There’s a mysterious man from Chicago that they call “disco,” and that’s about the only label you can put on him. He thrives in the middle-ground between funk and rap, and he appears to never stop moving. This “20-something” year-old is Ric Wilson, and he’s on the verge of being your next favorite artist. 

You may have already listened to Wilson, or you might be curious why you never have. The Chicago native has only around 250,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, but that number is only growing. His recent single “Fight like Ida B & Marsha P” was recently added to Spotify’s Pollen playlist with over one million followers, and he also released an EP, They Call Me Disco, in May with Terrace Martin, the legendary Jazz producer known to work with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg. 

 

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I was lucky to connect with the enigma that is Wilson after a few pesky Twitter DMs and some inside connections. To my surprise, however, as soon as his face–fitted with a stylish beret under the Seattle sun–popped up on my screen, I felt like he was a long-lost friend. “Aye what’s up?” 

We talked for about a half-hour as I rattled off questions and Wilson answered insightfully in between basketball shots and playing fetch with a friend’s puppy. In those 37 minutes, I met a unique, positive and grounded young artist whose music is an honest reflection of his wonderful personality. 

 

Who is Ric Wilson?

Born in Chicago, Wilson started experimenting with music around the age of 15 while also writing poems and performing at local open-mics. He also learned how to organize protests and fight for change around this time as well, citing The Chicago Freedom School for his education in activism. After running cross-country at Clark-Atlanta University for a short time, Wilson returned to Chicago to become an organizer and abolitionist between the ages of 19 and 21. Then, he said, he really began to make music.

Today, Ric calls himself “twenty-something” years old in order to shrug off the judgement that he is too young to be influential. In fact, he finds a way to be both an activist and musician full time. “When people don’t know how old you are, they try to get a better understanding of you.” 

 

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It’s true that Wilson’s music prowess appears to exceed his youth, especially because his music does not fit the mumble-rapping ‘Soundcloud rapper’ stereotype of younger hip-hop artists. His collaboration with Terrace Martin also places him in a small, yet highly respectable, category of artists, and with that association comes a high bar to meet. “I don’t get the liberty for people to compare me to a n*gga like TJX or other mumble rappers around my age range,” Wilson said..”If they hear me and Terrace working together they’re gonna compare me to Snoop [Dogg] and Kendrick [Lamar] and everyone he’s worked with.” 

For a one-of-a-kind artist like Ric, however, while working with Martin was an incredible opportunity, it was also a challenge. Despite the expected nervousness, Wilson appeared in Martin’s Los Angeles studio in November of 2019 ready to create something great, thinking to himself, “let me just bring bars…be myself and bring movement.” 

 

The Birth of “Disco Ric”

Bars and movement are exactly what Ric Wilson brought. Terrace, on the other hand, brought his expertise and funky keys, even making most of the songs, like “Breakin’ the Rules,” completely from scratch. The greatest instrument the two had, however, was their charisma. According to Wilson, they sat down in the studio, connected over their “appreciation for all Black people and Black music” and “kinda just made the records.” Ric testified to the power of simply being present in the room with Martin— a feeling that is hard to come by in this digital age of music. To this day they have never exchanged emails, yet the relationship they fostered still connects them. “Me and Terrace actually talked about deep sh*t and got to know each other’s backgrounds before we got right into making music…It was definitely something different.”

 

 

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What resulted was They Call Me Disco, a funky, dancey EP that, according to Wilson, “was feel-good and fun…and something that was gonna be fun to perform.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the performances have yet to happen, but listening to the six track project makes you want to two-step wherever you are. Coincidentally, the two-step is part of how Wilson earned his title “Disco Ric” while on tour with Cory Henry and The Funk Apostles

It all started with a viral tweet by Wilson, featuring a mash-up of Earth Wind and Fire‘s “September” and “Bad and Boujee” by Migos‘ “Bad and Boujee.” The song was placed over a video clip of Soul Train, a disco dance show that ran throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The final product circulated the internet, and Wilson’s Twitter followers began calling him “disco Ric.” However, it was Sharay Reed, a bassist for the Funk Apostles, that sealed the nickname’s fate. “When I went on tour Sharay Reed…he would just call me disco cause I was always trying to find the party and bring the energy.” 

 

 

Disco also has a deeper meaning for Ric, who appreciates its long and complicated history. The genre emerged in the 1970s as an outlet for marginalized communities, including those identifying as LGBTQ+ and all communities of color. However, as it grew in popularity, big businesses and corporations gentrified and monetized the industry, elevating primarily white artists such as the Bee-Gees and movies like Saturday Night Fever. But Wilson prefers to listen to the musicians who “were doing super-duper cool disco sh*t when it was smaller,” shouting-out artists Donna Summer and Sylvester. “I wanted to honor that dirty disco, that loft, the people at Studio 54 and other places before it was even big.” 

 

How to “Fight Like Ida B & Marsha P” 

At this point in our conversation, a grand grin spread across Wilson’s face, and I could tell the legacy of Black music pervades throughout every aspect of his creative process. He doesn’t just reference their names, he employs their sounds, honors their work, and amplifies their history with every song.

In his most recent single, “Fight like Ida B & Marsha P,” he does the same with Black womxn activists and freedom fighters, people who fought to change and break the oppressive systems that surrounded them. “I wanted to make a song that uplifted the black fems and also said their names,” said Wilson, “it makes people look them up like ‘who the f*ck are these people.’” He made the song in Salt Lake City during March of 2019 and subsequently pieced together the verses and outro featuring Crista Noel, a spoken-word artist who began the #sayhername movement after the death of Rekia Boyd in Chicago. 

 

 

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The single’s house-like beat also does what Ric’s music does best, it makes you want to move. The bouncing bass-line and repetitive hook are perfect for marching to and chanting with. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what Wilson wanted, “I didn’t know if anyone else was gonna make the protest anthem that was needed to keep the momentum going… but I also [wanted to] include all Black lives, because often these movements gain momentum and Black womxn and Black Trans womxn and Black non-binary lives get left out.” 

Ida B. Wells was an abolitionist, journalist and activist who ran anti-lynching crusades in the late 1800s. She reported on and fought against the horrific attacks after the Civil War. “What does that look like to tell a little black boy ‘ya Malcom X was the sh*t but Ida B. Wells was almost tougher cause she did it in 1890.” 

 

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Marsha “payin’ it no mind” Johnson, on the other hand, was an early leader of resistance movements against the police for their poor treatment of and attacks on the LGBTQ+ community in New York City. Johnson helped organize the Stonewall uprise, the first pride march, and calls for equal protections for Black and Queer folk.

“Before Marsha did that, that sh*t [Pride marches] didn’t exist,” said Wilson. “White Queer people don’t know that this movement was initiated by people like Marsha P. and Sylvia Rivera and a lot of Queer folk of color.” 

 

 

So Ric Wilson, the abolitionist, the activist, the musician from Chicago, made a song that encompassed what he believes in most dearly. However, his face is not on the cover, he rarely uses the word “I” and the song never focuses on any personal experiences. “This is everybody’s song” said Wilson, “a lot of people are making this about them or focusing on them and the song I made is for everyone.” 

 

So Why Ric Wilson? What’s Next? 

An all-inclusive positivity seems to radiate from Ric Wilson. From his wide grin to his dashing dance moves, he encourages you to be excited about the future and what it holds. When it comes to “Fight Like Ida B & Marsha P,” it is not just about defunding the police; it’s not just about Black Lives Matter, it’s not just about Black womxn. He wants to energize his audience, empower them with the tools and solutions for change and stand by their side as they two-step to victory, whatever it may look like. “Do you f*ck with stopping ICE? Then put your energy there. Do you f*ck with stopping violence on women? Do something that organizes against violence on women, and ALL women.”

 

 

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It is obvious Ric’s fight for justice has just begun, but I wanted to know where he was headed music-wise. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his touring options are either cancelled or postponed, but his creativity continues to flow. He hinted at a collaboration project coming soon with a big industry name and a possible studio album arriving Spring 2021. He listed a handful of names when questioned about who he wants to work with next; Noname, André 3000, and Serpentwithfeet were just a few. Whoever he works with next, they have good reason to be excited about what is to come. With Wilson’s unquestionable talent and ability to educate, hopefully the world’s future is as bright as the young star’s. 

Get familiar and listen to Ric Wilson’s They Call Me Disco EP below.