Bigger than Music: Conversation with Ric Wilson

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Photo by: Pidgeon Pagonis. (Check out Pidgeon’s work here!)

As I met up with Ric Wilson at the Chicago Freedom School, it was prevalent how much love Ric Wilson has by the amount of hugs he gave and received. Throughout our conversation, one thing always stayed constant and that is how much his friends and communities matter to him, especially his co-manager and best friend Pidgeon Pagonis. Ric Wilson sat down with me and talked about how grateful he is for his community and how his fight for freedom shapes his music.

What was the impact the Chicago Freedom School had in your artistry?
– Oh man… Freedom School basically taught me what this thing called “social justice” is. It taught me everything… from recognizing certain oppressions, to knowing your history, understanding how to organize, it taught me what it’s like to be intersectional, it really taught me everything.

That’s awesome; I can really see the love in this place. It was great for me to see the amount of hugs you received and gave when you walked in here, can you talk about the community here and what it means to you?
– Man the Freedom School is a safe loving place and it always has been. A lot of these people seen me grow up, they basically raised me. So when they saw me grow up and help raise me, there’s always love. In some sort of way, I’m a representation of them.

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Photo by: Pidgeon Pagonis

Talking directly about your artistry, can you talk about how organizing and fighting for freedom influenced your music?
– Music is a representation of the type of person you are, especially with hip-hop. When you’re a singer sometimes some one else can write your lyrics, but in the rap scene, you write your own lyrics, that’s what makes it rap.
With the lyrics that I wrote, it’s usually about the values that I have and about the guidelines of life. Rap is basically an analyzation of young black and brown peoples lives in the inner city and what they see, and that’s how rap started. And coming up from a place like this (Chicago Freedom School) and reading stuff like the Pedagogy of the Oppressed at 15, I wasn’t really out in the streets, I wasn’t swanking weed like that, I wasn’t banging like that, I was in places like this. My lyrics is really just about coming from the far Southside of Chicago and literally seeing segregation, gentrification, and all that, and putting that into my mind and putting it into paper. It’s also about my personal experiences, not just about racism and oppression, but also about what being a rapper is and choosing this career. You know what I mean? Dropping out of college and coming from a place like this when you’re younger, everyone expects you to be a great person, to be this analyst writer and write all these books and I chose to rap. It’s super weird haha. When you come from places like this, Chicago Freedom School people expect you to be great and I don’t know. I was having like hella personal conflictions; I was like “damn am I letting people down by wanting to become a rapper?” My history in this place is so prevalent, but I feel like I’m making them proud.

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Photo from Ric Wilson’s Facebook. (Pidgeon Pagonis and Ric Wilson)

That’s real, how was that journey of overcoming fear and just acting in faith, knowing that you were made for this?
– When I was in school in Atlanta, my cousin came down and asked me to run a studio session with him, Orlando Jones, and Petey Pablo. Because at the time I said I wanted to be an engineer but really I wanted to rap. So we drove out to North Carolina for a studio session. Something happened with Petey Pablo and we never ended up having a studio session. So we were in Orlando Jones house for a day or two with nothing but time to talk. Me and Orlando connected pretty well and I showed him my music and he was like “dude this is dope, you should keep doing it”. At that moment, I was like “damn… This is Orlando Jones…” First of all, if you met Orlando Jones, he’s a straight up guy, if you’re wack he would tell you. You know what I mean? Haha. I remember the first thing he ever asked me, “What do you want to do with your life?” and I was like “ I’m going take over my cousins house in Atlanta and rent out property.” I was coming up with all these bullshit excuses of not wanting to do music, but he was like “ No, what do you WANT to do? Not how you going to make money, what do you want to do with your life?” I was like “well I want to do music” and after I let him hear my music, he told me I can do it and told me “just do it man”. That spring semester I came back home and I did it. Now Orlando and I have a song together with Talib Kweli. Haha

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Photo from Ric Wilson’s Facebook. (Ethos III and Ric Wilson)

Tell me the turning point of your organizing and artistry?
– I was hosting a protest one day, and my homie Ethos came up to me and told me that his friend Dominique Franklin has gotten tazed by the police the day before and was in the hospital. He said “Man, he’s not looking good, I think he’s gonna die…” and I was like “if something happens let me know”. At the time Ethos and I weren’t really close, we were just homies. I had to go to California for a month and when I came back he told me “Damos had died” and at that moment he told me about joining We Charge Genocide. I remember at the meeting, Mariame came up to me about gathering young people to go to Geneva. At the time I was thinking Lake Geneva, not Geneva, Switzerland. Haha. So I applied and they accepted me and five other folks. From there on, because of that moment, my life as an activist and a musician started. I was thrown into the fire and I became the “raptivist” without even knowing. It was the craziest shit ever.

We definitely saw the raptivist in your first project “Penny Raps”, but in your latest project “The Sun Was Out”, we saw a more vulnerable Ric Wilson. Can you talk more about that and the inspiration for “The Sun Was Out”?
– A lot of my music is really about the outcry for black lives, but “The Sun Was Out” was about a real personal journey of me overcoming this sort of depression I was going through last summer. You know people go through stuff and lose people, for me, because Geneva was going on, I lost a lot of friends who weren’t in the activist community. I was so busy in the activist community and coming back from college, I just got disconnected with a lot of friends, one my best friends, I fell off with her. Just going through it, I was like “Damn, I gained so much, but I lost so much” and I just got really really sad last summer. “The Sun Was Out” is about me getting out of that sadness through music, it was about finding myself through music.

After our conversation, Ric Wilson talked about the inspiration for his upcoming project and gave me a small sneak peak. And oh man… I PROMISE you will not be disappointed.

Follow Ric Wilson on Twitter: @ricwilson

Check out his CHICAGO UNPLUGGED episode here!

Ric Wilson’s SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/ricwilsonisme

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