December 9, 2023

Mid Designer

Breakaway from the pack

#DOWNTOWNRVA: Will Keck AKA OG ILLA Gives The MSQ Shop and CNTR New Life

I had agreed to meet up with William Keck aka OG SickA at his newly renovated room on Wide St, which he has dubbed CNTR in the last year—a creative house for artistic people. The locale is humble adequate out entrance, bearing the marks of its quite a few earlier iterations, this sort of as the bookstore it at the time was, but the within is on its way to starting to be one particular of the most innovative spaces in the town. I was greeted out entrance by Keck just a few minutes before our agreed-upon time, and he ushered me within where we tried to uncover a put to sit down and chat, as the renovations are not rather entire. We finished up in the lately vacated basement that, right up until a handful of days back, was occupied by a CBD hemp business. Our dialogue could start off in earnest as Keck instructed me the story of what introduced him to this position.

Will Keck aka OG Illa with The MSQ Shop & CNTR 2023
Will Keck aka OG SickA, photograph courtesy of CNTR

Starting up out 15 years back as a young rapper, Keck experienced suggestions of grandeur and high exceptions of the place his existence may well get him. Like several impartial artists on the other hand, he experienced to get started small and engage in most of his expansive strategies by himself on his individual time. Explained Keck, “I was a musician for 15 a long time, a rapper, and together that time, I acquired to do a ton of stuff… my greatest issue was I realized how to do graphic layout, I realized how to shoot videos, I uncovered how to brand name myself… I realized how to structure merch, I figured out how to do internet sites, all due to the fact I was way too broke to fork out someone to do it. The much more I did that, the superior I obtained at it, and the a lot more men and women commenced using the services of me to do it for them.”

But these newfound capabilities ended up not the conclude-all-be-all, as Keck rapidly grew to become disenchanted by the system of virtually fully nameless freelance do the job. At initial, he did it for the love of developing, but it came to a position where by Keck was undertaking so significantly work, nevertheless he was not having the credit he felt he deserved, and it would not scale to much larger tasks as the proper compensation wasn’t there. “I don’t do it essentially for those factors, but it was restricting me to how I could get to other people today, and how I could build on what I was executing,” said Keck. This was the origin of Keck’s structure capabilities, but he also had a background bringing people today collectively and arranging, these kinds of as when Keck begun a grass roots movement acknowledged as Virginia Hip Hop.

Some of the garments on display screen at present at CNTR.

At first shaped after a chat home app that Keck cherished fell through, he began the team and would host hundreds of people today who were included in the Virginia hip hop scene the place they would go over the troubles of their neighborhood. Overwhelmingly the concept that pervaded and was continually on everyone’s thoughts is that there ended up no publications covering the neighborhood, and no system for those who care about the hip hop scene. After reaching out to many author mates inquiring into regardless of whether they would be fascinated in beginning a site on Virginia hip hop, and not becoming warmly received, Keck made the decision he would get started a person himself. Thus is the origin of The MSQ Store in 2021, a blog site masking Virginia’s hip hop scene.

In 2021, Keck also founded The OG Design and style and formally integrated his endeavours as a graphic designer and model developer. He labored for a whilst underneath this umbrella, with The MSQ Store as a weblog, and The OG Structure as brand name and content material creation, but as Keck suggests, “as we went together our to start with 12 months, all those factors just begun overlapping.” It felt like points needed to adjust, so Keck resolved to consolidate. “After the initially calendar year, we have been performing both, and we assumed [that] the branding was off, and men and women are not having exactly what we do, so we merged every thing,” stated Keck. This was in 2022. At this time, Keck was doing the job out of a person space in the building he now at this time occupies with CNTR, but at this time he was a aspect of a innovative local community recognized as The Collective. Because of to a collection of again lease payments not becoming compensated by the larger sized group, The Collective was kicked out of the creating. Keck, who experienced been up to date on his rent payments to the business, felt that it was time for him to start into his greater vision and fulfill his concept of what a collaborative artistic place really should look like, so he took handle of the setting up.

Wanting back again into the celebration area at CNTR.

It was a completely clean start off for Keck, who claimed about the changeover, “it wasn’t just the developing, I got rid of a lot of people in my life… I definitely had to obvious room so that I could cease staying burdened by the things that I was dragging along… So I could have to do these upcoming things… But that was the most significant blessing in my life, just acquiring the courage to say that, ‘I can do this on my personal, I can stand out listed here, and I can have confidence in myself.” As of right now, it seems that the hard function and courage are having to pay off, as Keck has managed to transform his goals into a truth.

So the house is new, and there’s some interesting new issues happening, but what accurately is CNTR, The MSQ Store, and what do they want to aid creatives accomplish? Properly, mentioned Keck on the grand plan of things, “[CNTR is] a innovative space, but just like you see it now, it’s continuously evolving… We have retail up entrance, all the garments that you see up front is Virginia owned, we have an occasion area that doubles as an art gallery, we have a recording studio, and then we have tenants who also lead to the creativeness of the space… this kind of as [a] tattoo shop… It is a haven for creatives to make.”

Part of the event room at CNTR.

It’s significant to individual The MSQ Store from CNTR, and to differentiate the two, Keck put it pretty succinctly, expressing, “[The MSQ Shop is] a resourceful organization impressed by music, so we use songs to encourage what we do, but we get the job done with a lot of various manufacturers. The MSQ Shop is the just one that does the creating, CNTR is where we do the generating.” Walking in the front doorway, website visitors are promptly greeted by the garments retail outlet, where by there is a basketball hoop, decorations from some of the present-day artists working out of the space, and a claw equipment. Going for walks back again down the small hallway, people will discover themselves in the most important party space a giant multipurpose space with a significant sliding door that can be shut for privateness, serving as an artwork gallery with a consistent stream of artwork circling as a result of. Basically even though, this room can, and has been, utilised for anything at all from dwell comedy and hip hop reveals, a studio to report dwell bands, or even non-public activities these as child showers. Likely even even further again by means of the area, visitors are brought to the place that will serve as a tattoo parlor, and then to the little music studio area in the back again.

There are hundreds of people involved in the procedure of creating this position a actuality, but as far as some main men and women who are staples of CNTR, I requested Keck to lay some down for me. He pointed out far much too quite a few names to include listed here, but you can go through go to their website and uncover some information on quite a few of the people involved. In quick, nonetheless, up entrance NVSTD Brand name Apparel runs the store. Several of the working day-to-working day operations are overseen by Chris Forte as the studio supervisor for The MSQ Store and Keck’s “Swiss military knife.” Videographers frequently on internet site will consist of folks like Sean King and Dyfferant between a lot of some others, not to point out quite a few photographers, musicians, audio engineers, tattoo artists, and creatives of all forms circling by.

Will Keck aka OG Illa with The MSQ Shop & CNTR 2023
Will Keck & Family, photograph courtesy of Will Keck

A veritable just one-stop store for any and all resourceful requirements, CNTR and The MSQ Shop have everything any artistic may well have to have at any degree of their profession, and this is only the new beginning. Keck has identified himself faced from insane odds, but with enthusiasm, perseverance, and the support of an complete neighborhood and city’s well worth of fellow artists who desired to aid him understand it, have introduced this outstanding place to everyday living. Who understands the place they’ll go from below.

Most important picture by Amir Dennis @difficultdennis
Shots by Andrew Bonieskie