He’s only 33, but by his own description, Will Keck’s life has already been “quite a journey.”
An adopted child who commuted between homes and lived alone at the age of 17, a standout footballer whose college career ended abruptly after a health problem, a musician who had turned to hip hop to fill the void left by the absence of football and became a touring rapper who found success but rarely satisfaction, a convicted felon who spent three months in Prince William County Jail after pleading guilty to distributing marijuana.
Jail was his wake-up call, he said. In recent years, he has become an entrepreneur, determined to help others pursue their dreams while redefining his own.
“It already feels like a lifetime,” he says, “but I have a ton to do.”
The most recent development for Keck is the opening of CNTR (Creative Space)a retail and co-working space for musicians and other creatives that is an extension of his theshopMSQ, which he opened earlier this year in Richmond’s Arts District at 318 W. Broad St. theMSQshop offers brand design services, creative content, and a recording and production studio. Keck’s business venture also includes a retail store featuring Virginia-based streetwear, an art gallery showcasing local artists, and a co-working space that includes Richmond’s first black-owned hemp business.
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CNTR’s grand opening will take place on Friday from 5-10 p.m., as part of RVA’s First Fridays, and will feature live music, an art exhibit, and pop-ups from local vendors.
The opening of CNTR marks the next step in Keck’s journey from being in the spotlight with his own music to working “behind the scenes and helping others bring their visions to life,” he said.
“Whether it’s music or they need publicity for their business or they need a logo or they need help with creative direction, whatever it is in that meaning, that’s what I’m here for,” he said. “You just have to help them get to a point where they are successful and living their dreams. I feel much more personal satisfaction doing this.
Keck is still making music, but, as he says, business is now his career. For example, it manages Rudy Walker, a singer-songwriter and recording artist who will perform at the inauguration of the CNTR.
Walker began working earlier this year with Keck, who advised him on “positioning my music brand,” Walker said.
“He’s one of the most dynamic creatives I know,” Walker said in an email. “He has a lot of knowledge about the industry and how to reach fans as an independent artist, and his knowledge and resources had a major impact on me, as an independent artist. The creative genius de Will has helped me increase the reach of my brand.”
Working through theMSQshop and CNTR “gives me a unique opportunity to network with artists, producers and singers across the city in an inclusive and safe space,” Walker said.
Rapping under the name “OG Illa”, Keck found his own success in music. But while music provided him with a place to express himself and a way to overcome a groundless childhood, it didn’t bring him the kind of fulfillment one might expect.
“I wrote a line in a song, ‘I’m tired of creating moments and never living them,'” he said. “Even when I was on tour, I was doing these big things for myself with the music, but it was always, ‘What’s next? What’s next?’ I was in New York, and I killed a show. Absolutely killed. Hundreds of people there, rocking. But all the time, I’m like, ‘That’s not enough, I ‘need thousands of people here.’
“I wasn’t living in the moment, I was absorbing it and really understanding it.”
But his lowest moment came with his incarceration (“Selling drugs is the easiest job in the world…but I failed. I got caught. I lost my freedom because of it. J lost all the money I was making.”)
Yet prison has become his crossroads.
“At some point, I was sitting in my bunk in jail and realized I couldn’t blame anyone for this. It was my fault. I knew better, and I really knew I was supposed to. more than selling drugs. I knew that, but it was a red flag.
He called a friend on the outside who was taking care of his life and he realized that “the world does not stop spinning because I am locked up”. He was also surrounded by people who were looking for excuses for their difficulties, but they also seemed “to be okay with the lifestyle they were leading, and I realized that wasn’t the lifestyle for me. “.
After his release, Keck began the long road back, although his reformation was neither instant nor easy. He started out doing freelance graphic design, which expanded into directing music videos and advising on branding, studio sessions and more, eventually running theMSQshop, which started as a blog and turned into a brick-and-mortar business when the opportunity arose to rent a building in the Arts District. He is also co-owner of a record company, HLGNLIFE Records.
He is now in a place where his prospects are improving and where life is good. He’s a father, he has a fiancé, he has a house.
“Not just somewhere I live, I have a residence, I have a place where I am safe and I am loved,” he said. “I’ve never had that in my whole life.”