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Freddy Will Gives a Breakdown of His Music

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This article consists of two parts. We chronicle the creative method of a Grammy-nominated independent recording artist. Some know him. Many don’t. Freddy Will said he is a Mande. He dropped his first joint in 2006. As for his cultural environment, he is from Sierra Leone and raps in Krio and American English while combining old school Hip Hop with Afrobeat, Calypso, Soca, Rock, and Classical. Perhaps that’s why he describes himself as an Afropolitan who records and performs crossover Hip Hop.

We checked to verify the “City Boy” artist’s claims. Our investigation revealed that he had lived his life in stages. The first was when he was born in Brookfields Freetown, Sierra Leone, to a high school principal and a nurse. They became UN diplomats and Gospel preachers. Freddy entered his second phase when his parents moved to Liberia. There he received a Catholic education. At the same time, he was active in Church with his parents, learning to sing, compose, and play musical instruments.

This preacher’s son told us a friend introduced him to Hip Hop, but a civil war ensued. After some clashes with rebel militants, he entered the third phase of his life by returning to Sierra Leone. The gist of this part of his story is that he was separated from his family. They emigrated to the United States while he stayed with his father’s parents and relatives in Sierra Leone. He attended three secondary schools, Christ the King College, Methodist Boys High School, and Ansarul Muslim Secondary School.

We are sure there is a story. It could have something to do with the civil war. After running with the national soldiers, the preacher’s son graduated from high school. The Islamic school explains his reverence for Islam. Hip Hop was very unpopular in Sierra Leone in the early 1990s. Freddy Will’s conservative relatives opposed his adherence to the music culture. He was later one of many refugees who immigrated to The Gambia as the Sierra Leone civil war escalated. This was the fourth phase in his life journey.

In The Gambia, a teenager Freddy Will spent most of his time writing music and screenplays. He compiled volumes of handwritten Rhyme Books. Freddy briefly moved to Senegal to reconnect with an uncle before emigrating to the States to join his parents, grandparents, and siblings. His father is from the Loko people of Sierra Leone. His maternal grandmother was an African American of Guyanese descent. While his father’s parents lived in Sierra Leone, his mother’s parents lived in the United States.

We learned that Mande is an ethnic people from which various groups descend. They are Susu, Loko, Mandingo, Gio, Bambara, Vai, Gbandi, Mende, Kissi, and many more. Freddy is Mande, as his father is from the Loko people, while his mother is from the Mandingo people. However, his mother’s background also includes African American and Guyanese on her mother’s side. Her father’s lineage stretches back to Mali, Senegal, and Guinea. He was a Sheikh with a peculiar birthright among his people.

In Freddy Will’s mind, he became an Afropolitan after naturalizing in the United States and entering his sixth phase with emigration to Canada. During the fifth phase, he put his music career on hold to pursue other opportunities like his post-secondary education. In Toronto, he returned to music, recording Hip Hop albums, a mixtape, and an EP, and released them independently. He later came in his seventh phase when he moved from Canada to Europe. His emigration gives his Afropolitical perspective.

We also note that he transitioned from rapping to literary writing between his sixth and seventh phases. We focus on his sixth phase, when he recorded and released his albums in Toronto. Freddy has published a book series in Europe and released two albums there. When asked about his transition, he gave three reasons. One was his age. He was in his mid-thirties. Another reason he gave was his influence on the fans. He didn’t want to make music with an adverse impact; the last was to “follow his dream.”

Q: Why do you refer to yourself as an Afropolitan?

Freddy Will: “The best way to describe where I belong is to say I’m an Afropolitan. I feel loyal to all the countries I’ve lived in. Yes, I’m a proud American, but in a way, I’m also Liberian, Gambian, Senegalese, Canadian, Belgian, and even German. It’s a kind of psychological connection. Life has given me a transnational identity with my roots in Sierra Leone.”

Q: Very well. What do you say to those who only want you to represent Sierra Leone?

Freddy Will: “Oh, make no mistake, Afropolitans get criticized. Considering how the system works, everyone won’t get that being an Afropolitan is not an aspiration. Life happens. You keep relocating from country to country. You move around the diaspora. Of course, I’m a Sierra Leonean at heart. We call Sierra Leone ‘the land that we love.’ I sprout from deep roots in Gbendembu. It’s my heritage. Whether people realize it or not, everything I do, every failure or accomplishment, represents Salone.

On the other hand, life goes on. Every Afropolitan feels thankful to the diasporas where we’ve lived. Each one adds something to our experience and character. Our awareness shifts from one culture to another. There’s also that downside where we often don’t fit in as newcomers after living in a different country. Sometimes the only hope is to go back to our roots so we grasp our culture. You know what I mean? That’s why I identify as an Afropolitan. It’s the best way to understand people who live like we do.” 

Q: Speaking about roots, we learned that your grandfather was a Sheikh with connections to Mali, Senegal, and Guinea, and your grandmother was African American with ties to Guyana. You straddle Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States.

Freddy Will: “Yes. There were a lot of mixed marriages. My mother’s father, Alhaji Sheikh Abdul Gardrie, was a Mandingo. These are the people who founded the Mali Empire. When you trace his lineage, it goes from Senegal to Mali and from Guinea to Sierra Leone. I’m still determining the Yoruba part, but it’s there. Even my last name, Kanu, is primarily Nigerian. I’m figuring out how this Nigerian last name ended up in Sierra Leone. But that’s on my father’s side. The Yoruba is on my mom’s side.

Our family, we even have relatives in Canada now. The Kanu lives there too. Plus, Canada plays a significant role in Sierra Leone’s history. Yes, my mother’s mom was African American. I don’t remember exactly, but they say my grandma’s mom was Guyanese, and her dad was African American. On my father’s side, we’re from a place called Gbendembu. The Loko and the Mandingo are sub-groups of the Mande ethnic group. Some are Muslims, while others are Christians. I’m all that culture in my lineage.”

Q: Tell us about your music. How would you describe it?

Freddy Will: “My music expresses cultural, religious, political, and social experiences. Sometimes it’s a celebration, and other times it’s a howling. At the core, it’s Hip Hop. This genre has shaped many aspects of me. I rap in most of the music. Although, on the production end, the sound could be more assorted. I’d describe my music as a crossover Hip Hop.”

Q: How were you introduced to music?

Freddy Will: “Before he became a born-again Christian, my father used to play music in the house. Back in Liberia, he had an entertainment system. It had a record player. He had many records. My parents threw parties, if I remember correctly. Our neighbors did the same thing. Liberia was a very musical place when I was growing up. Every birthday came with a party, with lots of music and dancing. When my parents converted to born-again Christianity, the music changed to Gospel but still music.”

Q: Were you in the Church choir?

Freddy Will: “No. I’ve always been an outcast. I don’t fit in, so I do my thing. That was the same case in the Church. The choir was there, but I couldn’t get in. I’d watched them sing. I watched them practice, but they didn’t let me join. For me, the answer was always no. Although when I lived in Bo, they had a youth group at our Church. I wasn’t a full member, but once, they let me participate in a convention where we sang on stage and acted in a play from the Bible. It was nice. I was never in the choir.”

Q: You didn’t like Church.

Freddy Will: “I wouldn’t say that. I wasn’t in the groups. I could sit in the audience. The Church in Bo was the best of them. They let me attend or participate in group meetings. I wasn’t a full-fledged member, but I affiliated. As I said, that one time when they had that big convention when all the other Churches met in Bo, and they sent singing groups to represent them, my Church let me participate. I was the kid who hung around watching. During those years, it was all about me wishing and hoping.”

Q: How did you learn how to compose music?

Freddy Will: “I taught myself. I was already rapping before moving to Sierra Leone. I hung around the youth meetings and choir at the new Church, watching them practice. Then I studied the formats in hymn books. I’d ask the guitar or piano player to show me a thing or two every chance I got. Then I’d beatbox the rest. I created the music in my mind. Once my friends put me onto Gangsta rap, I started lip-syncing over instrumentals. As time went on, I started to hear songs in my mind. Randomly, a new song would come to me.”

Q: Who writes and composes your songs?

Freddy Will: “I wasn’t kidding when I said I never fit in anywhere. Okay, maybe I exaggerated a tiny bit. But no, I didn’t get the mentor or the protégé. Most times, when someone showed, they were there to defeat me. I had to write my lyrics. A beatmaker or producer would back me up on the production end. The song comes to my mind, and I’d beatbox the rhythm to myself while writing the lyrics. Then I’d find a producer and hint at a rhythm for the song. Then they’d hit me with whatever they’ve got.”

Q: Take us through your creative process.

Freddy Will: “I watched the choir practice. I’d studied the lyrics in hymn books. Then I taught myself to use the same format. On the rapping side, I learned how to lip sync a few popular songs like ‘Around the Way Girl’ by L. L. Cool J, ‘OPP’ by Naughty by Nature, ‘Down with The King’ by RUN DMC, and ‘Lord Knows’ by Tupac Shakur. Once I could freestyle the lip-synced lyrics, I started to rap them over their instrumental. Shortly after that, I made up my raps and spat them to the instrumental with the hook.

This was between the early to mid-90s. By the mid to late 90s, I was writing lyrics. Now the music comes to me like a download. I hear the song (in my mind) and replicate it. Sometimes I produce it exactly, and other times it turns out differently. Perhaps I was sleeping and dreaming when a song came, and I wrote it down and made a reference recording. Or, I’d listened to a beat, and the song came instantly. At the very least, I’d have written the lyrics if I couldn’t remember the melody or the rhythm.

The chorus or the hook comes first, then the verses. Depending on the producer or engineer, the song could be whatever. With an excellent producer, I’d hint at a drumline, harmony, or baseline, and he’ll take it from there. A beat-making producer might already have a beat where I’d match my hook and verses to his rhythm and adjust. Then I’d take that to the studio. It all depends on the situation. I can rap to any beat and do several genres. It’s a typical format that most artists use to create songs.”

Q: Does that explain the crossover claim you make?

Freddy Will: “The crossover is between two or more genres on the same song. I’d go with Funk, Soul, R&B, Gospel, Reggae, Calypso, Soca, Africana, Classical, Dancehall, Rock, or Country music. Africana music splits into branches like Sukus, Gumbay, Zouk, and Afrobeat. When you bring all that to Hip Hop, you end up with the Afropolitan sound. It’s crossover. That’s like what Afrobeat is in some cases. It’s a work in progress. I’m still looking to make that perfect crossover but blending genres is it.

As I’ve said earlier, the songs come to my mind. I could be cleaning the kitchen, walking, or sleeping. The rhythm comes, I beatbox it, then the rap lyrics start to flow. I’d have a new song if I could find a pen and pad quick enough to write it down and a recorder to freestyle a reference recording. Later, I’ll rewrite and edit it. On the production side, I’d either make the beat or choose a beatmaker’s beat. When everything felt right, I’d go to a studio and record what I’d been working on the last few weeks or so.”

Q: Can you name six of your crossover songs?

Freddy Will: “Yes. ‘City Boy,’ ‘Maria,’ ‘Providence,’ ‘Girl from Happy Hill,’ ‘Pickin,’ and ‘While I’m Still Young.’ I started making crossovers when it was unpopular. People used to criticize it. When I first recorded ‘City Boy,’ many people didn’t get it. The term is a popular slogan now; everyone’s making some crossover. It became a trend years later. I’m not saying they got it from me. I’m saying I was heading in the right direction with that.”

Q: Nice! Tell the fans about your first release.

Freddy Will: “’Stay True.’ We released it off of an independent label in Toronto. I said we because I was with a music producer and his team. It had been almost a decade since I’d rapped or performed professionally. A stroke of luck found me out there, recording my debut album. It was like a dream. He was the producer. I loved his sound. It was perfect for my style. That’s when we recorded ‘Animal,’ ‘So Hard,’ ‘Somebody…’”

Q: We’ve seen rappers who freestyle a song instantly. They have such an intense work ethic that they can write and record several pieces in one go. Are you one of them?

Freddy Will: “I’ve written and recorded two to three songs on the same day and performed them on the same night. I’ve created dope pieces that way. Lately, I don’t prefer that method anymore. As I said, songs come to me. Someone can invite me to a studio, an engineer plays a beat, and they ask me to get in the booth. I would. Typically, the message will not be positive when I spit off the top of my head or write a song within minutes in the studio. That’s where you’d hear all sorts of profanities and shit.

Once I’m peer-pressured to make a quick song, the lyrics go in the stereotypical direction. You’ll get the streets – being inebriated, debauchery, wealthy, or violent situations. When I take my time to write, I’m more thought-provoking. I prefer working on a song for a few days or weeks before recording it. Once we record, that’s it. Once we release it, that’s it. I get songs, write them, and record them at the studio. I could bring two or three to a session and record them simultaneously.”  …TO BE CONTINUED.

www.freddywill.com/music

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Karasu Merodi

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Bedroom Memories Part.4 – Karasu Merodi

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Echoes of Two Souls – Karasu Merodi

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Chef Porter

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de zéro – Chef Porter

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Claudia Tao

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Nirvana – Claudia TAO

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