In a sporadic interview with the Sierra Leonean postage stamps honoree, we discuss American politics, diplomatic life in Europe, his return to Africa, ten book publications, and his upcoming Krio album, “Dark Horse from Romarong 2.”
Photographer: Silke Reents
It has been four years since Freddy Will relocated from North America to Europe. In 2016, after publishing three consecutive books with accompanying albums via Soul Asylum Poetry and Publishing, he announced a new series of publications on his private Facebook page. This rapper became an author in 2009 which was around the time he joined the coveted class of Grammy Award nominees. In the summer of 2016, he traveled to London, the UK, where he published the first volume of “The Sandmann’s Journal.”
That was his fourth book. It was the first one without Soul Asylum Poetry and Publishing. At one point, we wondered what was going on with that partnership since the new book publication was different from his normal routine. The “2 Passports” rapper spent ten years in Toronto, where he released all his albums and books until then. When he went to Brussels, Belgium, at first, we thought he was on vacation. After flying back to Toronto, he made a pitstop in St. George’s, Grenada, and then he returned to Brussels.
In December of that same year, he published his fifth book, “The Sandmann’s Journal Volume 2.” It was clear to us that this was the book series. Freddy Will rarely uses Instagram. He Tweets even less. If he is on Snap Chat or TikTok, we have not seen those accounts. Most of his social media activities take place on his private Facebook where he has 5000 friends and another 15, 000 followers. If you could subscribe to his friend’s list, you will see many of his posts and blogs on several social and political topics.
He also posts photos of himself traveling, cooking, or hanging out in one of his homes and he shares information about his music and his books. In one post we learned that the monikers, African Black and The Sandmann confirm he considers TSMJ as his “Journal.” As the Sandmann, he promises at least seven volumes. 2017 was a great year for the prolific New Jersey writer. He explained to us that he is Sierra Leonean “by birth.” However, he naturalized in the United States and resides in Canada. He also holds a Grenadian diplomatic passport, which explains why he is a diplomat in Belgium.
Notably, most of the things he has done like publishing three books in one year have created a story for Sierra Leoneans. We sat back and watched Freddy tour the world in 2017. Among the few places we can name, he made pitstops in Frankfurt, Germany, then Amsterdam, the Netherlands, then Paris, France, Baku, in Azerbaijan, Toronto, Canada, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Malibu and San Francisco, California, and the list goes on. His most interesting destination that year was his trip to Freetown, Sierra Leone. That is because we know he had not been there since 1995 when he left during the civil war.
During 2017, he also released “Views from the 7,” which is his greatest hits album, that he claims Drake inspired. Drake’s album was “Views from the 6,” which he shortened to “Views.” There must be a reason why Freddy Will went with seven. In terms of when the American Canadian published three new books in the same year, 2018 made an even bigger splash. They were the third, fourth, and fifth “The Sandmann’s Journal.” In the same year, he procured a home in Berlin, Germany, in addition to his residence in Brussels. You can hate but we enjoy watching Freddy Will go about his grind.
Freddy Will talks about “Dark Horse from Romarong 2” his first album of new songs since 2014.
Why did it take ten years to record your second Krio album?
“I did the first one to let Sierra Leoneans be aware of my story. At the time, I noticed that Hip Hop was picking up back home. A few artists were making waves on the scene. As someone who had put in some work in Freetown back in the days, I wanted to be a part of that movement. But I didn’t get the reception I expected. What I had failed to realize was that the times had changed. The homies had moved on after I left. They did not remember our time, let alone me as an individual.
To their defense, I also had a chip on my shoulder and the mood on that first record was dark. I centered it around the Canadian and Caribbean Jazz and Soul vibe, spoke about the past and said things like, ‘the dark horse made international.’ Looking back now, I thought they’d remember me, my struggle, and celebrate my progress as our collective success. But they had a new movement. No one remembered me. That is why I stepped back from creating new tracks in Krio. It was to consider if I should keep it pushing on my American Canadian tip or if I should reintroduce myself on the scene out there?”
What was your decision?
“I was lucky to connect with a DJ called Jida. From interacting with the people on social media, I met a kid called Prince Will CTC, RIP. Sadly, Prince passed away last year. So yep, I picked the reintroduction route. I also did some collabs, we chopped up on a few projects, Jida got the songs on the radio and Prince tooted my horn. Then I got into philanthropic activities, helped a few students to get through high school and college and arranged for financial assistance during the Ebola Outbreak and the Mudslide.”
Tell us about your 2021 album.
“Sure. It’s ‘Dark Horse from Romarong 2.’ Like I was saying earlier, I connected with the rappers in the country. At the time they were doing Afrobeat. So, our collaborations were a mixture of that. They put me on Afrobeat and I produced boom-bap for them. To me, it seemed like we both had what the other was missing. I imagined them wanting to be Grammy nominees just as much as I wanted to be known and respected out there. That’s what this new record is about. It is a celebration of my return to my original culture.
I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone. Instead of boom-bap Hip Hop, Jazz, or Calypso vibes, this time. it’s Afrobeat and Zouk. In my first radio interviews Jida asked me to visit the country so the people can see me. I did that. Then he asked me to work with Sierra Leonean musicians. I am doing that. On this record, I’ve already worked with a well-known producer called Solo, and I’ve worked with a few other Sierra Leonean musicians. ‘Dark Horse from Romarong 2’ brings closure because after I release it, I will be satisfied that I went back home and touch my people in the art form and fashion.”
You have honored many great Sierra Leonean recording artists in your songs. What motivates you to do that?
“That’s the cloth I’m cut from. In my day, how I came up, you had to pay homage to the guys who came before you. For me, it’s all about honor, respect, and integrity. We consider Jimmy B as the Godfather because he is the first Sierra Leonean musician to make it big from outside of the country. That was inspiring to guys like myself when I was coming up. Shadow Boxxer used to live on my block in Grassfield back in the day. He was that big homie from a distance. Lansana Sheriff made national and cultural classics. So, if I was going to wave the Sierra Leonean flag and represent for the motherland then it’s only right that I pay homage to them and every other musician that contribute to the artform.”
Are you naming a lot of people on this new record?
“No. I feel like I’ve paid my homage. This record is going to be based on a concept. I won’t go into details. Keep in mind, Africa is my home. That is my mother and fatherland. At first, I was reintroducing myself, now I want to re-experience the culture and the people.”
What do you think about the political climate in the US?
“You will have to be specific. What do you mean when you say the political climate?”
Let’s start with cancel culture. What do you think about it?
“I think it’s wack. Why are our work and private lives bulked into one? Work is a service that you provide to an employer for a specific wage. They can’t own you or you would be their slave. Once the work hours have passed you are on your time. What you do in your private life is not your employer’s business. It was an exchange. You did a job and they paid you. Done. Everybody goes their separate way. My disclaimer to that is you can’t be a rapist or a murderer or some type of an obvious delinquent and someone shouldn’t be able to go to your employer and cause them to fire you on a none work-related issue.”
What about the upcoming US election?
“To be honest, I don’t have issues with Donald Trump. When he ran for office, I agreed with most of his policies. The ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan could sound like he’s saying, make America “white” again. But what’s new? Even as a naturalized citizen I know that there is a race issue in the country. Now, when it comes to Joe Biden, he’s another candidate who I admire a lot. I support most of his policies. Biden is like Trump. They both tend to say things when they didn’t mean it like that. In this election, Biden has it bad because he can’t make a lot of promises. But the Democrats could win it.”
Being a diplomat in Europe, what is it like?
“It’s awesome! You still have to follow the law, tho. A lot of people think because you’re a diplomat you don’t have to follow rules but that’s not true. You get a driver and a cook. You attend elegant events. You meet Queens, Kings, Princes, Princesses, Presidents, Prime Ministers, you know, top-ranking government officials and other diplomats. For me, I am a writer who is crazy about European history so being a diplomat has allowed me to expand my knowledge. I can travel to any country in Europe, visit museums, ancient churches, and historic towns. Europe is massive and the cultures and languages are vast so when you live there you can never be bored. There is always something to do.”
Do you plan on moving back to Africa?
“That’s the thing about living in Europe, you’re closer to Africa. I honestly thought Canada was it for me. I did not see Europe in the cards but here I am. A part of me wants to live in the UAE for a little while. I also want to return to the States. At this point in my life, there are too many options. Yes, I would love to move back to Africa but where? Should I move to Sierra Leone or Liberia? What about Gambia or Senegal? Maybe I should try Nigeria or Ghana? South Africa sounds nice. Do you see what I’m saying? I just got a crib in Germany and I’m looking at a few projects so at this moment it looks like I will be in Europe for a little while until that next sure thing comes up.”
As a rapper from New Jersey who has published ten books with no sign of stopping. You haven’t released an album with new songs since 2014. Are you transitioning from music to publishing?
“You know what? I’d say yes to that. Music is in my blood and I will always drop albums. I see myself releasing a new record when I’m in my sixties even. With that said, I don’t believe I will drop music as frequently. I’m not the street dude that I used to be back in the day. The streets will always be a part of me but I’ve reached a certain age where I had to let that go. I will always respect the street code. The truth is you have to sit down to write. Everything I’ve published so far has set the stage for even more stuff later. I see myself writing fiction novels or history books. I also have other business ventures ongoing so music has become more of an expensive hobby at this point.
Then again, just like with where am I going to move next? You just never know. I could sign a record deal or a music publishing deal. I could sign a movie deal or a book publishing deal. I’m talking about the mainstream level. My career was mainstream for a hot second, then I became independent for a long stretch. One never knows. I won’t rule anything out. Right now, I’m in Africa mode again. When I get like this, I go in on the Krio rhymes. We have a bunch of Afrobeat tracks, we’ve reached out to singers in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco, and I’ve even got a few Reggaeton guys from South America. This new record is going to be nuts! And it’s dropping with my eleventh book.”
“Yes. The ‘Tenth Anniversary Edition of The Dark Road from Romarong.” It’s been ten years since my last Krio album. That was the first Dark Horse from Romarong project. It came out with an accompanying book. I’m re-editing that book, adding a few new details, and expanding the story from the Independence down to where Sierra Leone was at before the civil war. It’s a history book. When I publish that, it will be my eleventh.”
We were excited to contact him for a sit-down in May of 2020. Amid the coronavirus crisis, he had published the sixth volume in February, which was “Crime Rhymez: The Tenth Anniversary Edition of My Book of Chrymes,” in October of 2019. Freddy Will had published seven new full-length books in four years. Like most of his music releases since 2014, his 2020 album, “African Black: The Unreleased Anthems & Ballads” will be a collection of songs he had recorded in the past. This one promises several unreleased studio recordings as unheard versions of his “most popular songs.”
His music is enchanting. It’s usually provocative old school Hip Hop, Jazz, and Calypso. He raps on socially conscious subjects, his appreciation of love, and his lyricism, range from “street poetry” to “ghetto proses.” There is an anxious tone as he often seems uncertain to which country should he be more patriotic. Sierra Leone? Canada? Grenada? What about the United States? He remains in twilight with many thoughts as his life began in Liberia and seemed to end in Canada but now it has generated a new chapter in Europe. That has made us ask what could be next for the prolific author?
“I have a piece of every country where I have lived, inside of me.” He said: “I have lived in eight countries. I stay where most people go to visit. Sierra Leone, the USA, Liberia, The Gambia, Senegal, Canada, Belgium, and Germany, living in all of these countries have made me who I am. So, at any given time, I can represent each one of them.” Maybe one day the multi-talented Grammy-nominated artist, writer, and diplomat will eventually be recognized. “Most of the time, people do not know what I’ve done. I’ve paved the way for Sierra Leonean artists to be on postage stamps. There is no way to say that quietly.”
When independent artists talk like that, some people hear a swollen ego. He is opened doors for Sierra Leoneans to work in Indian films. He flew to Cochin, in 2019, to record the song “Natural Light” as a soundtrack for the Malayalam movie, “Poriveyil,” meaning Scorching Sun. The film was directed by Malayalam director Farook Abdul Rahiman. Freddy is scheduled to appear in two Tamil films. He recorded the song, “Girl from Happy Hill,” for the highly anticipated documentary, “Steadfast” featuring Dr. Jean Augustine PC CM OOnt CBE and created by Dilkhush Panjwani, MD and Fahim Hamid Ali.*