Wild Bill looks like the kind of guy who’d elbow his way to the front of a Brutal Juice show. Even from afar, Bill — the hip-hop brainchild of Denton’s Billy Ayers — cuts a Goliath-size figure. He stands well above 6 feet tall (maybe well above 6-foot-6), sports a pair of warrior Saxon shoulders and long red hair.
But Wild Bill is also a 20-something, which means he’s heard his share of hip-hop music — enough to have an incredibly reflexive sense of rhythm and a keen ear for flow. And now he’s the voice and the character behind two solid albums — Tommy Pickles and the more recent Rico Dynamite.
Ayers was born and raised in North Carolina. He rolled into Texas at age 20. To play football. In other words, Ayers was putting his impressive height and intimidating wingspan to godly use.
“I figured if I was going to make football my thing, Texas was a good bet. They make movies about football here,” Ayers said.
The thing is, Ayers was a football player and an independent thinker. Football and his preferences were the centerpiece of his four-year plan.
“Through four separate universities, junior colleges, getting kicked out for disciplinary reasons, never grades — I was removed from four different football teams and four different schools while still rapping. That kind of stayed consistent,” he said.
Wait. Before you start sizing Wild Bill up as a petty criminal or enfant terrible, it wasn’t like that.
“Let me rephrase,” he said when asked about a police record. “By disciplinary reasons, I mean like at one point in time I was attending a Baptist university, and they were incredibly strict. And I did things like never attend chapel. Not once. Like, so much so that the dean cited me and I had to go meet with him. It was like a credit to graduate.”
He intended to transfer and graduate from a different school, prolonging “all the things I liked to do.” Rapping was a hobby for him. He was bounced from another team when he declined to give a urine sample for a drug test — one of many stubborn whiffs of libertarianism from the artist.
Then, Billy Ayers got drunk and “had kind of a freak accident” in San Marcos that ripped clean through the three big ligaments that move the knee and everything below it.
“That put me immediately on bed rest after three surgeries,” he said.
Wild Bill was born in that sickbed.
“I wrote all of Tommy Pickles on painkillers, smoking weed in the bed over the course of 60 days,” he said. “I was writing like a verse a day. And then at the end of it I was like, ‘Wow, I got like 30 songs worth of material.’”
The grind began. He shared the verses with his buddy and beat maker, Ben Waid. They floated the album to people who knew of Ayers and his rapping hobby. It got an “OK” response. Ayers worked up his set and performed in San Marcos and then came back to Denton.
“Denton is the best training ground,” said Pudge Brewer, Fab Deuce’s lyrical linchpin who is both mentor and manager to Wild Bill. “You can do a couple of shows a week here, do a bunch of shows.”
Wild Bill the MC is both a hip-hop wunderkind — smart rhymes peppered with clever pop culture references just roll off his tongue — and a protege of Denton hip-hop institution Fab Deuce. Denton’s national reputation often is framed through indie-folk outfit Midlake, and just as often for mall rockers Bowling for Soup. But the city’s hip-hop scene is fierce. You have to have confidence and game, or the competition rolls over you without even feeling the bump.
With Brewer managing Wild Bill’s North Texas musical freight, crews like Fab Deuce, Rec League and the likes of San Francisco’s ridiculously talented Qm are at Wild Bill’s disposal. Those crews stand by being in perpetual motion. To stay alive and relevant, Denton hip-hop artists need to challenge themselves to write better and work with artists who won’t cut you slack.
“There’s people like Fab Deuce and AV [the Great] who are good in Denton,” Ayers said. “And then there is a great group of hip-hop people that all probably consider themselves in the same echelon as Fab Deuce and AV, and consider themselves great and Denton legends, but they’re really not. I think that kind of stuff is [shoddy] and a waste of time.
“Just rap good. I don’t care about your hustle. I just hate rappers who suck.”
Where Tommy Pickles is brimming with attitude and rapid-fire pop culture references, Rico Dynamite is more focused, even in its irreverence. It gets started with a blaze of horns, bass-heavy beats and more confidence. On Rico — the title is a hat tip to Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico — Wild Bill is still dedicated to good times, but there’s a more mature authority to it all. Where Tommy Pickles wears its written-in-a-haze-pot-smoke buzz proudly, Rico is deeper, poetical. The party boy is gone. At this party, Wild Bill is the boss.
The artist admits that he has little patience when it comes to giving a track, beat or line his seal of approval. That applies to his music and everyone else’s.
“People like music that sounds good, makes them feel good. But they also like music that is authentic,” Ayers said. “I think that makes the best well-rounded projects. … Ben Waid will generally send me 10 [beats], and I’ll have like five or six songs. It needs to catch the ear of the listener. I probably am a bit of a troll in rap music — I hate a lot. I’ll listen to 30 seconds and I’m like, ‘I hate it.’ Even if they’re like, ‘Dude, it gets amazing after 35 seconds.’”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
122 W. Mulberry St.
Doors open 9 p.m. Monday, music starts around 10 p.m.
No cover for ages 21 and up, $5 for ages 18 to 20
TRACK BY TRACK: WILD BILL
“Crawford” — This searing-hot track is among the best of the criminally overlooked Tommy Pickles. The big, fat verses get better verse on verse, chorus for chorus. Check this out: “Sleepin’ on a jet plane/Too much dro’ and too much champagne/I don’t really care where we land, I’m gon’ hop out and still be the man.” That would be a reference to the iconic folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary — ancient history for a cat Wild Bill’s age. “Crawford” ticks off the box for puffed-chest braggadocio, then moves on to claim the rapper’s space among the other junkyard dogs: “Oh no, check your HMO. I’m certain your provider not coverin’ suicide and definitely not this assault.”
“Erik Deker” — Everything about this track from Tommy Pickles should strain your red-blooded American eye-roll muscles if you’re like Lorde and “over being told to throw my hands in the air.” It’s a song about Wild Bill gaming the hip-hop system so good that “I’ma marry a model, like Eric Decker do.” It’s that old hip-hop saw, a fiefdom where all the chieftains are male and all the women are slight variations of the maddening cardboard cutout: cute face, slim waist with a big behind. But then Wild Bill pulls a fast one on us: “Pardon the appearance, your playa clearance got revoked, fool. Guess the ‘massah’ couldn’t see it while he was gettin’ choked. … Big lurch lurkin’, eatin’ up your ‘who’s who,’ funky like Jimmy, children of the voodoo.” It’s Wild Bill who’s the outsider, scrapping for the credibility he earns with good poetry. (If you want to assume the “come at me bro” posture with Wild Bill? Vaya con Dios.)
“Poptart” — The standout track of Rico Dynamite is evidence that Wild Bill can take a risk on an unlikely beat and go places lyrically. “Intelligent rap, we call it smart-hop, and you all wanna see the tart pop.” He throws Lymel Bivens into the track, too. Bivens’ verse is more organic than Wild Bill’s incisive, hyper-literate writing. It adds the needed buoyancy to Bill’s lyrical weight — which is as substantial as the man himself.
— Lucinda Breeding