The Leaders of the New Cool

Artist Profile: Spree Wilson

Posted on: November 20, 2009

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In his world there are sounds: blues, hip-hop housed on harmonic bliss, Lennon, Hendrix’s flaming guitar sprouting revolutions in his soul. Growing up he felt strange. And like most outcasts, he ran to the only savior he knew: music. “I was an only child,” Spree Wilson says.  “So I kind of built this fantasy world around myself. I would just get lost in the music I loved.” And the music seemed to have gotten lost in Spree Wilson – the 26-year-old writer, producer, rapper, and musician – whose been heralded by fans, stars and critics as one of the most important up-and-coming artists of this decade. It was his unique fusion of soul, rock, and hip-hop with a 60s pop feel clustered in modern funk that caught the ears of everyone from music sensation Jay Electronica, to musical visionary Dallas Austin and legendary beat-maker and mentor to Kanye West, No I.D.

The story of Joseph “Spree Wilson” Young III starts in Nashville, Tennessee. Raised by a single mother, Wilson was surrounded by a diversity of sound. His mother, a community health worker who later taught Operative Dentistry, would play Carole King, Elton John, and Fleetwood Mac records at night. “In my house was a piano, and I would sometimes wake up to hear my mother playing whatever song she would find in our family hymnal,” Wilson recalls.

 Wilson’s father, a hippie activist whose tastes leaned towards blues and rock, introduced his son to the artist that would eventually change his life. “He would play me Hendrix,” Wilson says, “but really only the bluesy tunes like ‘Red House’ and ‘Voodoo Chile.’”

 “As a youth I primarily grew up listening to whatever my parents listened to,” he says.

 But by the age of 7, Wilson found his niche in hip-hop during 1989’s illustrious “Golden Age.” After a friend gave him a copy of De La Soul’s classic, 3 Feet High and Rising, Wilson found an unlikely hero. “Even though some of the rhymes and subjects clearly went above my 7-year-old head, at the time De La’s videos ‘Eye Know’ and ‘Buddy’ was getting heavy rotation on channels like MTV and The Box,” he recalls. “And all I can remember was identifying with Posdnuos, image-wise. I was just happy to see someone nerdy with big glasses, on TV and so popular in hip hop.”

 Wilson started to create his own artistic dream world. “I was a latch-key kid,” he says. “Sometimes my mother wouldn’t get home till late, so I had to create my own fun, or get involved in other activities…everything from join a stamp club, to play soccer at the local community center. But the music around me would inspire me to write and create crazy songs with titles like, ‘Being a Jedi’ or ‘Getting High With Curious George.’”

 By the age of 8, Wilson got serious about his craft and penned a song called “Pray.” He and a friend performed it in church, but were quickly shunned for doing so by the pastor. Even though the song was about praying, he was told that anything “hip-hop related” was of the devil. “We were told that we were going to hell…basically all the scare tactics religious freaks do to try to get you to believe in what they believe.”

 Luckily, Wilson didn’t allow the fear-factor to stifle his God-given creativity. In fact, he soon came into what he calls his own personal “musical awakening” after relocating to an art school at the age of 12. There he opened himself up to a plethora of artists, many he’d never heard of before. “Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Green Day… It was like that movie with Jack Black, School of Rock except it was the students who were teaching me,” he says. “Add that to the fact that artists like Outkast had just dropped, along with Biggie and The Chronic… I wanted to experience it all.”

This bedrock of knowledge and exploration fed Wilson’s drive. By the age of 17, he had taught himself how to play guitar. In 2003, while a student at Clark Atlanta University, Wilson worked part-time at the Dallas Austin-owned clothing boutique Rowdy. One day, Austin – who’s also founder of Rowdy Records, and is best known for writing and producing hits for TLC and Boyz II Men– walked in.“I remember him being ‘intrigued’ by the fact there was a black kid in his store that played guitar,” says Wilson. So Austin offered the burgeoning star an internship in his studio Darp. Seizing the opportunity, Wilson quickly worked his way up to become an in-house producer, working with artists like Novel, Jennifer Hudson and Joel Ortiz.

Wilson’s star as a solo artist also begin to rise within industry circles, where he soon became recognized as one of the most exciting and innovative emcees since Andre 3000: “He’s one of the fastest rising artists on Atlanta’s bustling music scene,” Bravo’s Arjan Writes wrote; “A big part of Wilson’s appeal is his vocal delivery. Reminiscent of the Pharcyde, it sounds as carefree and breezy as the alternative rap group did in the early ’90s,” Creative Loafing gushed; “When I tell you that you need to be checking on a certain someone, then I can only hope you take my word for it… Meet Atlanta’s ‘odd man out’ Spree Wilson” wrote Urb; “ATL’s latest hip-hop hopeful, the guitar-toting Joseph ‘Spree Wilson’ Young III… recalls a janglier Andre 3000,” praised VIBE.

Soon corporate America caught wind of the “Spree Wilson phenomenon” and tapped him to create a beat for their 2007 “Back To School” campaign, making him the first rap act to have music featured in a Wal-Mart commercial since A Tribe Called Quest. In March 2008, Wilson’s rock-soul group Knivez Out single “Alright” was featured on the soundtrack for the Robert Luketic-directed film, 21. And in April, Wilson was featured on the Novel mixtape “Chapter One,” hosted by Green Lantern. Currently, Wilson is prepping for the release of his highly-anticipated debut album The Beauty of Chaos. The project is an electro-funk infused body of work expected to defy all restraints of artistic category.

“I want my name to be mentioned with the idols I adored when I was a child,” Wilson says. “Who knows? Maybe in ten years we’ll be talking about how ‘Wilson Mania’ swept the world, and touched the heart of everyone.”

And with the rate he’s going, that dream is sure to become a reality. 

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