Skip to main content

Des Moines rapper discusses community outreach efforts

Will "Keeps" Holmes — a Chicago-raised, Des Moines-based hip-hop artist — released a music video for his song "Wake Up Iowa" in September. The video, which was shot at different Des Moines locations, has gained almost 15,000 views since hitting YouTube.

The song, which features fellow Des Moines hip-hop artist Subjec1ne, is about "what's going on in the city," Holmes said.

Holmes works with a local organization, ManUp Iowa, spreading a message he described as teaching the students "about life." Holmes said he was involved in gang activity at a young age but has since focused on educating youth on the reality of gang violence. He said he goes to different schools in the city, like Hoyt and McCombs Middle School, to mentor students on the issue.

Keeps talked to Juice about the video, its message and what he's doing to share his story with the community.

Juice: Let’s first talk about the message behind the “Wake Up Iowa” video. Tell me a bit about that.

Will Keeps: My son, one of his good friends, named Terry Harris, got killed. My son and my daughter came to me — they were real sad about it — and they asked me to do a song about the violence that’s going on in Des Moines. They were very serious about it and I told 'em, “OK, I’ll do it.”

It's all about what’s going on the city — why the city’s turning into a place where people are afraid to go outside (of) their homes.

Why do you think that?

I feel like Iowa’s trying to put (itself) on the map with the gangs. I want to put Iowa on the map when it comes down to the music. Iowa’s not a place where you go outside and you look for violence. It’s not a place where you go outside and think to yourself, “Oh my God, am I going to make it through the day, because of the violence?” Being from Chicago, that’s how I felt every day … going outside my home. I’m not saying there’s no gangsters here, I’m saying that when you walk outside your house, you can be free. You can go out here and not worry about, “Is anything going to happen here today?” I want to keep that. I want to keep that vision for our youth.

Outside of the song, what are you doing to keep that vision?

I work with an organization called ManUp Iowa. I (work) with kids at Hoyt (Middle School), McCombs (Middle School), King Elementary (School) and Scavo (School).

How do you interact with the kids?

I mentor 'em. I teach 'em about life. I teach 'em about respecting authority. I teach 'em about what’s going on in the world. I tell 'em my story about how I was raised and how I was molested as a kid and in a gang. I was left for dead at 15 years old; I had a friend get killed in front of me. I tell 'em about all that. I tell 'em how it’s not about what you go through, but how you get out of it … how you come out of it.

What brought a change in lifestyle for you?

When I had my first daughter I realized I had to be a father. It’s about growth … getting older and seeing life. When I was growing up, I used to have family members looking at me like I was a problem. At some point, you get tired of people looking at you like you’re a problem. You want to be able to have people look at you like you’re doing something good … like they’re proud of you. I wanted to be proud of myself; I wanted my daughter to be proud of me; I wanted my family to be proud of me. I changed my life.

When talking about change, what else do you think needs to take place?

People have to see that there’s a bigger box than just Des Moines, Iowa. They have to see that there’s a world out there. People have to know that there’s a bigger life that’s more than just here. They have to understand it. They have to know it.

Being a guy who comes off as positive, what do you have to say about people who criticize aspects of your music?

"Thank you, it makes me stronger." I listen to everybody. I listen to everybody who comments on my work and I appreciate it all. Everybody’s going to have their opinion, they’re not all going to be happy about your work.