Ric Wilson Makes Music for “Getting Free & Healing”

“When I did ‘Soul Bounce’ and stuff, I was trying to think, ‘What can I perform at the protest?’”
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If you’re looking for sunshine in these bleak times, look no further than Chicago’s Ric Wilson. The activist and rapper has released a steady stream of “disco rap” projects since 2016’s Soul Bounce. You may have caught wind of 20-something Ric Wilson in 2017 when a tweet of his went viral. Regardless of your Ric Wilson entry point, fans and onlookers can all agree Wilson’s sound is the perfect blend of hip-hop sensibilities and a natural jubilance. His latest, They Call Me Disco—a collaborative EP with the incredible Terrace Martin—takes Wilson’s love for disco and the freedom of having fun to new heights.

“When you’re in the room with Terrace you’re like, ‘Damn, this n***a been in the room with Kendrick [Lamar]!’” Ric exclaims to me over the phone while walking around Chicago. “You’re like, ‘Okay… I gotta come hard. I gotta match his energy.’ I felt it in ‘Breakin’ Rules…’ like I had to write the best verses I’ve written in a while.”

They Call Me Disco sounds as jubilant as Ric Wilson does over the phone. Standout selection “Move Like This” will be the jam people play while they party solo in quarantine. The aforementioned “Breakin’ Rules” grooves and swells with such lightness of being. These are joyful songs for a downtrodden era, and as Ric tells me, it’s all genuine. He didn’t go into the studio with plans to make bright music; this was his and Terrace Martin’s natural output. The project, for which Terrace sent over early ideas in November 2019, is a welcome invitation to dance through the pain.

“What does freedom feel like?” Ric muses. “Freedom feels like dancing! You getting free and dancing while you [feel depressed]. That’s powerful. This music is for getting free and healing, and not trying to act like nothing is happening to you.” 

So, take it from Ric Wilson. Go ‘head and dance. The world is ending, and we could all use some party tunes.

Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

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DJBooth: How did you and Terrace Martin connect for your latest work, They Call Me Disco?

Ric Wilson: Me and Terrace got connected through my management. We were mutual fans of each other’s music, so it happened organically. Terrace is very genuine and honest.

How did working with Martin push you as a creative?

When you’re in the room with Terrace you’re like, “Damn, this n***a been in the room with Kendrick [Lamar]!” You’re like, “Okay… I gotta come hard. I gotta match his energy.” I felt it in “Breakin’ Rules.” He started the intro, and I thought, “I gotta come harder than he’s coming right now.” I felt like I had to write the best verses I’ve written in a while. I was encouraged to sing the hooks more and use my vocals in a [more] sing-y way than I have before. And I was more comfortable, too! It solidified my confidence as a writer and rapper.

It feels like you do everything for, and in honor of, disco and Black folx musical and cultural traditions. How does They Call Me Disco continue that ethos?

That was a great question. It’s a progressive thing, with this project. Me and Terrace, when we were making this one… I wanted this to feel like the dance scenes from Chicago and LA are meeting up like a fusion. If anyone’s seen Dragon Ball Z, when Goku and Vegeta fuse into one, I wanted these songs to feel like that. I was trying to do that on “Don’t Kill The Wave” and “Breakin’ Rules.” It’s weird because house and disco are both four-on-the-floor. You don’t know what to call it, but you know it feels great and it’s got funk to it. I wanted to bring the lineage of Black people. I want you to feel some Frankie Knuckles house and some DJ Quik G-funk. Those two come together, and boom, you get a majority of these songs on this record.

Disco is an aura. Disco [was] invented by marginalized people of color and queer people. I want my music to represent that. That’s why I keep the disco going: keep inspiring the marginalized.

You are proud of your South Side roots. How did Chicago influence They Call Me Disco?

I was thinking about the house parties I was going to, growing up in the summer and those feelings. The music, the street festival parties, those are the biggest inspirations when I was writing “Move Like This” and “Don’t Kill The Wave.” Chicago has a rich band history that no one talks about. Me and Terrace talked about that a whole lot when we [were] writing this project. I wanted to make something that feels like it’s somebody from the land that’s rapping, that met up with one of the greatest West Coast producers of all time. And I’m still here! I’m walking around Chicago.

The thing is, when me and Terrace came up with the first ideas back in November, I was around family members. I’m writing this shit in the South Side of Chicago. I’m not in a studio in LA. I’m looking at the people that are inspiring me to write this thing.

They Call Me Disco is a very buoyant project, which is remarkable considering how bleak our current political and cultural moment is. What does it mean to you to be creating such light work through this darkness?

It’s crazy! Even as I’m walking around, thinking about answering these questions, I feel like I’m in a dystopian world. This project just feels like, for me, when you get a new kitten or a new puppy. In these times, it feels like bringing something good home. I’m hoping that’s how other people feel. It’s a new kitten in the times of this craziness. But I never think, “Oh, we’re gonna make something super bright!” It genuinely came out like that.

During a 2018 interview, you said: “Just because you’re a mouthpiece for the movement, you can also have like songs that are about partying and like having fun because you can have fun and be free too.” How did freedom and fun influence They Call Me Disco?

When I first started to get into music, drill music was popping off in Chicago. I was also [politically] organizing in 2015. All [these] protests and spoken word, and people rapping… How can I make people feel freedom through music? I’m still trying to figure that out. What does freedom feel like? Freedom feels like dancing! You getting free and dancing while you [feel depressed]. That’s powerful. This music is for getting free and healing, and not trying to act like nothing is happening to you. When I did Soul Bounce and stuff, I was trying to think, “What can I perform at the protest to make people feel like, ‘This is what we here for,’ and make them move and keep marching?” [These are] the songs you two-step and march to at the same time.

With your organizer background, what does freedom mean to you in 2020?

I don’t know! You think about financial freedom, but then [only] some people are free. Thinking about being healthy, and there’s a freedom in that as well.

I don’t think you have to know, though. You can still pursue it.

Facts! Right now, freedom is D’Angelo’s Voodoo album. That shit is jammin’.

Sometimes we make the marginalized answer for their marginalization in a way that moves the goalposts.

Oh, yeah! Definitely. Marginalized people don’t have the liberty to address the problem and then think about it. They want us to address the problem with the answer—all the time. We don’t get the privilege of processing.

Finally, which song on They Call Me Disco are you most excited for fans to have?

If I have any fans, I’m most excited for fans to have “Move Like This.” That’s gonna be the song people spin when they’re partying alone this summer!

Listen to Ric Wilson on Audiomack.

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