Attendee Live with Ric Wilson

It was a beautiful summer Saturday in Chicago—the second day of the North Coast Music Festival was well underway. The team was excited for Saturday’s line-up, which included DJ Snake, Cashmere Cat, Madeintyo and RL Grime, just to name a few. A charismatic artist quickly caught the attention of many festival-goers and especially ours. He was captivating and drew the early afternoon crowd toward the stage with his melodic sound of funk and rap intertwined with powerful and thought provoking lyrics. and many of the North Coast festival-goers had discovered Ric Wilson.

Wilson brought a flair and presence to the stage, styled in retro bright yellow tracksuit pants, a yellow dice-patterned shirt, a glowing smile, an endless amount of stamina and energy. Wilson had quickly engaged the crowd as he confidently rhymed his verses and moved like he owned the stage. As the feel-good vibes intensified, and the trumpeter played louder, the young, energetic artist jumped off the stage and asked the crowd to join him in a soul-train line, in which we all did without hesitation. The moment felt so right and it was an incredible reminder of how dancing and great music really epitomizes happiness. Shining through his performance, Ric Wilson set the tone for an unforgettable day!  It was as if the Saturday afternoon slot was meant just for him.

“I think what motivates me the most with my audience is winning people over. Seeing someone who’s not smiling and then you see them crack a slight smile. They might feel uncomfortable, but that’s okay, because I’m uncomfortable too. I’m on stage in front of a bunch of people. So then I crack a smile and they crack a smile and it’s like, ‘Oh we in this together!’  That’s the most exciting thing”

Just 22 years old, Wilson’s resume by far supersedes his age. Born and raised on Chicago’s Southside, Wilson enjoyed music growing up, but never thought it would become his career. Early on he developed a passion for social justice and transferred to the Chicago Freedom School when he was 16 years old. During this time at CFS, Wilson’s dedication to leading change earned him a spot on the youth delegation of We Charge Genocide tasked with delivering a report to the UN on police violence in Switzerland. While part of the delegation, Wilson stumbled into a life-changing opportunity that would catapult him into the world of music. His political voice gave him a voice in music. A voice that is powerful and authentic.

His most recent EP, BANBA (Black Art Not Bad Art), dropped in May and has nearly 900,000 Spotify plays.  His most recent video under his acclaimed EP, “Sinner (ft. Kweku Collins, Rane Raps & Nick Kosma),” was released in September and has over 635,000 plays.  Wilson is back in the studio working on his debut album set for release next spring.

As if he didn’t already have his hands full with his music, Wilson has also just solidified a partnership deal with national shoe brand, Journeys.  He was chosen to become a Journey Influencer and will star in the brand’s holiday campaign ad, Create Your Joy.  Wilson’s song Soul Bounce from his first EP will be featured in the commercial. It looks as though we weren’t  the only one impressed by Wilson’s taste in fashion. Wilson’s meteoric climb to fame is nothing short of spectacular and we couldn’t wait to meet the magnetic performer. It is no surprise why Pressed Play on Ric Wilson.   

AC: How did you get your start in music?

RW: The Chicago Freedom School is down the street from the Harold Washington Library where the youth organization, YCA is located. They have an open mic every Wednesday. I remember walking past it on my way to the train station one day. I just walked in and that’s how everything got started. I met all the folks you hear about now like, the ‘Chances’ [Chance The Rapper], the ‘Noname’s’ [Noname], the ‘Saba’s’ [Saba]. All those folks were in the open mic. I didn’t get called the first couple times so I would actually start a cipher outside and that’s how I was able show people my rap skills. But, this was all just fun to me at first because at the time, I was busy running cross country in high school and I was really good at it. I ended up receiving a scholarship and doing cross country for a year in high school until I lost my scholarship for oversleeping and missing a track meet.

AC:  Wow, you lost your scholarship for missing one track meet?

RW: It was bad! (Laughs)

AC: How did you end up shifting your focus from cross country to music and activism?

RW: My mentor at the time was organizing a protest against a juvenile detention center here in Chicago and she asked me to help emcee that protest. That ultimately led me from one thing to another, emceeing protests and rallies. Then, she asked me to join a delegation at the Chicago Freedom School and go to the United Nations to present a shadow report in Geneva. Being part of that delegation and announcing it when we announced it in 2014 was right after Mike Brown got killed.  It sparked a whole new thing, a whole new movement, damn near a whole new generation where people are speaking out on social media platforms to talk about the social injustices around them. After the trip, the activism community merged with the artist community and that’s when my career started. It was around 2015. So I’ve only been rapping, doing music and being a full-time entrepreneur for three years.

AC:  What a phenomenal opportunity and platform. You mention social media, you’re quite vocal on social media about your thoughts on hot-button political issues. In your song Split you say, “Victim of tweetin’ but not readin’ enough.” How do you feel about social media, especially its role in influencing politics and becoming a source of news in its own right?

RW: I like social media. Sometimes I need a break, sometimes it’s too much but, it’s definitely the best alternative going on Twitter to find out what the news is today.  I’m kind of in this mode right now where I’m focused in making my album so I’m always missing or catching up with stuff. So with the line I say, “Victim of tweetin’ but not readin’ enough,” means that sometimes people can be on Twitter too much and they’re just tweeting things just to tweet.  People just need to read a little more so they can get a base of what they are actually tweeting about. Because, sometimes that stuff are fallacies and they’re sometimes a lot of fallacies in people’s own lives.

AC: Right, just keeping it real. It’s been a busy three years! Let’s talk about your musical style. It’s so unique. How would you describe it?

RW: When people ask me that question I like to say it’s kind of like James Brown rapping.

AC: Absolutely! So you’re a James Brown disciple.

RW: As far as live shows go, James Brown—he’s my favorite live performer ever. I think he might be the greatest live performer, but that’s up for debate (laughs).

AC: Growing up in a city like Chicago that is known for its rich musical scene, who are some of your other influences?

RW: Music and activism wise—Nina Simone. Sonically wise—Missy Elliot.  Ciara’s first album, Goodies, I listen to a lot. Tupac also influences me. The way his energy and purpose was originally used influences me.  I like Prince’s performances. I like Jim Morrison and The Doors performances, too, they’ve actually inspired me a lot.

AC: I know art also plays a big role in your life. The artwork in BANBA reflects that inspiration. How did you come up with the concept?   

RW:  [Jean-Michel] Basquiat inspired the cover art and the whole idea of the project. That’s why if you listen to the project, there are a lot of abstract sounds. I wanted to make my project sound like a Basquiat painting, whatever that looks like to you. Meaning, black, obscure, abstract and sporadic. BANBA was inspired by “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” documentary. What kind of killed him was the fact that he was tired of folks calling his art primitive.  His art was the only thing he had so trying to downgrade it to something that was inhumane just kind of took him out. That’s why Black Art not Bad Art is owed to him and that’s where that came from. The pictures on the cover are from Julian Gilliam—who also goes by LOGIK. And, the project before BANBA, [Soul Bounce], was inspired by disco documentaries and the quote-on-quote underground disco before it was gentrified.

AC: How does your audience motivate your music?

RW: I think what motivates me the most with my audience is winning people over. Seeing someone who’s not smiling and then you see them crack a slight smile. They might feel uncomfortable, but that’s okay, because I’m uncomfortable too. I’m on stage in front of a bunch of people. So then I crack a smile and they crack a smile and it’s like, ‘Oh we in this together!’  That’s the most exciting thing. When I’m making music now, I’m always thinking as I work through my verses, how do I receive it? And how would someone else receive this line? It is something I go back and forth on a lot, especially when I’m writing and thinking about the words I’m using.

AC: What’s your favorite song off BANBA?

RW: My favorite song off my EP is Love Away … or Kiddie Cocktail.  I like both of those songs.

AC: Is it because you enjoyed recording those songs? Or, is it something deeper that draws you to those specific records?

RW: I like Love Away because I remember recording it and my voice sounded so different because I was trying to sing a little. I had these heavy stacks, and it inspired me to continue to use my voice. With Kiddie Cocktail it starts with me on the keys. I kind of came up with the horn lines and had my friend add the violin. It was my first big production; I felt like Quincy Jones and shit! I did a lot of arranging to that song.

AC: Gotta agree. You are definitely singing in Love Away. So we want to know, with everything that’s going on in your life, what’s next for Ric Wilson?

RW: Right now I’m working on my debut album.

AC: Congratulations! What’s that sound like?

RW: It will be fun, pretty uptempo and sound very mega. I’m hoping for it to be sporadic and not too straightforward. I want it to sound like a mixture between Ciara’s One, Two Step and Sylvester the disco queen. Other songs I would want them to sound like a mixture of The Beatles and Michael Jackson.

AC:  That sounds like an incredible album already. If there’s anyone that can create music like that, it’s definitely you. We look forward to hearing your debut album next year and excited for the success coming your way.

RW: Thank you so much!

To stream Ric Wilson’s latest Ep, BANBA, on spotify click here.

Interview by: Stephanie Ramirez, Content Director at