‘It made me realize that we are capable of doing something really big’: Wichita native shares his story of success

James Rico is the director of Reel Goats, a video production company, which has and continues to work closely with hip-hop artist DaBaby

James Rico is the director of a video production company, called Reel Goats, which focuses on short films, pilot shows and, more recently, music videos.

James Rico and DaBaby on the set of BOP. (Photo courtesy of James Rico)

Rico has and continues to work closely with hip-hop artist DaBaby, where he and his crew have produced the music videos for fan-favorite tracks such as, “BOP”, “Suge”, and “Rockstar”. Rico’s music videos have been nominated for a BET award and for a Grammy, but before all of this success, Rico had to overcome a journey of confusion and self-doubt.

Rico is a Wichita, Kansas native where he attended Bishop Carroll high school. He then received a football scholarship for Butler Community College, but stopped playing soon after the end of his freshman year. He opted instead to edit the school’s football teams highlight reel and to shoot video of their practices and games. 

“I was still passionate about sports so I just connected both those passions,” Rico said.

He then attended Kansas State University and graduated in 2011. After graduation, Rico landed a job working for the university’s media department. 

“Eventually, I realized I could freelance and build my name within the community and started to branch out,” Rico said “… My wife graduated college and ended up getting a job in Kansas City so we moved there.”

While working as a freelancer in Kansas City, Rico met a rock band and was able to travel outside of Kansas for the first time in his life. 

“As I travelled, I learned about the country, where I want to live, and the excitement that lives outside of Kansas,” Rico said.

James Rico talks to a student after his presentation at Wichita State on Oct. 1, 2020.
James Rico talks to a student after his presentation at Wichita State on Oct. 1, 2020. (Khánh Nguyễn / The Sunflower)

After receiving three college degrees and working a variety of jobs, ranging from construction to working for the K-State football department, Rico finally realized his true passion for film. 

“Film in general is something that over the years I have developed a strong love for,” Rico said.

Although Rico says he was doing “okay” as a freelancer in Kansas City, he was aware that it wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do. 

“[People] would ask me what my goals were and I would tell them about film and they would be like, ‘You need to get out of [Kansas]’,” Rico said. “It was a hard thing to hear because you are naive. You’re like ‘I can do it, I don’t need to leave.’”

Eventually, Rico built a team of three consisting of himself, his brother, and a friend, and they left Kansas and headed for Los Angeles, California. 

“We went out to Los Angeles with about $1,000, packed up our van full of nothing pretty much, just clothes and we hightailed over there, drove across the country,” Rico said. “…We had a lot of great experiences together. It reminded me of coming-of-age movies where you’re driving across the country and you’re like ‘Man, this is going to be amazing’, but as you get closer you are like, ‘Man, what did I do?”

Although Rico was nervous to start in a new city, he and his team continued to work hard and soon saw the fruits of their labor.

“In 2016, we met DaBaby and we helped him grow his brand and he went really crazy this past year and had a wild ride touring with him and making all of these videos,” Rico said. “We had a goal to make him a huge superstar and we would talk about it … it all started happening from that, now we are at a new place in our journey … We accomplished the goals that we sought after and now it’s time to make some new ones.”

But then, the COVI-19 pandemic hit. 

“It was like the floored-up window situation, I never thought I’d live through an apocalypse, but I’m about to,” Rico said. “For about two days, it stunted my brother and my other teammate. I saw them frozen … they could not get their minds off it and our work suffered.”

They then decided to pack their bags and drive to Charlotte, Virginia, where they continued to work remotely.

“Yes [the pandemic] is serious, but we have to overcome it. I’m not just going to sit here and do nothing,” Rico said. 

After two or three months, Los Angeles began to open up again and Rico and his team decided it was time to head back. 

“The filming industry hadn’t started moving yet, but we thought we should get our shit situated before it does … It was about when “Rockstar” came out, it was a really big production [that I] knew was going to advertise our capabilities,” Rico said. “… We only had about five people make that when most projects would have about 20 people in a production crew … it made me realize that we are capable of doing something really big.”

But the grind doesn’t stop there. Rico’s “end goal” is for him and his crew is to win an Oscar. 

“I have dreams about being on the stage for the Oscars and winning best film and best director [awards],” Rico said. “Actors and actresses are winning awards too, so it’s not just me, but the entire crew.”

When asked who played a crucial role in his career ambitions, Rico said his brother and his wife. 

“Even when we first moved [to Los Angeles], I looked at [my brother] and we had no couch in our living room, so we were just sitting there and we were talking about what we should be doing and how we should grow,” Rico said. “… and because he loves me and trusts me, he sticks through all of the annoyances that comes with wanting something that’s a big goal … As far as people from before that, probably my wife. She always believed in me and she worked while I played. I wasn’t fucking off though, I was just trying to figure it out, but she never gave up on that.”

Rico was present at Wichita State in the Rhatigan Student Center third floor ballroom on Thursday.