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Keelyn Ellis: From North Memphis to North Africa

  • Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom

Memphis born-and-raised musician Keelyn Ellis was just back from a trip to Tunisia Africa and was happy to do an interview for the readers of The New Tri-State Defender.
 Kelvin Cowans

by Kelvin Cowans

Special to the Tri-State Defender

Memphis born-and-raised musician Keelyn Ellis was just back from a trip to Tunisia Africa and was happy to do an interview for the readers of The New Tri-State Defender. So I seized the opportunity to see what he’s been up to and what he’s got planned next.

“Tunisia, Africa is beautiful. Even with all of the pictures I took, they still can’t show you what it feels like to be there,” said Ellis. “I took camelback rides and I enjoyed the vast beauty of the Mediterranean Sea and the culture of the people.”

So how does a kid from North Memphis end up in North Africa?

Keelyn Ellis’ mother was a talented singer, who also played the piano. His father sang and played bass guitar. He took in the essence of both and “went for it with all I had.” (Photo by Patrick Covington Photography.)

Ellis in Tunisia, Africa’s northernmost country. (Courtesy photos)

 Camel back and ready to roll.

“I was asked to go on tour with a friend of mine, an awesome guitar player named Preston Shannon. While preparing for the tour I had my people to set up some music workshops so that I could bless the kids over there with my knowledge of music. I wanted them to know the techniques to song writing and tricks of the music business,” said Ellis.

“They were very interested in the Hip-Hop culture. I had the kids to come up and share with me some of their music and they were excellent. In this section of Africa the language was French, and they got to rapping in French and doing their spoken word poetry and I found myself turning into a fan of theirs.”

Keelyn showed me a picture of him gracing the microphone on Beale Street and he wasn’t what we call young, he was a baby.

“When did this music thing get started for you,” I asked?

“It started when I was 4 years old. My family had a gospel group and they would take me down on Beale Street to Handy Park and I would sing gospel songs. My mom was a great singer and she could also play the piano. My dad could sing and he also played the bass guitar. I just took in the essence of it all and when I got older I just went for it with all I had,” said Ellis.

“I still remember how hungry I was to get in the music game and make it. I had to be 19 years old when I packed my bags, grabbed my keyboard and like twenty songs that I had written and headed for New York.”


“Real talk, I took a 22-hour Greyhound bus ride from Memphis to New York against everybody’s wishes, even my Mom. Everybody thought I was crazy. Now that I look back on it, I do feel a little crazy that I did that,” Ellis said.

“But it wasn’t long after that when I got a chance to hook up with P. Diddy and he took me under his wings. I was able to ink my first management deal. I met a lot of superstars that I grew up watching when he took me to his recording studio named Daddy’s House. It was all good.

“I have written or produced for artists and groups such as Day 26, Danity Kane and televison shows such as “Making The Band 4” and “So You Think You can Dance.”

Everywhere he goes, people are always talking good about Memphis music, said Ellis.

“Memphis is full of talent. I remember the first beat I ever sold was to the rapper Skinny Pimp and it just took off from there. I did work with Yo Gotti on his “Back to the Basics” album and after that I did some gospel, pop and Jazz. I got real busy and stayed on the grind.”

I asked Keelyn what could we expect from him next.

“I now have a record company named EMG and what we are trying to do is take whatever it is that you do and help you build it. Whether you sing, rap, dance or write songs, we are looking for talent,” said Ellis.

I was working with Lamont Dozier and he was explaining to me how Berry Gordy ran Motown. How he(Gordy) shaped groups like The Temptations, The Jackson Five and The Supremes. This is how I envision EMG to be. We are family oriented and looking to bridge the gap between the younger and older generations.

“So if you feel you have a talent, I encourage you to get at me. No matter what it is, don’t be shy. Let’s let the people decide.”

(Keelyn Ellis can be reached at www.facebook.com/KeelynEllis, Twitter@Ellisbaby or you can watch his videos at YouTube.com/EMGmusiclive.)

(Reach Kelvin Cowans, aka Six-Four, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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