Rapper A.R.I. shows how art can be a source of strength

Student Ariana Ross balances creating music, mental health

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Ariana Ross, or A.R.I., has an all-encompassing spectrum of talents, but she doesn’t only balance her talents.

Ross has bipolar disorder.

And she doesn’t want her mental health to define her. 

What defines Ross is her transparency, wide array of abilities, upbringing, drive for success and how she balances her career as an emerging rapper. After a childhood of looking up to her father, who was a rapper in his college days, it was easy for the junior business and marketing major to discover music, writing and poetry, and to become the lyrical shape-shifter she is today. While her mental health has affected her life, relationships and education, Ross never sees it as hindering her art.

It all started at age five, when Ross -- now a junior business major at UB -- would ask her mother to help transcribe her thoughts, sparking her love for poetry.  

The art has since served as catharsis for Ross, who says her poetry is inherently more “raw” than her lyrics.

She said looking back on those poems helps her “remember the rough time” she went through with her mental health, and “appreciate that [she’s] not there anymore.” 

Ross was diagnosed with bipolar disorder while living with her aunt in 2018. She said she needed a break from home because her relationship with her parents was strained amid the confusion over her mental health.

“I knew something was wrong and my family did too,” Ross said. “But we didn’t really know what to do about it or how to handle it.”  

After her diagnoses, Ross felt relieved. But her diagnosis didn’t resolve her struggles. 

“I finally had answers as to why I was feeling how I was feeling. We could start treating it,” Ross said. “In the beginning I felt numb, like my emotions were super muted. I didn’t feel like myself, like my creativity was being blocked.”

Ross completed her first EP, “Cupid’s Fool,” after her adjusting her medication.   

Originally a visual arts and screenwriting major at Ithaca College, Ross came home to Buffalo after a gap year of handling her mental health. Marketing was a way to promote herself and her craft. 

Ross wasn’t sure if school was for her. So she compromised with her parents that she would become a part-time student, and if her music career doesn’t take off in the near future, she plans on using her marketing degree to get a job in a record label. 

But it wasn’t easy for Ross to be honest with herself about her dreams to make music her career.


Ross records in her studio.


“If you go up to somebody and say ‘Yeah I want to drop out of school and become a rapper,’ most people look at you like you’re crazy,” Ross said. “It took me a long time to be able to sit here and say ‘But I do.’ That’s my dream, no matter how crazy it sounds, that’s my dream.”

Kelvin Yeboah, Ross’ manager, helped her find the confidence to believe her dream was a possibility. He came across Ross after hearing her first project “Phoning Dr. Caligari” and cites Ross’ passion, work ethic and creative talent for drawing him in. 

But her early work didn’t show this.

“It was bad,” Yeboah said of her first project. “I mean bad. But I listened through it and said ‘Ok, there’s a lot to work with here.”

Ross began writing “Cupid’s Fool” in November, but said recording and session time can vary.

The recording session for “TragicLove,” a track on “Cupid’s Fool,” stuck out to Ross and Yeboah. Ross sent Yeboah unfinished vocals one night which inspired him to finish the track the next day.

“The night that she sent it to me, I was like ‘I’m coming in tomorrow, and we’re gonna finish this,” Yeboah said. 

Preston Carlisle, or Ace Preston, a producer who works alongside Ross, says the key to a successful artist is authenticity. Carlisle says artists are set apart by having their own unique lens and perspective, opinions and identity.

“[Ross] knows exactly who she is, who she wants to be, and what sets her apart,” Carlisle said. “She isn’t trying to be anything she’s not. … [Ross] is always working. Always hungry for more beats. I just try to keep up.”
 

The arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com