Ric Wilson Is Listening to Stevie Wonder, Big Freedia, and Everything “Very, Very Black”
This is “Add to Queue,” our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the dinner party-y, the songs they want played at their funeral. In this edition, we speak with the 25-year-old Chicago rapper Ric Wilson on the coattails of his latest collaborative EP with Terrace Martin, They Call Me Disco. Wilson, who has toured with the likes of Big Freedia, Lil Yachty, and Alex G, has been busy on the front lines of the fight for racial justice. His latest track, “Fight Like Ida B. and Marsha P.” is a bass-thumping ode to resistance, a history lesson coated in a honey-thick, infectious beat. As always, Wilson is playful, percussive, and unapologetically political; after all, he was a full-time organizer before breaking onto the music scene in 2019 with his much-talked-about Pitchfork Music Festival performance. Wilson was chosen as one of eight delegates to travel to Geneva, Switzerland and testify in front of the United Nations, successfully charging the Chicago Police Department with genocide and torture against the city’s Black and brown community. To help inform his unique sound, Wilson sources from a music catalog of everything from Stevie Wonder to Sesame Street. He called us up to talk about all that and more—while getting a COVID test, because 2020.
SARAH NECHAMKIN: Hello?
RIC WILSON: Hey. I’m so glad you finally called because that waiting music is so bad. It’s the worst music I think I’ve heard in a long time. Like, who the hell came up with this?
NECHAMKIN: I know. I think it’s a real song. How have you been? Are you quarantining?
WILSON: Yeah. I’m actually getting a COVID test right now. I went to Seattle last weekend for some music stuff, so I wanted to get tested to keep everyone safe. Today, I go to this place and they closed at fucking 5:00 and they’re like, we’re already done testing for the day. And it’s barely 12:00. Everywhere else I got to make an appointment. So I’m driving 18 miles away to go to this place called New Lenox, Illinois to get a test. It should not be this hard to get a fucking test in the middle of a pandemic in the richest country in the world. They make everything that matters the most in this country so hard to get.
NECHAMKIN: Meanwhile, you have cops flying over every city with helicopters, decked out in riot gear.
WILSON: Every city. It’s ridiculous. When I left to try to get this test, I drove past a whole-ass softball tournament. Hundreds of people are outside. I’m like, what the fuck is going on?
WILSON: Yeah. I’m trying to buy a house, and I had a house viewing like two days ago, and the fucking real estate agent got out his car and did not have a mask on.
NECHAMKIN: No way.
WILSON: And gave me a hand shake. I swear to God. I’m going to take the test probably while we’re on the phone. I’m driving up to this place right now.
NECHAMKIN: We can get to some more optimistic stuff. What was the last song you listened to?
WILSON: The last song I listened to was “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” by Kiss. Actually, me and the friend I was with in Seattle, we went to go grab some food from a Chinese place, and it was next door to this place that had a karaoke bar, and that’s how I found out about that song. We walked in and some dude was singing it at the karaoke bar. So then I went to listen to the song. That’s the story on that.
NECHAMKIN: Do you have a song that you usually sing?
WILSON: “That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. But I think I’m gonna start singing that one song, [starts singing “Jumper” by Third Eye Blind].
NECHAMKIN: I love that song. I used to sing it all the time in middle school. Third Eye Blind, Linkin Park…
WILSON: Dude, last year, Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park tweeted and shared my music and shit. It was a huge deal to a lot of people in my life. He took this video of him listening to my music, and recorded it, and put it on his Instagram story, and was like, “This shit is fire.” Everyone was just like, “You’re going to blow up.” And I was like, “Oh wow. I guess I’m going to blow up.” Did not blow up.
Hold on. I just pulled up to this place. I swear to fucking God, they better still be doing tests. We can keep doing the interview while I’m doing this.
NECHAMKIN: If you want to call me back, I’m around.
WILSON: [To the woman at the testing center] Hi. I just need to get tested.
You’re getting the full day in the life. She heard me say “they better be fucking open” when I was walking up. I didn’t even know the door was open. She was laughing at that.
NECHAMKIN: Who was the first musician to really influence you?
WILSON: Definitely Stevie Wonder. He came to my church one day in Chicago and sang “Having a Friend in Jesus.” I remember seeing that and I was like, oh my god, Stevie fucking Wonder.
NECHAMKIN: That’s so great. Would you count that as your first concert?
WILSON: I guess you could say that. My first ticketed concert, it’s wild as fuck, actually. I was 18 years old in college and I didn’t buy the ticket. My friend put me on the list because he was on tour opening up for Lupe Fiasco.
NECHAMKIN: Whoa. Okay, I remember your answer for this, but I’m going to see if you’re going to say the same thing. Your favorite movie soundtrack.
WILSON: Oh, man. Let me see. I’m going to say a movie soundtrack and then you’re going to tell me which one I said. It’s between four movies. Let me know if any of these movies are the ones that I said. It has to be between The Wood, American Pie, A Goofy Movie, and The Aristocats.
NECHAMKIN: It was A Goofy Movie. Because I remember loving that so much that I brought it up in another interview. Do you know Luke James?
WILSON: Yeah, that’s my friend. He’s my buddy. It’s definitely my favorite soundtrack ever, for sure.
NECHAMKIN: American Pie is good, too.
WILSON: American Pie is great. It just was its own thing. It was the sound of this group of white folks. They didn’t have to appropriate anything. They really just made their own sound, and it was their thing, and it was interesting and cool. I love that movie.
NECHAMKIN: What’s a song that always puts you in a good mood?
WILSON: It’s this song called “Follow Me.” It’s a Chicago house classic song. It’s by Aly-Us. That always puts me in a good mood, especially if it’s warm somewhere, outside.
NECHAMKIN: What about if you were to put together a whole playlist for a house party? What would you put on it?
WILSON: A whole bunch of Ron Trent, who’s this house guy in Chicago. I’d put Marvin Gaye, “Got to Give It Up.” I’d put some Stevie on there. I’d put some Big Freedia on there. I’d definitely put a bunch of Missy Elliott on there.
NECHAMKIN: What if you were smoking?
WILSON: If I was smoking, I’d probably listen to some Westside Gunn. I’d listen to some lo-fi beats. I’d listen to something with a lot of sub in it, a lot of the frequencies like 100 and down. Something that’s just like, boom, boom, boom, boom. Because that shit, especially the sativa, it just really smacks the ear. I
NECHAMKIN: Do you have a breakup playlist, or any crying in your bedroom kind of nihilistic shit?
WILSON: I have this playlist called Songs I Cry To. The last song I listened to on it was this song called “Time in a Tree” by Raleigh Ritchie, who’s a friend of mine also. “Doomed” by Moses Sumney. “Come Back to Earth” by Mac Miller. “Dawn Chorus” by Thom Yorke. And I don’t know why this song is on there, it’s called “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon” by Ernie on Sesame Street.
NECHAMKIN: What are some of the other playlists you have?
WILSON: I have a playlist called Favorite Songs of 2020, these songs that I’m just listening to all the time. Then there’s this playlist I made called Dis Is Freedom. It’s kind of if you were to play this at Juneteenth, or at a protest, and you just want some feel-good vibes. It has a bunch of Sylvester and disco shit like MFSB, this band called Cloud One, but then it also has some Queen Latifah on it. Then I got a playlist called Very, Very Black. And it’s got a whole bunch of neo-soul, like the whole D’Angelo Voodoo album. It’s got Anthony Hamilton on it. It’s got Thundercat on it. It’s got this singer named Joyce Wrice. It’s got Macy Gray on it.
WILSON: I have a song with Macy. She’s super duper creative. It just seems like her mind is on a million things. And when we were making the music, she had a bunch of cool ideas, but she’s also open to new ideas, too. One day that song will come out, and it’ll be great.
NECHAMKIN: If there’s a song that you would want to be played at your funeral, what would it be?
WILSON: If they played a song at my funeral, I would want them to Soul Train down the line, when they’re all leaving, and dance while they’re holding me in the casket. I would like them to play “Follow Me,” that house song.
NECHAMKIN: So you want your funeral to be like a house party?
WILSON: I want them to come in, and it’d be very serious. Then I want it to be a celebration of my life and the lasting impact I left on people, and then I want them to just keep going down and down. Then from there, everyone gives their testimonies. I want people to sing songs that are of life and not of death.
NECHAMKIN: Would it be catered, you think?
WILSON: Nah, fuck that. No food. You can’t eat. I’m dead. I can’t eat, you can’t eat. Because I’ll probably be dancing within the spirit, but I can’t eat shit. So it wouldn’t be fair.
NECHAMKIN: Do you play music when you wake up in the morning?
WILSON: These days, I just go for a run.
NECHAMKIN: Do you listen to music while you run?
WILSON: I just like to move. Yesterday I listened to “Mr. Blue Sky.” I listened to this song called “My Baby” by Janet Jackson that Kanye West produced, before both of us were born, probably. I’ve listened to a lot of Chromeo recently, too. Anything fast, but I like slow, too. I like to listen to Channel Orange a whole lot when I run. Because when I’m running, I don’t feel like I’m running fast, I feel like I’m just pacing.
NECHAMKIN: If your life were a TV show, what would be the theme song?
WILSON: I feel like it’s this artist named Binki. He has this song called “Wiggle.” And that would be the song.
NECHAMKIN: What do you think your TV show would be like?
WILSON: It’d be like Atlanta meets American Pie meets A Goofy Movie, because there’ll be random-ass theatrical musical parts, because I just love musicals.
NECHAMKIN: And animated characters?
WILSON: Yeah, exactly! Actually, I really want to create this. I want to call it “The Adventures of Disco Ric,” or something like that. Because André 3000 had Class of 3000. He literally had his own animated show in the early 2000s. I don’t know why they discontinued it, but he was really spitting facts in it. André 3000 is the type of artist I would like to be.
NECHAMKIN: I just recently re-watched Space Jam with my roommates, and it’s as good as I remember it being.
WILSON: Yeah, they broke the bag on it.
NECHAMKIN: If there was a song that you could play for the entire world, and you think it would save the world, what would it be?
WILSON: There’s this song called, “How Deep is Your Love,” originally by the Bee Gees, but PJ Morton did a new rendition of it. And I would play that rendition for the whole world to hear. The lyrics are … hold on, I want to make sure I’m getting these right. [Singing] “How deep is your love? How deep is your love? Because I really need to learn, because we’re living in a world of fools, breaking us down, when they all should let us be. We belong to you and me.” I love that.
It’s like a love song, but it’s really an unconditional love song, in whatever sense you want to mean it. The lyrics are like, “I believe that you know the door to my very soul. You’re the light in my deepest, darkest hour. You’re my savior when I fall. You may not think I care for you. When you know, down inside, that I really do, it’s me. It’s me you need to show. How deep is your love?” It’s like, if you really care about people, show us, how deep is your love? Is your love deep enough to really make sacrifices and dismantle and defund institutions that are hurting people? Even if that means that like you won’t be a police officer no more? But is your love for people that deep that you’re okay with defunding the the racist institution that you’re working for, which may mean that you might get paid less, or you may not have a job? You might get paid as much as a teacher.
How deep is your love? Because you say you’re a police officer, you love people that much. And I’m just speaking personally, because I have a friend who’s a police officer. It’s like, how deep is your love for people? Would you be able to literally take a sacrifice so that the world could be a better place? I think police don’t realize or understand that this uniform that they are wearing represents something that’s bigger than their fucking individual lives. It comes with hundreds of years of trauma and physical violence and genocide. And when you put that uniform on, that star, that’s what that carries on to you. And it comes to all that shit, all that trauma, all that years of that. That has never, ever been an apology for it. There’s never been a consequence. The first reparations’ ordinance got passed in 2015 and I was here in Chicago. And that was something that I was a part of, that we went to Geneva for. There were folks organizing for 15 years for that. This police commissioner named Jon Burge, in the ’80s and ’90s, would literally take gangbangers, take them to a Black site and torture confessions out of them. He did that for 20 years to get people arrested. There were people that were serving life in prison and jail for crimes they didn’t even commit that they just confessed to because they were being tortured. Other than that, I mean, the people that beat the fuck out of Rodney King had never apologized.
NECHAMKIN: No accountability.
WILSON: No accountability at all. So I don’t give a shit if you’re a police officer now. Unfortunately, you should’ve known the whole history when you put that uniform on. That comes with a lot of shit that has never been accounted for. So how deep is your love? When I think of that song, that’s what I hear.
NECHAMKIN: It goes back to how you started the conversation. Are you willing to get tested for other people? Are you willing to put on a mask when you go outside?
WILSON: How deep is your love? Exactly. We just did a full circle. Oh, shit.
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