Raneem Imam is an intern at Royal Studios where many hits in the 1960s and ’70s were recorded, but the sophomore music major has become a producer herself with the debut of her EP, “DIALOGUE.”
“I partnered with my friend and Rhodes graduate Roc Sherrell, who also majored in music,” says Imam. “We started writing and producing songs together in late 2016, which eventually led us to creating our collaborative duo called I Contact. The first song I wrote for Roc was ‘No Escapin,’ and after that, we quickly realized how well we worked together.”
In the summer of 2017, the duo shot a music video for the “No Escapin” single, which aims to highlight the arts and culture of Memphis. Imam graduated from Germantown High School in neighboring Germantown, TN, and partnered with friends and schoolmates Hayley Walsh and Connor Sackett, who are film school students at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. According to Imam, everyone who worked on the video was connected to Memphis, bringing their passions together to showcase the city’s talent.
“I didn’t know I wanted to stay here when I was choosing a college, but after committing to Rhodes, I decided to just really see what this city has to offer,” says Imam. “There is opportunity here, and you don’t have to go out to Los Angeles or New York to make it or have a platform. You can actually do the work here.”
A soulful soprano, Imam sings on the video, and Sherrell raps. Their sound can be described as a mixture of R&B, hip-hop, and electronic music. The duo recorded their music in the lab studios of Rhodes College. Thanks to music technology and composition courses taught by Dr. David Shotsberger in the Department of Music, Imam says she has tremendously benefitted from the guidance and resources offered on campus. Outside of the studio, she also performs as a member of the Rhodes Singers choir and Rhodes’ women’s a cappella group, Lipstick On Your Collar.
Imam met Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, who owns and manages Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios, through her Memphis connections, and there she has been able to apply what she has learned at Rhodes to the music industry. Established in 1956, Royal Studios is operated by the family of the late producer and recording artist Willie Mitchell. The historic South Memphis studio is known for recording Al Green, Chuck Berry, John Mayer, Ike & Tina Turner, and Rod Stewart, to name a few. Mark Bronson’s “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars was partly written, but fully recorded, at Royal Studios.
Imam shadows Mitchell and says she tries to take in everything he does in the studio, which remains in possession of one of the widest collections of vintage analog equipment and microphones. “The first day I came in, we were just wrapping cables and striking the set, but the next day I was with him, he was busy recording and mixing a live studio show for someone. The way he operated the soundboard was magical, since everything is done digitally these days, you forget how making music is done by hand,” says Imam.
Imam adds that Mitchell provided the reference for her to become a member of GRAMMY, a platform for full-time college students, primarily between the ages of 17 and 25, who are pursuing careers in the recording industry. Members have access to recording industry professionals through networking, educational programs, and performance opportunities. “As an Arab-American female artist, I have to be three steps ahead of the game, and I want to learn the whole shebang,” says Imam.
By Meg Jerit ’20