Rio Wyles, AKA Soulshocka, is a millennial rap artist. He also has autism. The combination is rare, especially since in this case, autism impacts his ability to express himself verbally and cohesively and when he was younger rendered him completely unable voice any thoughts. But when he rhymes at the mic, something miraculous happens. Suddenly, his thoughts and his words unite to not only make sense but in profound and thoughtful verbal expression.
"If all you do is reprimand and diss
Nothing but a process of ridiculousness
You dictate probabilities of science
Screw that, I'm here in defiance
I ain't gonna listen
get off your contradiction
I'm gonna shock you put you into submission"
In his newest song, "Soulshocka is Born," Rio expresses how the words that come to him in the rhythm of rap, express a different destiny than his doctors and so many others predicted for him.
"These words that flow out of me
Tell a different powerful destiny"
He says he was told repeatedly that he had no independent future and certainly no chance at a career.
"Saying I wouldn't go far in life.
No career. No kids. No beautiful wife."
We met Rio and his parents at Paramount Recording Studios in Hollywood. A place where many famous artists have recorded hit songs, and where Rio hopes to set the groundwork for his own hit record. As a rapper, Rio is recognized by other artists as a strong talent competitive with some of the best in the industry. Rio often reminds his peers in the music industry, "Autism only got half of me, the other half is a badass rapper."
His mother, Judith Feldman, watches him record his songs in the studio exclaiming that moments like these are proof that anything is possible. She says Rio lost his ability to speak coherently at the age of three, which is also when he was diagnosed with autism. He didn't regain communication skills until he connected with rap music around the age of eleven. "There's no question this is a miracle," said Feldman. "I actually had prayed and said I want to heal my son." She tears up as she explains the power of witnessing her son experience what you and I might regard as a normal moment. "Every time I see him have a normal conversation, every time I see him on stage, I am in awe because when I first got the diagnosis it was a death sentence."
Rio's father, David Wyles, says one of Rio's joys as a child was to visit Tower Records and listen to rap music. He says they began looking at rap music differently as they noticed their son was running his fingers along the lyrics on the CD inserts while he listened. He was connecting to what he heard. That's when rap became more than a distraction. It was now the key to unlocking their child.
"Music was really his way back into the world," explained Wyles. "It was through reading these lyrics that somehow he was able to tap into something deeper. Now he's more articulate in his lyrics than he is in his daily conversation. That's the miracle."
His mother also says it was around that time when she started meditating with him, and the improvements came about more rapidly. She writes about her experience raising Rio and his amazing recovery, in her book "The Myth: The One We're Living That We Know Nothing About."
Rio says when he visited Tower Records, he was inspired by artists like Eminem, Biggie, and Tupac. He says after he discovered his ability to rap, people were shocked. Smiling, he remembered how his classmates at school began looking at him differently. "No one could imagine that someone like me, who couldn't really talk, had so much soul," said Rio.
That experience inspired his stage name, Soulshocka, as he explains in his song, "Soulshocka is Born."
"It's shocking how I rhyme this way.
It's shocking who I was and who I am today."
He hopes that sharing his story inspires people to follow their dreams, but he also wants to open a window for people to see his interpretation of autism. Rio explains it this way, "We have abilities but it is not that malefic. We're kind of different. We have ambitions and sometimes we have different ambitions and goals, or we focus on things that are more left field. We may not be communicating the way you're used to but we still have goals and similar aspirations, just a different way of getting there."
Wondering what malefic means? So did I. Malefic means causing or capable of causing harm or destruction, especially by supernatural means. It was his highbrow way of describing how autism isn't as out of reach as most people think.
Rio says he writes about his life to inspire other children with autism or anyone who feels like they're at a disadvantage. "I tell them to try to reach your goals and try to find what you like. Dream big."
Rio has already achieved many of his dreams, he's written more than twenty songs, performed with top artists at big venues like the United Nations, Club Nokia, The Pantages and more, and received the Genius of Autism Award at Carnegie Hall.
Rio just learned that he has been invited back as a feature performer in the fifth annual "Light Up The Blues Concert" to benefit Autism Speaks at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. The line up includes Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Sheryl Crow, Burt Bacharch, Judy Collins, Chris Stills, Jack Black, Christina Applegate and Tom Petty's band. Stephen Stills and his wife Kristen arranged the event to help others like their son, who was also diagnosed as autistic at the age of three.
Producer and Creative Director of Light Up The Blues, Kristen Stills, says she chose Rio to represent the talent in the autistic community because he has a way of inspiring everyone who watches him. "Not only is he fearless and really talented, but his message is amazing because he lets people in about what it is like to be on the spectrum," said Stills. "Anyone who has ever felt labeled or misunderstood can suddenly relate to not only his experience when he sings, but they also become encouraged by what he's been able to accomplish." Tickets are available at this link.
Rio grew up in Los Angeles and attended Hamilton High School Music Academy, which fostered his connection with music. Along his path, there have been many who've helped and encouraged him along the way in addition to his parents who don't miss a beat and are involved with managing his music. Many of these are nonprofits that survive off of donations.
Spectrum Laboratory has been involved with producing much of his music, and is dedicated to helping the special needs community through music and video.
Elaine Hall's The Miracle Project has been supportive of Rio and and others with autism through arts programs.
Autism Speaks has been a huge supporter and promoter of Rio's work, and feature him as an example to inspire others with Autism to "dream big."
Rio also gets help from Performing Arts Studio West which provides career management and other support for performers with disabilities working in film, television, and commercials. They take donations at this link.
Videos and songs referenced in the video above include:
"Swoon" Remix by Timeflies featuring Rio and Adrienne Bailon, created by Autism Speaks and Converse.
"Dancing on the Ceiling," written by Rio and performed at The Grove for Elaine Hall's "The Miracle Project" and Diane Isaacs. The song was produced by Joe Seabe at Pacific Arts Studio West in Inglewood.
"Malfunction" performed at the Light Up The Blues benefit concert for Autism Speaks at Club Nokia.
"Snake Monsta" lyrics by Rio and produced by Spectrum Laboratory.
"Yonkers" lyrics by Rio, track by Tyler the Creator, video produced by his father David Wyles and director Sam Kingston.
You can watch many of his songs in full posted at PA Studio West at THIS LINK.
All music now available on Amazon and iTunes.
You can also follow Soulshocka on social media at Facebook/Soulshocka or Twitter@Soulshocka
"So, dream big y'all!" Soulshocka