Ric Flo is a lived experience leader, rapper, and founder of Mantra Music, the world’s first record label exclusively for care-experienced artists. For the latest episode of our ‘In Conversation With’ series, Luke Rodgers BEM, founder of The Care Leaders, chatted to Ric to learn more about his background, his passion for music, and how he’s supporting talented care-experienced young people through his work.
From rapper to teacher, over the past five years, Ric Flo has been facilitating rap workshops for care-experienced young people, helping them to grow in confidence and “tell their story to the point where they’re on stage and they’re just owning it.”
What initially started as help with songwriting has grown into getting care-experienced young people into a studio and creating a label where care leavers can meet. They can also talk to booking agents, who act as mentors, about the music industry and all that goes with it.
“On my journey of rapping about my experience, I found it to be really powerful in connecting with the community and I feel like I need to help the next generation and support them with their music careers,” says Ric.
Ric and Luke previously worked together on an ‘Introduction to Songwriting’ workshop at Birmingham Library.
“The workshops you created were powerful,” said Luke. “I remember your incredible ability to be able to get a young person, who had no experience in the music at all, to [rap] and perform this music. It’s a rare talent and it requires incredible skill.”
What Ric is trying to do now is more than just a workshop of words – it’s creating an experience for young people.
After facilitating various workshops, Ric found that a lot of the time, the young people he was working with didn’t have laptops or somewhere they could record their music. Seeing this, he decided to create a dedicated space for them.
“The young people that are signed could be leading their own workshops. I’ve found a particular way of teaching and writing but when I started out, I had imposter syndrome. I was like ‘I know how to do my thing but I don’t necessarily know how to teach it’. But going to poetry workshops and seeing how other artists do their thing, it gave me more confidence about my process.
“Overall, I feel like as long as you’re creating a safe space where young people are able to share what they want, that’s really all that matters.
“Music was my therapy. It gave me that license to be honest, even if I [didn’t] put it out to the world. I want [young people] to have that experience to know that this is a way of expressing your feelings in an honest way and just letting go of the emotion you’ve [been holding]. This was therapeutic for me, and if you love music, it’s going to be beneficial to you, [too].”
“That’s so powerful,” says Luke. “In the space that I work in, I’m all about youth voice and asking ‘how do you get young people involved in sharing their views of how things should be done differently?’
“There’s always a lot of pressure in this space and what I see when we work with young people is constantly [asking them to] share their view. But you look at that sometimes and think ‘no, just have fun’.
“What you’re saying here is that your voice isn’t just valuable to be shared – your voice is valuable for you to be able to understand and to process the experiences that you’ve been through. There’s obviously something in music and in writing, where you are not necessarily just directing your thoughts into sharing your past – you’re thinking of a creative way to express [them].”
Ric agrees, adding that he’s been learning along the way. His first album, ‘A boy called Ric’ was “inspired by A Child Called it.”
“At the time – 2012 or 2013 – I didn’t really know any representation of someone who is care-experience within media, let alone music. [But I thought] ‘oh, you know, it’s quite inspiring’. Regardless of traumatic experiences, this is turning trauma into triumph. Let me get that message across in my music.
“Regardless of your past, you can make a positive future. Although I was quite vulnerable in the album, I felt like hip hop gave me that license in the sense of ‘this is my truth’. I had no other way to say it so I was just literal and raw.
“Phoenix Rising, which was created by the Big House, is a theatrical show that’s by care leavers, for care leavers. It was done in a real professional way and that gave me more inspiration.
“The next EP I did was called The Rise of the Phoenix and it’s almost been like a feedback loop, seeing inspiring stories from other care leavers that I’ve fed into the music to have more of a metaphor and to make sure my story resonates on a bigger level.
“I just want to make that feedback loop bigger. I just want to share more stories from care leavers that are inspiring.”
Luke talks about the societal narrative that says the best way to involve a care-experienced person in service delivery is by asking them to come to a conference or event and to share their story. “You’re saying, well, actually, no. There is so much more impact that can be created for our young people here if we just think of a different way to do it – and your method is through music.”
When he first started out, Ric didn’t know if he had talent but he knew he was passionate about music. “I was like, by any means necessary, I need to do this, I need to tell my story. And it wasn’t for any success externally – it was for a goal for myself. I said before I was 25, I would write an album about my life, I would see my dad for the first time, and I would go skydiving. My most successful song Before I’m 25 goes into that story and that’s why that was so powerful for me.
“I realised that this is bigger than me – this is for the community. I want to give that same feeling and that same support to the next generation. They might not be sure if they’ve got talent but they know they love music.
“I want to hear what their voices be like ‘regardless of what everyone else is saying, regardless of not getting support from elsewhere, I’ve got talent’. I want to give [them] a platform.”
As the world’s first record label exclusively for care-experienced artists, Ric is dedicated to supporting care leaders and is proud to “champion people like us”. In terms of where he sees the record label going, Ric says “the sky’s the limit”. He would love to collaborate with Goldie, a care leaver and legendary drum and bass producer.
“I’d love him to be involved in collaborating and just being a spokesperson for the label. Talent-wise, if we found the next Adele, that would be incredible. We could do our own festivals. It’s so open that anything’s possible.”
Ric emphasises that the label is for positive representation of care leavers within the music industry, and that he doesn’t want them to feel like they’re pigeonholed in terms of how they tell their story.
“They can share whatever they want. I’m just looking forward to the journey of meeting the talent and really helping them with their career however they see it. Half of the journey is going to be informed by these artists.”
Luke says we are often challenged to think about real long-term success, especially when it comes to young people in care, because that’s the way that the sector works. “How do you measure outcomes? How do you do this? How do you do that? [But] how do you just improve a young person’s life today? How do you get them to engage in something that is fun?
“Everybody’s experiences inform what they do today – and it’s exactly the same for these care-experienced young people. Their experiences inform what they do today and if what they’re doing today is making music, they don’t need to talk about their story. What you’re creating here is that safety net [and a] community that’s got a clear vision to set up this record label and create this product which you give them ownership of.”
Ric says that the purpose of the label is to act as “a pillar of inspiration”.
“I just want to fill in that space of curiosity that I had. I want to know other people in the community that are talented that I could potentially collaborate with. That’s that’s the main point – they have a space where there’s literally no representation within the music industry.”
Ric currently has funding to facilitate a Mantra Music programme with five young people aged 18 to 25, with the aim to secure additional funding to grow the programme and offer it to more care-experienced young people.
The Mantra Music programme will run for nine months, starting with some writing development in February. The young people will work on developing their own songs, with Ric providing mentorship when it comes to instrumentals and general confidence.
In March, the label will record music at The Premises Studios, a prestigious studio in Hackney, London where the likes of Skepta and Arctic Monkeys have recorded. Then in April, they will start to think about branding and “how they’re seeing the world as an artist”. They will be looking at everything from branded logos to music videos.
From July to late August, there will be a marketing rollout of the five artists, with the plan to release a compilation album released by the end of September. There will also be funding for two events, including for an album launch party.
Along the way, four industry mentors, including a producer and distribution manager, will share their experience to give each young person a better idea of how the industry works.
“To actually have a record label that has the ability to get young people into a space that is the only care-experienced record label in the world just shows you [are] an incredible leader,” says Luke.
“It came from a space of ‘be the change that you want to see in the world’,” says Ric. “I saw zero representation of care leavers within music or media, so it just felt right.”
If Ric had just one message to share with people reading this blog, it would be for care leaders to use their experience to help the next generation. “I hope that the next generation – the talent I have on the label – inspires the next generation.
“I want to see care-experience leaders really change the world through their experience.”
Part of Bournemouth-grown hip-hop collective, Jungle Brown, Ric Flo has shared the stage with the likes of De La Soul, Ghostface Killah, Lowkey, Akala and The Pharcyde, and played major festivals including Glastonbury, Boomtown, and Lovebox. To find out more about Ric and Mantra Music, visit the website. You can also email them directly at [email protected]