Will Keck a.k.a. OG ILLA, 34

Owner and creative director, theMSQshop /CNTR

Will Keck has already crammed several lifetimes into his 34 years. Raised in foster care, at one time homeless, he’s been at times a celebrated rapper, prolific music promoter, creative entrepreneur and convicted felon for marijuana possession.

The former foster care child says he carries a chip on his shoulder about the latter. “I want to break the stereotype that just because you made a mistake in your life, that’s all you are,” he says. “As long as you stay focused and understand what your purpose is, you can get past all of that.”

It’s a message that he’s spread from the Boys and Girls Club, where the owner of theMSQshop – specializing in designs for clothing brands – does workshops for kids on creating fashion, to the address that he gave at the annual fundraising event for Virginia’s Kids Belong, which unites government, businesses, churches, nonprofits, and creative leaders to address the issues surrounding foster care in the state. “My message was that people shouldn’t pity foster care kids, they should help to inspire us,” he says.

He grew up in a turbulent household and, for eight years starting when he was 10, Keck bounced around in foster care across the region before ultimately landing in a group home. The Tucker High School grad persevered through hardship to earn a soccer scholarship to Virginia Commonwealth University, before an injury waylaid him.

He started his rap career as OG ILLA in 2011, inspired by Lil Wayne and Richmond’s own Nickelus F. As ILLA, he has made nine albums and EPs, headlined at the National, and performed gigs alongside the likes of The Roots, Playboi Carti, Chief Keef, Action Bronson, and Riff Raff.

“I’m transitioning now,” he says. “For a long time, my whole identity was being a rapper … I didn’t want to be known for anything else. Most people didn’t even know me as Will. Now I’m making music when I want to and I have no desire to be a rapper for my career anymore. [The rapper] is still there, he’s still the inspiration for all of this creativity, but I’m enjoying being Will for a little while.”

Keck’s latest initiative is CNTR, a 3,408-square-foot creative space in downtown Richmond that he opened in 2022. It features retail clothiers in front – “all Virginia clothing brands” – an art gallery, a performance space, and a recording studio. “As a musician growing up, there weren’t places for me to go and be around other creatives, who were a part of my community,” he says. “But it’s important to have spaces like these.”

In April, the entrepreneur, who used to run the Kingdom nightclub in Shockoe Bottom, launched the free, three-day Something Indie Water Festival in Virginia Beach, an indie supplement to Pharrell Williams’ large-scale Something In the Water event. “That’s something we plan to do annually,” he says. “I’m really proud of it because it’s specifically a platform for Virginia artists.”

In his off time, Keck kicks back with his fiancee Shantel Dorsey and their three sons. He thinks of his stint in jail as a wake-up call that he needed to realize his potential. “I knew I was meant to do something more than this, I told myself. And now I want to be a resource and a leader in creating those kinds of things where people network and perform and listen. I’m taking on that role as a facilitator.”


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