Rolling Stone



ARic Wilson record is equal parts kinetic energy and pensive sensibilit­ies. The Chicago rapper's tongue-in-cheek wordplay blends seamlessly with gospel-tinted melodies and big brass arrangemen­ts that'll get your feet moving while you decode the complexiti­es ofhis songwritin­g. The 26-year-old is a unique combinatio­n of his influences-an expansive list of MCs, poets, and critical thinkers, from Stevie Wonder and Black Thought to Eartha Kitt and james Baldwin. "They focused on making the best art they wanted to make;' he says ofhis artistic muses. "Over time this helped them break down boundaries:' He adds D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Macy Gray, and jay Electronic­a to the running list. "Those are the types of artists who inspire me:'

Creating the art you want to make sounds like simple advice, but it can be a hinderance in an industry that rewards conformity more than it does coloring outside the lines. Despite this, Wilson refuses to be boxed in, even if this approach didn't always serve him well during his early years. He recalls a specific conversati­on with a friend who told him: "Man, your s-t is dope, but sometimes it sounds like you don't be paying attention to what other people are listening to:' Wilson finally struck a chord in 2016 with his elastic single "Soul Bounce." "That's when people were like, 'Oh, okay! I see what you're doing. You got something going on here,'" he recalls.

Before he was a rapper, Wilson was an engaged community organizer with a penchant for poetry and spoken word. A self-proclaimed "protest baby," his big break came in 2014 during demonstrat­ions


that were held in the wake of Mike Brown's murder at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri. That summer, activists throughout Chicago were looking for artists capable of channeling the community's pain and Wilson answered the call. "I came up in the streets protesting," he tells Rolling Stone. "I started doing my poems and spoken word readings at protests and they slowly turned into raps:'

Wilson's growing name recognitio­n earned him a once evasive spot at YouMedia open mic nights-the same creative platform that sparked the careers of his Chicago contempora­ries Chance the Rapper and Noname. From there, he made the pivotal leap to festival stages across the country, and it was during that time that he released his seminal body of work, Banbaan acronym for "Black Art Not Bad Art." On the 2018 release, Wilson pairs vibrant production with heartfelt storytelli­ng that's illustrati­ve of his formative years on the South Side of Chicago.

On his 2020 follow-up, They Call Me Disco, Wilson expanded his sound to something a little more left of center. Executive produced by Terrace Martin, the six-track EP sees Wilson employ the electronic synths and funky bass strums of Black disco luminaries like Homegrown Syndrome and MFSB. "I watched this documentar­y on disco and got influenced by it. I knew house music was Black, but I didn't know that disco was inherently Black and Brown," says Wilson of the inspiratio­n behind the EP. "I wanted to take that back and reclaim it because I got so tired of people acting like dance music was only for white people." Wilson deftly foreshadow­s the road before him on "Breakin' Rules," the project's opening track: "I don't follow no lanes, I don't care what you think:'

Wilson can't get too caught up in the opinions of his critics-the path he charted is lined with pundits questionin­g his steps. "I've always made the music I wanted to make, and in Chicago they'd say things like, 'That's pop,' or 'He's making R&B music."' He pauses for a moment, contemplat­ing his next words. He continues: "My music is influenced by some up-tempo stuff, but it's rap, and if we need to start freestylin­g acapella, I'll show you that what I do really is rap in comparison to what you're doing."

His boldness is symptomati­c of the challenges he had to overcome to get this far. Wilson is from a city that birthed some of hip-hop's most respected wordsmiths and widely adopted sub-genres. From the conscious "backpack raps" of Common and Graduation-era Kanye West to drill music torchbeare­rs such as ChiefKeef and Lil Durk, the central message in the Windy City's mantra is intentiona­lity with your words. "To come out of Chicago, you've got to be a good rapper," Wilson affirms. "All the dance s-t came next. But I had to learn how to rap good first."

Later this year, Wilson will have ample opportunit­y to show just how sharp his pen game is. His long-awaited debut album is nearing completion, and before that, he plans to release a collaborat­ive project with A-Trak (Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Danny Brown) and the electro-funk pairing Chromeo. "The bars on this next project are just like..." Wilson stops his stream of consciousn­ess, not wanting to give too much away. Instead, he approaches it as a fan: "I listen to it like, 'Whoa, how did I even get that s-tout?!"'

In addition to two new full-length projects, he'll be teaming up with Toronto's resident sonic architect and go-to Drake collaborat­or, Boi-lda. Together, the pair will be creating a brand-new track as part of BACARDI's Music Liberates Music initiative, a campaign that aims to cut through the noise by brightenin­g the spotlight on risings stars across the globe. "I'm excited to work with someone that influenced me to do music before they even knew who I was," Wilson says of Boilda. He's audibly thrilled at the prospect of creating with a producer whose music had such a huge impact on him. "I grew up on Boi-lda. [Drake's] So Far Gone is one of the first mixtapes I ever heard, and one of the mixtapes that encouraged me to literally start rapping."

Because of its focus on creating, the BACARDI partnershi­p was a no-brainer for Wilson. "The reason I wanted to take part is because it's more centered around the actual music. Plus, I'm always looking for ways to push myself," he explains. Looking for the next challenge on the horizon is part of what makes Wilson tick. And regardless of the direction his broad artistic palette takes him next, one thing is for sure: Ric Wilson's going to do it on his own terms-take it or leave it.

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