Will Schube still can’t skate backwards.
Terrace Martin and Ric Wilson are two artists that make perfect sense as collaborators. Martin creates the type of lush, keyboard-heavy hip-hop that Wilson so artfully raps over. Martin is an LA staple, and Wilson is coming up with an extremely exciting crew of Chicago heavyweights. To see it realized with so much success, as they do on They Call Me Disco, just makes it all the more exciting.
Martin and Wilson first linked up in 2019, working on music that would eventually make up much of this EP. Their studio time continued into 2020, as the duo slowly morphed their collection of demos into the roller-disco funk/rap workout They Call Me Disco is now. In the past, Wilson’s lyrics have been split between social critiques and the plight of young Black kids born disadvantaged amidst the police repression of Chicago, interspersed with free-loving bars and an optimistic look towards a brighter future.
He grew up with the Young Chicago Authors, the storytelling and poetry organization that also helped launch the careers of Noname, Saba, Jamila Woods, and some dude named Chancelor. It’s a breeding ground for civically engaged black artists, using the platform to sharpen storytelling techniques and lyrical deliveries. On the record, though, Wilson’s lyrics are mostly preoccupied with summer love and good vibes, occasionally providing keen cultural criticism on a moment’s notice, able to shift between a variety of dizzying perspectives without ever losing a cohesive throughline.
They Call Me Disco’s backbone is Terrace Martin’s masterful production. The Snoop Dogg, Kamasi Washington, and Kendrick Lamar collaborator subtly moves his West Coast style towards Wilson’s disco-rap hybrid – blending the two without ever forcing the sound of either. It’s a true collaboration in this sense — less two artists copy and pasting their work atop each other, and more them finding a middle ground between two distinct forms, but mined from different vantage points.
“Move Like This” betrays all of the characteristics of a summer anthem (if summer wasn’t canceled), with bouncy bass, angelic backing vocals, and lyrics from Wilson that beg for broken fire hydrants and choreographed dances on the block. Wilson mixes up his flows, singing nearly as often as he raps. His voice sits near a falsetto range, and with the raw, lo-fi funk produced by Martin, They Call Me Disco fits nicely into the world that artists like Steve Lacy and Thundercat are occupying―the simplistic brilliance of the former, the formalism gone askew of the latter. “Chicago Bae” features BJ the Chicago Kid, and it too should accompany the summer BBQs we won’t be having this year. It’s a tour of Wilson’s life on the road, a nice distant cousin of Lupe Fiasco’s “Paris, Tokyo.”
The album mostly floats along with laid back grooves and positive vibes, but album closer “Beyond Me” finds Wilson tapping into more serious themes, even managing to squeeze in the occasional quarantine bar. He gets political without his lines becoming corny; it’s hard to discuss the horror of climate change and pending doom without coming across as preachy, but Wilson is deft as a lyricist, turning these universal themes into personal reflections. He raps, “Whether woke or not I’m dying anyway/Got a mask on in the Chick-Fil-A/I just wanna be on right side of history/What’s the purpose/Global warming is warming behind the Matrix/While we out here killing for colorism and hatred.”
His flow is matter-of-fact and personable, forthright but never condescending. It’s the only truly serious moment throughout the record, which is otherwise effortlessly fun. It’s a summer album, even though summer is ruined. Lace up your roller skates and hit your local cul-de-sac, because They Call Me Disco deserves your best moves. Or just follow the advice of Terrace Martin, who says it best: “This record is a beautiful reminder that disco never stops. Keep smiling, keep dancing, and keep loving.”