Rylic Zander talks the legacy of Black protest music, new EP Hold On

Rylic Zander is one of the most entertaining voices in my social media feed, and lord knows that goes a long way in these trying times. His wit and insight into current events is a breath of fresh air in an era where our social media streams are bogged down by negativity.

Come for the jokes, stay for the creativity.

The LA-based, fashion-forward songwriter and artist is driven by two great passions: movies and music. He released his first album, Pretty Ugly, in 2018 and plans to follow up that project with a visual experience in the coming months. But before then, he’s released Hold On, an EP that explores his love of hip-hop, pop and R&B while speaking to the unprecedented times we’re now living in.

Rylic chats with me a bit about Hold On, his creative process and why protest music continues to define his generation.

Edd: First and foremost, homie, how are you holding up these days? 2020 has been all types of insane.

Rylic: I’m doing good, creating as much as I can to keep myself active and sane.

Trust, I know the struggle. Well, they say music reflects the times, and your new EP is a reflection of those themes. Tell us about the motivation you had to speak to those themes in Hold On.

Well, I was sitting there, frustrated, just like everyone in the world right now. Outside closed, economy at a crawl, and here I am in the middle of filming a visual album unable to use any of our film sets. Then George Floyd happened. I was pissed and recorded the song “Everybody” to express what I was feeling the only way I knew how. Once that song was created, I thought, “OK, cool. I can give them this told hold on for a little bit.”

I’ve ranted a few times on the SoulBack Podcast about the prevalence of protest music in this era. Skeptics say music should be an escape and not be weighed down by politics. I disagree, and obviously you do too. Do you think artists are obligated to speak to the moment in our society? Is there a line?

What is music, but living, breathing emotion that you can hit play and rewind on?

Speak, playa.

If you have music with you, you have a part of history. Now imagine opening up a history book and finding that battles were left out and replaced with pretty pictures and butterflies, or just overlooked entirely. Wouldn’t you consider that crossing the line?

Absolutely! When you think about it, protest songs have always been part of the Black experience, going all the way back to Negro spirituals. Which protest songs have made the deepest connection with you over the years?

I would say the one song that stands out to me is Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Before I even knew how Sam Cooke went out, it had such a weight to it that made you feel that something monumental was around the corner. Then I went back and watched the movies it was featured in, and sure enough, it was always the song that translated to beautiful tragedies.

Because that’s ART. It’s deeper than a vibe, it’s transformative. That’s what great music does. But let’s get back to your project. It’s called Hold On, and for me there’s a nice double meaning behind it. What was your mindset in going with that title?

Well, it happened right during the time that so much was going on that we just needed to hold on and as I sat on that title I kept asking myself what are all of the different ways you might say, “Hold On.” It could be “I love you I’m trying to hold on” or “Hold on, what the f*** did you just say?

The production might be the most stirring aspect of the EP – the addictive chants on “Fine,” that haunting hollowness that resounds through the title track, talk about how important production is for the overall message of each song and how you’re able to tie that together.

Thank you. Production is number one for me. There’s a process of getting married to lyrics where you tell yourself that you have to find beats for these lyrics and you end up looking for production – which has soooo many different elements to it – and settle because something might fit. Doesn’t work for me. Instead, I listen to the production first and if it speaks to me, the melody and harmony will jump out of me. And when it comes to the lyrics, well, there are so many words out there  in the universe that eventually the right ones will fall into place.

Yes, I love that mindset. Sonically speaking, do you have any inspirations when comes to production? Past or present?

Yes, I’m laughing as I say this because immediately I want to shout Pharrell.

I knew you would!

One thing I’ve seen from Pharrell’s production style is that there are so many elements that you end up with a ton of things to pull from. And that’s how I view production overall – I see great things coming from all of these producers and while I’ll gladly start bopping to a new song, I actually end up hearing small things in 70s, 80s, 90s music that I want to try my way.

“In the Night” might be my favorite of the project – tell me the concept behind it.

I love that song (laughs)! When I wrote it, I was thinking about someone that was like, “Hold on, you’re not who I thought you were. This is too much and I have to get out while I can.”

What’s your fave, by the way?

“Science” might be my personal favorite because it was a way I could tie in personal struggles along with current struggles. It starts off with lines about you not being enough to be spared by cops and not being enough to keep your job, and then it morphed into a thing where it was “hey, it’s not that I’m not enough. They just can’t handle it. It’s like they’ve never seen this before, like what I want isn’t normal.”

Well, as its name implies, Hold On is just a teaser for your next LP. Tell us the direction you’re headed for that one and what we can expect.

I think the key difference is that the next project is grounded in film, whereas Hold On is all music. The next LP, will actually be a double album that sonically and visually takes you on the journey of cause and effect.

Let me hit you with this one final question – if listeners could have just one takeaway from the EP and upcoming album, what would it be? What’s the message that you want to resonate the strongest? 

The one takeaway is that we’re all holding on. It’s okay to hold on and it’s OK to let go of some things, just as long as you’re aware of what you’re holding onto.

Rylic Zander’s new EP Hold On is available on streaming platforms. Follow Rylic on Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok.


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