Somebody was protecting me from all that.”

Well aware of the “gangster” culture that is prevalent in the hip-hop industry, Bradley insists he does not have to be a gangster to fit in, and he said that is evident on the album. He doesn’t need “street cred” to come across as a real person, he said.

“I didn’t do all that, but as long as you’re a real person, that’s where your credibility comes from,” he said. “(A lot of rappers) aren’t talking about gang-banging and killing people. Everybody’s not gangsters. I’m the farthest thing from it.”

On the title track, Bradley addresses the issues surrounding his life in New York City, including moving away at age 15 and eventually ending up at a prep school in Florida before college at UK.

“We thought you made it?” he asks in the song, alluding to those who’ve questioned him his entire life. “Back in the Brook, no one knows what you’re name is.”

But if Bradley gets his way, everyone will know him soon enough.

All ‘Right Now’

As confident as Bradley is, he is perhaps even more ambitious, and that too is evident on the album.

In “Right Now,” Bradley addresses his live-in-the-present attitude, one that often clashes with his tendency to be a forward-thinker when it comes to his future.

Bradley has a lengthy list of life goals: he’s a public services and leadership major at UK on track to graduate in May, and he wants to parlay that into a political career in New York City. He wants to be a lawyer. He has dreams of a multimillion-dollar rap career that goes alongside his plans for an accomplished basketball career. And a clothing line? Yeah, he wants that too.

“Whatever it is,” he said, “I’ll make it work.”

And he does not want to wait.

He insists that with this album he’s not just dipping his foot in the music industry pool. No, he said, he’s all in right now.

“I want to shoot for the moon,” Bradley said. “I hope I just blow, right now. Take off. If that’s not the case, I’m sure the learning process will be great.”

On “Right Now,” Bradley collaborates with local musician Jonathan Webb, a seemingly odd combination. Webb’s as Kentucky as Bradley is New York — a white guy with an acoustic guitar and a bluesy, soft rock sound.

But the combination is not as odd as some may believe.

‘Stand Up For What You Believe In’

Webb was set to perform with his band, The Collective Few, at the Singletary Center about a year ago when he called Bradley to see if he would be interested in collaborating on a song.

When Bradley said yes, the duo wrote and performed “Stand Up.” It’s an inspirational tune written over the band’s original music, not the synthesized beats and drums typical of most rap music.

But it epitomizes what brought the duo together and has made them good friends, both said.

“It’s not about where you’re from. It’s where you’re at,” Bradley said. “The same message that Jonathan can portray in his music is the same message I portray in my music. That’s where we connect. The messages are all universal.”

Bradley may let an obscenity slip from his lips every now and then on the album, but it’s his way of expressing his culture, his life, his upbringing and his message, Webb said. It doesn’t change the fact that the message they’re sending on the two tracks they perform together is universal to all — black and white, rich and poor, urban and rural, old and young.

“There is explicit language, but as far as the content, it’s back to that message,” Webb said. “The way we get our message across is different, but the universal message of what he’s saying underneath those words is the same thing. He’s got something he’s really saying.”

Bradley premiered his first single, “Smooth Operator,” on Monday, and it was set for release yesterday. He’ll take to the stage April 12 at the Jonathan Webb Music Festival in Cynthiana, Ky.

Standing at the microphone in St. Claire Studios on Monday, he played on his Sidekick and adjusted his headphones. His nervous energy was evident just two weeks before the release of his album.

“Ramel, you ready?” Webb asked.

Bradley nodded and waited for the music to begin. The words erupted from his mouth, and it was clear that he was ready to show everyone a new side to the same old “Smooth.”