Artist to Watch Ric Wilson Stuns with “Pull a James Baldwin”: “Two pandemics going on – one with health, one with race”

Pull A James Baldwin - Ric Wilson
Pull A James Baldwin - Ric Wilson
Chicago’s Ric Wilson plunges deep into his recent experiences as a Black man in America on “Pull a James Baldwin,” a visceral and outspoken exposition on race and racism, Trumpism, ignorance, and more during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stream: “Pull a James Baldwin” – Ric Wilson




Two pandemics going on – one with health, one with race – and I can’t even tour for a break…

Activism has long been tied up in Ric Wilson’s identity – and over this past year, it’s become an increasingly salient part of the Chicago artist’s music.

From last summer’s timely Black Lives Matter anthem “Fight Like Ida B & Marsha P” to October’s soulful re-release “We Love Us” and December’s assertive “Trunk Music” (“I am not my environment, but the testimony of the shit I’ve lived – it’s not where you from, more of where you crib”), Wilson has emerged as an assertive, unapologetic, and vocal artist who speaks up for what he believes in and holds true to himself and his core values – as much in life as in song.

“I feel like when you are Black you really are forced into activism, or you’re forced into denial,” he told Atwood Magazine last year. “You’re forced into me, or you’re forced into Terry fucking Crews – which might be a good thing! And I would choose to be me. I choose to be an activist; I wouldn’t choose to be Terry Crews. You can keep that in.”

Pull a James Baldwin - Ric Wilson
Pull a James Baldwin – Ric Wilson
I been hella tired as of late
not too many places feel safe
I’ve been trying to dodge conversations
of music and taste
by people saying “they don’t see race”
everything close
I was going on walks to escape
then I can’t, reminded I can’t
two pandemics going on –
one with health, one with race
and I can’t even tour for a break

This notion of the innate, intrinsic relationship between Black identity and activism (especially in the United States) has enough potency to fill volumes of essays, papers, songs, and stories. It’s a sentiment that has been echoed strongly and often by Black writers and artists, especially over the past year; JRM’s debut single “America,” which premiered on Atwood last summer in the wake of worldwide protests, painted a particularly powerful, poignant depiction of his Black experience, and conversations with folks like theMIND, Jordan Mackampa, and reveal similar, if not identical feelings.

These are the same ideas presented by the late American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and activist James Baldwin over 30 years ago.

James Baldwin © Ted Thai, 1968
James Baldwin © Ted Thai, 1968

Baldwin famously left the US permanently to live out the rest of his life in France, telling The Paris Review in 1987 that it was a matter of getting out of America – that the city beat him to death. “been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing,” he said of his decision to leave. “… Salvation is a difficult word to use in such a context. I’ve been compelled in some ways by describing my circumstances to learn to live with them. It’s not the same thing as accepting them… I believe what one has to do as a Black American is to take white history, or history as written by whites, and claim it all – including Shakespeare.”

In another television interview, he dove even deeper into decision to leave his life in the US behind: “Paris was very important to me because I was able to take a deep breath…” he shared. “I wanted to find out where being Black ended, and where I began, or vice versa. Some things had happened to me because I was Jimmy, and some things had happened to me because I was Black, and I wanted to find out how to get these things together…”

It is with these powerful thoughts in mind that Ric Wilson embarks on his latest single, a fleeting two-minute flex of charismatic funk and rap that leaves an indelible mark on the listener.

Wilson plunges deep into his recent experiences as a Black man in America on “Pull a James Baldwin,” a visceral and outspoken exposition on racism and Trumpism during the COVID-19 pandemic. His words and feelings are not singular to this moment in time, but his frustrations and fears feel especially potent in 2021: “Two pandemics going on – one with health, one with race – and I can’t even tour for a break.”

now I’m all up in my phone
binge watching old shows
say I matter and they
just respond and say no
WTF a blue?
Think about leaving this place
’cause I can’t even jog and be safe
I can’t even punch back the dude
slapping me in the face
they wanting me to “pray” away the hate, so
What’s up dawg
You been calling?
I just pulled a James Baldwin
What’s up dawg, you been calling?
I just pulled a James Baldwin
Ric Wilson © Michael Salisbury
Ric Wilson © Michael Salisbury

Released January 14, 2021 via Free Disco / EMPIRE, “Pull a James Baldwin” is Ric Wilson’s first single of the year – and a particularly fierce one, at that. Coming in at a quick clip, with driving drums and smooth, warbling keys, the track gives plenty of room for Ric Wilson’s strong voice to shine.

“I made this off a thought I regularly had that I turned into a song,” Wilson tells Atwood Magazine.

Expressive and direct, “Pull a James Baldwin” is particularly revealing. The song sheds light on a number of experiences that, as Baldwin might have put it, seem inextricably linked not just to who Ric Wilson the man is, but also to his racial identity (the case to be made here is that these things are synonymous; that one does not exist without the other). Wilson’s confident tone masks an underlying exasperation – he even admits in the first line, “I been hella tired as of late,” and who could blame him? He goes on to air his grievances with people who “don’t see race,” with not feeling safe, with the cabin fever of a locked down lifestyle, and much more. It’s coming to a fever pitch, such that the concept of “pulling a James Baldwin” sounds like welcome relief.

Wilson’s second verse exposes more of the sheer ignorance around him:

Heard the nation been falling?
I’m at Logan in Boston
Ignorance just been flossing
all the lives it’s been costing dawg
y’all be swinging for too long
I ain’t tryna just talk to y’all
if you voted for Trump you can’t get in this party
how you voting for fascists
when you bumping Bob Marley
it gets lost, and it’s sorry
I don’t want to hear your side
if you don’t even acknowledge my humanity
shit, you can’t even say BLM,
how the hell are we supposed to be family?

You can’t even say BLM, how the hell are we supposed to be family?

Ric Wilson © Michael Salisbury
Ric Wilson © Michael Salisbury

“Pull a James Baldwin” ends with its fire still fresh and Wilson’s emotions still high. Nothing feels explicitly resolved, and he may not necessarily be in a better place than where he was when he started, but his compelling points are laid bare; they continue to resonate long after his song is through. Many may connect to Wilson’s words, recognizing similar situations in their own lives. For others, his words represent an eye-opening, humbling opportunity to listen and learn.

Well beyond that, his points on two pandemics and acknowledgment – of his humanity, BLM, and more – offer plenty of food for thought, not to mention timely discussions to bring to the dinner table.

What’s up dawg
You been calling?
I just pulled a James Baldwin
What’s up dawg, you been calling?
I just pulled a James Baldwin

“Better, Not Bigger”: Chicago’s Ric Wilson on Rap, Funk, Activism, & Staying True to Himself

:: INTERVIEW ::

“Pull a James Baldwin” is just the latest in a recent string of raw, passion-driven music by Ric Wilson.

An uncompromising talent and outspoken voice in 2021, Wilson is without a doubt an artist to watch throughout the coming year, as much for his dynamic music as for his provocative lyricism. Listen to “Pull a James Baldwin” out now, and stay tuned for more from Ric Wilson coming very soon.

— —

Stream: “Pull a James Baldwin” – Ric Wilson



— — — —

Pull a James Baldwin - Ric Wilson

Connect to Ric Wilson on
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Discover new music on Atwood Magazine
📸 © Michael Salisbury

:: Stream Ric Wilson ::



More from Mitch Mosk

Premiere: RYVOLI’s Breathtaking “Ulysses” Radiates Warm Light in the Dark

RYVOLI's breathtakingly beautiful "Ulysses" is a passionate folk song brimming with light,...
Read More