Ric Flo recounts how he established the world’s first record label exclusively for care-experienced artists
Recent films like The Last Tree by Shola Amoo, Handle With Care by Jimmy Akingbola and the viral John Lewis Christmas advert have been great at highlighting the issues faced by care-experienced young people like myself – but where are these stories in the music industry?
The catalyst for my music career was asking the question: “If Hip-hop is the voice of the voiceless, why have I never heard from the perspective of someone who has been in foster care?”
Being in care was very challenging. My initial foster carers were racist but at eight years old I didn’t have the power to know what to do. Luckily, I had an attentive social worker who could tell something wasn’t right every time they visited the house. Social services eventually put me with a caring foster family. Imagine my self-esteem if I had stayed in that toxic environment. Two years was long enough. Music was my therapy.
I became a music artist, formerly as one third of UK Rap Collective Jungle Brown, supporting the likes of De La Soul, The Pharcyde and Big Daddy Kane, performing at festivals like Glastonbury, BoomTown and Lovebox. Being on the stage at Glastonbury was one of my proudest moments.
I was reminded recently that you’ve already ‘made it’ if you’re making stuff
Off the back of recording my first rap project – about my experience in foster care – I witnessed how music could be a powerful tool to connect to young people who are underrepresented in music and media. This curiosity drove me to run songwriting workshops, across the UK, for young people within the care sector, to help them with their confidence. Creating a music label, to support the next generation of talent, seemed like the next logical step.
After doing an inspiring Music and Poetry Project in 2021 called What’s In The Name with children’s charity Coram, my good friend Jude at social change charity SoundDelivery advised me to apply for the Ideas and Pioneers Fund at Paul Hamlyn Foundation to help launch Mantra Music. I have been following Youth Music for a while so I also applied to them.
I was very lucky that two out of the three charitable funders I approached supported me, considering this was the first time I had actually filled in extensive applications. However, I also recognise that I had actually been doing this work, off my own back and passion, for a number of years.
I didn’t want Mantra Music to be genre specific. I wanted a wide range of talent that I felt had potential to grow within the industry. We had a talent submission process back in January 2022 and, considering it was only open for two weeks, there was a great response. Whittling them all down was very hard but a combination of talent, personality and vision is what determined the final five.
If you take time to reflect on the triggers of your emotions and take action to understand why, you will always find a way to overcome any challenge
I’ve had some really great feedback about Mantra Music. People find it inspiring and want to get more young people to be a part of it. My plans for the future are to continue to grow as an artist and help other creatives who share my experiences.
I was reminded recently that you’ve already ‘made it’ if you’re making stuff. That’s success to me: creating for the sake of creating because you have to for your own sanity. There is always success from what you put love into.
My advice to other aspiring creatives is to follow your curiosity; follow what intrigues you. There’s so much growth that will happen from genuine curiosity. Your passion will push you through what others would consider hard times. Self-development is a continuous journey of understanding yourself. If you take time to reflect on the triggers of your emotions and take action to understand why, you will always find a way to overcome any challenge. Don’t be the old person with regrets: be the person you’re meant to be.
The powerful short film, directed by Carlos Torres, introduces four care-experienced artists who signed to Mantra Music. It highlights their perspective of being care-experienced, their talent for music and the reason why their voices and projects like Mantra can’t be ignored.
Featured artists are:
Dialectic Dee, a 24-year-old spoken word artist and Sickle Cell Advocate from London who aims to use the performing arts for more than just entertainment purposes but rather as a tool to positively impact change. Insta @dialecticdee
YD The Lone Wolf, a Drill Artist from East London who has an incredible work ethic and has an infectious album almost ready to grace your ears. Insta @ydthelonewolf
Utelka, from Birmingham, a vocalist and songwriter emerging quickly onto the dance and alternative soul music scenes. Performing in an array of venues from Birmingham to New York, including Coventry Pride, Utelka has tailored her unique voice and style to steadily increase her fanbase. Insta @utelkajohnson
Xoul, a singer/rapper from London who brings a new wave of versatility to modern music. Combining his unique tone and intricate lyrics with the essence of RnB, Indie, Neo-Soul and Hip-Hop, he produces sentimental and thought provoking material. Insta @kingxoul