And we back…

Boston music scene stalwart Rilla Force is a musical polymath and a man with a distinct sound and vibe to his art. He is equally at home both behind and in front of the boards. Force, who raps, produces, mixes, masters, engineers, DJs and manages other artists, is adept at helping musicians explore their sound and develop their own musical identities.

Early in his career, Force concentrated on electronic music, in all its variations, but at some point, he realized that the music he was making seemed to be a sub-genre of its own, and this realization led to a eureka moment.

I started focusing on the sub-genre future bass, which is like a derivative of traditional EDM (electronic dance music), and even with future bass, my music always stuck out,” Force told me recently. “One of my homies, she said your music actually sounds like R & B and EDM put together. So I coined the phrase ‘RNBDM.’ That’s the genre I make. That’s the sound that I am.”

Force says that the music he makes as a solo artist is “more quirky” and “less structured” than the music he’s done with many of the other artists he’s worked with.

Force’s sound thumps, but it also can have a whimsical flavor, bright and up lifting, with flourishes of everything from baile funk and Tropicália to Trap music. He is skilled at chopping up bites of sound and reassembling them into something distinctive, instantly recognizable and beautiful.

If there is a common theme running through the music that Force creates as a solo artist, that theme is one of movement, moving your body in whatever way is comfortable and joyful, rocking your head, swinging your hips, tapping your toes, jumping over cracks in the pavement, or, most importantly, on the dance floor.

“Ven a Mi,” from Force’s first long player Fiesta, is a good example of the Rilla Force oeuvre: it’s an ebullient track, with shadings from flamenco and samba and bursts of electronica, underneath a simple vocal line and pulsating percussion.

In 2019 and 2020, Force was nominated for “Best Dance/Electronic Artist of the Year” at the Boston Music Awards. He has released eight separate collections of music, including a series he calls Scrapbook, with the fourth chapter dropping soon.

In 2020 alone, Force produced three tracks on Billy Dean Thomas’ excellent For Better or Worse, collaborated with Jymmy Kafka on the fine Lil Nothin,’ released a three track follow-up to his own Fiesta, Calls After Fiesta and generally kept a constant stream of music flowing, a balm for the ears and the hips in this Pandemic Year. Force also joined with Thomas for 2019’s 2 The World, and he is currently working with North Carolina native Maliyah. The pair are readying her debut EP, set for release later this year. “We Already,” is the lead single from that record, and a powerful showcase for Maliyah’s vocal skills.

As Billy Dean Thomas says “Rilla got heaters, no fan.”

This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for publication.

Backseat Mafia: What inspired you to create music? What inspires you everyday?

Rilla Force: I loved music at a young age, my mother sang in the church, older brother played the drums, music was always in my life. Video games used to be my primary source of inspiration but now it’s my relationship with my loved ones more so.

BSM: If someone asked you to describe the Rilla Force sound in one sentence, what would you say?

RF: A futuristic artist that is way ahead of their time.

BSM: How did you come up with your artist name?

RF: I used to get teased a lot as a child because of my size, one kid would constantly call me a gorilla. I told myself I’ll turn that negative into a positive So I adopted the name Rilla, and Force comes from my need to be an unmovable juggernaut/ unstoppable force in anything I set out to do, hence “Rilla Force!”

BSM: Where is your favorite place to create music?

RF: My studio! Once I figured out I was going to pursue a music career, I always found it was so hard to find a decent spot to create whenever I wanted to. So I built my own studio exactly how I wanted and it’s amazing!

BSM: What is the one non-musical item you must have with you when you are creating?

RF: I don’t know if I “need” to have it on me 24/7, but I have a Sega Dreamcast memory card in my satchel all the time and I used to carry a holographic Pokemon card of Mew a lot. They are rare and special to me.  

BSM: Are you a vinyl crate digger? If you are, do you have a favorite place to dig? If not, where do you dig for samples?

RF: To be honest, I’m not the biggest crate digger even though I love to sample and I’m a DJ. I do love listening to records. My older brother would tell me about a music shop in Boston called Strawberries and he would come home with hella vinyl. I find most of my samples from forums or Youtube.

BSM: What is your preferred music production software/tool? Do you regularly use live instrumentation? What instruments do you play/use?

RF: I prefer Image-Line’s FL STUDIO. I wish I were trained in an instrument but I am self taught/still learning the piano. I probably use piano or keys whenever I approach making a new record. Sometimes I just like to play and it feels good.

BSM: What is your favorite piece of audio gear or instrument?

RF: I don’t own one yet but Teenage Engineering’s OP-1, it’s a micro synthesizer and it’s so powerful while being adorable! I think that piece of gear will up my sound ten-fold if I had the pleasure of owning one!

BSM: What album or track are you most proud of, or is most significant to you? Why?

RF: Honestly my debut album Fiesta. When making that album I went through a whirlwind of emotions, lost friends, and had a major identity crisis, but, in finishing that specific project, [I] really proved to myself that I am a strong individual and can do anything I set my mind to.

BSM: Can you take one song from your catalog, and break down how you created it?

RF: Sure and I’ll give an abridged version, I wanted to make a song dedicated to my partner for my first EP, RNBDM, so I found some vocal samples and chopped them up and that’s how i made “Hey Bae.”

BSM: Favorite artists, or artists you admire, in any medium?

RF: DJ Hourglass, Stiggity Stackz, Candace McDuffie, Miekage, TeaMarrr, Nisreen Galloway.

BSM: Favorite music to listen to when driving, relaxing or chilling?

RF: Sam Gelliatry, Monte Booker, Lido, & Chuck Sutton.

BSM: Favorite artist from Boston? 

RF: BIA.

BSM: Current Boston artist you believe should have more attention?

RF: I have a few. Leo The Kind, Maka Oceania, Haasan Barclay, Radical One, Optic Bloom, LDER, Maliyah. All these people have inspired in one way or another and honestly their contributions to the MA music scene should not go unnoticed! 

BSM: Favorite spot in Boston for...

RF: Cathay Pacific for Cantonese food because that’s my life source! 

BSM: Upcoming projects, collabos, releases?

RF: SCRAPBOOK 4 coming real soon, have a bunch of cool singles and EPs on the way!

And we outta here…peace, peace, peace…

Now more than ever, independent artists need our support. If you like what you hear, consider purchasing digital versions of the albums and songs by these artists.

Connect with Rilla Force on Bandcamp.