Freddy Will to rap for a Malayalam movie

The Canadian Grammy-nominated hip hop artiste's song 'Natural Light' will feature in Poriveyil, an upcoming film

Updated - October 12, 2019 05:01 pm IST

Published - October 10, 2019 04:06 pm IST

Freddy Will plays a song on his mobile phone, which he had written and recorded . He nods his head to the rhythm, his face half covered by his cap. It is old school rap and it talks about how the time has come for the world to be comfortable with women being in control.

The song, ‘Natural Light’, will feature in Poriveyil , an upcoming Malayalam film directed by Farook Abdul Rahiman. And for the Grammy-nominated hip hop artiste from Canada, who always wanted to push his boundaries, this is a “great platform”. “I had Indian friends in school and Sholay is one of my favourite films,” he says.

Freddy has been writing and performing music since the 90s and by early 2000, he had made his mark as a rapper in Toronto. His story, he says, begins in Liberia, where he was born as Wilfred Kanu Jr. His father was a lecturer in a University and growing up in the early eighties, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and Lionel Richie were a permanent background score.

In 1989, when civil war broke out in Liberia, the family escaped to Sierra Leone, where they lived as refugees. However, peace was short lived. War erupted in Sierra Leone and Wilfred was separated from his family. The war was brutal and he thought his family had died. “They thought I was dead too,” he says. He roamed the streets, joined gangs and each day boiled down to a question of survival. “I was a gangster. My brush with gangster rap began those days.”

Dressed in a loose-fitting checked shirt, worn over a black tee, with just the right amount of bling including a chunky metal chain around his neck, a fat ring and a ear stud, Freddy says, “I started writing to change my image. People in America were scared of me. I was coming from war-torn Africa. They looked at me with suspicion.”

From Sierra Leone, he moved to The Gambia when he heard that his family had moved to New Jersey in the US and he wanted to escape the war. It was mid 90s and he was performing music across the west African regions of Serekunda, Senegambia and Fajara. He was known as a Sierra Leonean refugee who played hip hop. In 1995, he found someone who could contact his mother in New Jersey and he spoke to her. “My family began to put in efforts to get me to New Jersey and I had to wait three years until my papers were okayed,” he says.

“To be precise, I would say I discovered hip hop in 1988. Though I was rapping, I was just copying the styles of the big guys back then...Big Daddy Kane, know what I mean.... But I wanted to write my own stuff.” After his move to New Jersey, he joined school, where he happened to meet a “rich guy” who introduced him to wrestling. “I had no idea what wrestling was. But I was a big guy and I could easily overpower my opponents. That was how I could pay my own tuition fees.” Wilfred became Freddy Will. “It was way cooler than Wilfred, you know.” He took up chemistry in college and soon found a job as a phlebotomist (medical technician).

Music, full time

Freddy’s heart, however, lay elsewhere. In 2006, he decided to make music a full time career and moved to Canada, where he released an original mixtape titled, ‘Stay True’. As an independent artist, he evolved his own style, mixing hip hop with R&B, reggae and jazz. Over time, he began performing at open mics, underground venues and record release parties.

A charity album he was part of, titled “Healthy Food For Thought, Good Enough to Eat”, aimed at combating childhood obesity and Type II diabetes in New York was nominated for the “Best Spoken Word Album for Children” at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 2010.

Hip hop is a form of story telling. “It has four aspects—DJ, dance, graffiti and rap. I rap. It is prose, an oral tradition. And my songs have always been based on my life and my background. I try to use my platform to promote positivity. Hip hop is a beautiful mix of a lot of things—it has got rhythm, funk, jazz, blues, rock and roll... it is spontaneous; it is poetic.”

Does he see himself going back to Liberia or Sierra Leone? “No. I think I have become too westernised for that. However, I do keep visiting.” Doing shows and writing music and books; he is a published author, having over nine books to his credit, Freddy divides his time between Canada, Berlin and Brussels.

Freddy believes his style is closer to old school hip hop, which he also prefers listening to. “There are different eras in hip hop, the style of the OGs (original gangsters, as the older generation is called) is very different from new-age hip hop. It is great to see them carrying on the culture.”

Freddy will also be featuring in a cameo in a yet-to-be-named Malayalam film.

Top Rapper

Sierra Leone issued four limited-edition Freddy Will postage stamps in 2011. It was an honour accorded to him for being the first Sierra Leonean artiste and author nominated under a Grammy Award category.

The Freddy Will Hope Foundation, which he established in 2006 provides healthcare and educational assistance to students in Africa, especially Liberia and Sierra Leone and other developing countries.

Some of his albums:

While I’m Still Young

Laboramus Expectantes...Brazen It Out

City of Kings Reloaded (EP)

Dark Horse From Romarong

Stay True

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