Rapper Fresh IE teaches aboriginal youth how to write a rap at the ROQ Gathering the Nations youth conference in Ottawa. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Rapper Fresh IE turned his back on gangs, drugs

  • April 20, 2012

OTTAWA - Rapper Fresh IE could be pursuing a lucrative recording career, but instead the two-time Grammy nominee is “flying in the world’s smallest planes” to some of the most remote communities of the North.

He’s also finding his way to venues in the toughest sections of cities to spread the Gospel.

The message that Fresh, whose real name is Robert Wilson, brings is one of hope and radical conversion and that one does not have to become a slave to drugs or gangs or succumb to temptation of suicide or violence. God can transform the most unlikely person, bring forgiveness and hope.

Fresh IE recently shared his message with a group of aboriginal kids in Ottawa. Fresh’s ancestry is half black — from Barbados — and half Blackfoot Indian. He grew up in a rough section of Winnipeg, barely knowing his mother and never knowing his father.

As a teenager he got caught up in the life of gangs, criminal activity and addiction. He was arrested for armed robbery and in 1998, while out on bail awaiting sentencing for crimes that could have earned him 14 years in prison, he encountered a blind homeless man who was caught in the middle of traffic on a busy street. Fresh told the blind man to get off the street, urging him to use his voice to guide him safely to the sidewalk. On his way home Fresh recalled thinking he did not want to end up like that man and die all alone, no one to look after him.

At home in his apartment, the blind man’s plight, and his own looming prison sentence, troubled him. A little later, he noticed people outside his apartment with flashlights. He found the local Neighbourhood Watch team investigating a strange man sitting on his doorstep — the same blind man Fresh had helped out of traffic. How did a blind man find his way to his doorstep at least 15 blocks away?

The man’s presence freaked him out and he ran back upstairs. “God, are you trying to tell me something?” he asked. “If you’re real, I need to know.”

His girlfriend, now his wife, is a Christian and helped him as he spent a week crying out to God in prayer. Then God spoke to him.

“That blind man is you,” God told him. “Hear my voice and turn away from this life or you’re going to die.”  

Fresh said He used words that were nearly identical to those he had used to get the blind man — who he never saw again — off the street. He surrendered his life to Christ and within two weeks, his addictions to alcohol and drugs were gone.

Fresh had always loved music and said as a kid he had a Michael Jackson glove and a Thriller jacket and when life got too much for him, he would take a piece of cardboard and a boom box down to the courtyard of his housing complex, put the music on and dance. People would open their windows and encourage him.

So before his sentencing, he began volunteering at missions that had an outreach to children in the north end of Winnipeg. He would teach them little raps about Jesus and see the joy on their faces. He realized that if these children, who had nothing, could experience joy, so could he. Soon he was being asked to go to coffee houses and youth groups. His volunteer work, his obvious change of heart and the fact that most of his crime spree had taken place while he was a juvenile, meant he did not have to go to jail after all.

Within five years, his music and his ministry were on the verge of a major breakthrough. In 2003, he came home to find TV cameras and journalists surrounding his house. He had been nominated for a Grammy Award and his story appeared in national media.

Since his conversion, Fresh has 10 albums to his credit and has been nominated for 55 awards.

Fresh urged his Ottawa audience to write down their dreams and goals, and urged them to think about their special talents and develop them.

“You are given talents for a purpose, but it is up to you to develop them,” he said.  

“God will use your gift to bring revival in communities. Reflect on how you can use those gifts and talents to serve others.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.