Rapper inspires, empowers through his music videos.
As a youth, Will Keeps sang in his church choir on Chicago’s South Side. He emulated Michael Jackson and desired a career as a hip-hop artist. However, tragedy struck early on.
Keeps was molested at age 7. At age 15, he was brutally beaten by gang members and left for dead. But he survived.
“I thought I was weak at the time,” he says. “It could have shut me down. But I never stopped moving. I had hope.”
Keeps moved to Des Moines 20 years ago to start a new life. With singing and rapping R&B and hip-hop songs, he created music videos and sang in clubs. But he changed his musical tune drastically in 2015 when his teenage son’s best friend was killed. He wanted his songs to portray what was happening in the community.
“The message is how I see the world and people interacting with others,” he says. “I show the negative first and then show how we can make it a positive.”
In the video, “Wake Up Iowa,” he hopes to raise awareness of people’s actions.
“It’s OK to speak out. It used to be if you snitch, you’re garbage in the street,” he says. “We want to hold people accountable instead of blaming everyone. We want to show that inner city and the police can work together.”
In his videos, which gained attention from CNN, he features leaders including Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie. He says the police liked his video, “We Fight,” but others didn’t, because the “truth is hard.”
“It was a tough video. I already knew some of the black community wouldn’t like that I’m portraying there’s two sides to every story,” he explains. “My music helps me build relationships with the most powerful people in our state. In turn, these relationships help me to help others.”
In addition to his writing, producing and recording 18 music videos, his “Starts Right Here” movement is aimed at young kids. He mentors inner city youth, performs at schools and features local students in his videos. Most kids are receptive to Will’s message of promoting anti-violence.
“Some kids say, ‘I love Will Keeps.’ Others say I’m hurting them by working with the government. But even if my music helps only one person, then I’ve made a difference,” he says.
Keeps says people don’t have to wear a suit to make a difference and feels his scars are his strength.
“I feel humbled and grateful to be a role model,” he says. “I want to start a chain reaction of musicians coming together, to be part of a cultural change for Iowa.” ♦