A tireless autodidact whose talent is only exceeded by his character, Will Goff is a visual artist, poet and talent manager whose work has penetrated the consciousness of Chicago far more than he’s been credited for. Having the fortune to call Will a friend, I sat down with him to talk about his journey.
A 90s baby with a vast knowledge of music, fashion, and Chicago culture, Will’s been creating as far back as he can recall. I asked him a bit about his origins as a visual designer who initially received undergraduate degrees in English and Political Science and how he ended up building a graphic business, Graphics by Goff.
“I chose Poly Sci and English due to them being my favorite classes in high school. I finished the program early and realized that I didn’t enjoy that shit. I sharpened my writing skills, I sharpened my ability to communicate through text, as well as analyze and synthesize information. More generally and largely, my ability to communicate. But my program taught me how to communicate through the words I write. Now as a product design, as a graphic designer, as a manager for artists, I’m in this artist development/consultant space, where communication rests at the center of it all. The question I often ask is how do I successfully communicate to my audience.”
When describing the nature of his work, Will considers himself a communicator first and foremost. As an artist he continuously crafts with full awareness of his reception. He begins with an idea of the emotional response of his audience, and reverse engineers his craft to bring it into existence. Whether it’s visual or verbal, Will is one hell of a communicator.
I was first graced with the gift of his communication while sitting in Foellinger Auditorium at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Hundreds of students sat before the spotlight, awaiting for the next artist. Out Will stepped with an veteran’s swagger, ready to put in work.
From the moment he began, he captivated and delighted the audience front to back. The mistakes of amateur poets evaded him. His cadence, timing, and tone swooned the crowd in jubilant unison. It was with his final words that he took ass out the seats.
“Y’all the fighting Illini but we just fighting to stay here.” A direct critique of UIUC’s low black retention and attendance #SupportProject500.
From that moment on, I’ve made it a goal of mine to meet and get to know the man behind the mic. We’ve stayed connected ever since.
While at University, Will and I linked up several times throughout the years, creating and collaborating on various projects. I knew Will the poet, but his local fame and recognition was garnered through his work on Graphics by Goff. Initially started as an experimental design consultancy, Will’s talent and professionalism allowed him to compete with the top agencies in the area. Slowly he would hone his craft and begun to work on projects such as the logo for Chance The Rapper’s non-profit, Social Works.
“In regards to Social works management, I enjoy creative problems in my head. There’s a level of creative thinking for sure, but there’s a higher level of strategic thinking that goes on in branding that I play with. These are questions without a simple answer or clear path to success. The challenge of creative and strategic thinking from management has given me the ability to operate at a higher level is what I like.”
Over the years he’s refined his craft to build an impressive portfolio of work. To operate at this level, he draws inspiration from only the best.
“I love 44 (Barack Obama), I wish I knew him at a personal level. What I’ve learned from Obama is that no matter what he’s going through, he is able to make speeches about hope, optimism, and preaching for a better future. No matter what he’s going through he’s able to communicate broader points. It makes you feel something. When I listen to him, it’s like music. I watch what he’s done in front of the white house. At any given point the messages are centered around hope and optimism. To be able to do what he does you gotta be a gifted communicator. You have to be able to control tonality, body image, etc… He can put everything to the side and just do it.”
It takes no imagination to see the parallels between the communication styles of our last great president and the confident poet from the southside. Both radiates an unquestionable hope and grace. Yet, there’s another great orator Will equally draws from.
“I also love Lil Wayne, if you listen to a verse, he’s the most prolific rapper right now. I don’t know anyone who’s produced more content than Lil Wayne. The mixtapes, albums, features, it’s an abundance. I know there’s Lil Wayne songs I have not heard. Why is he a great communicator? In 2005 he’s talking about pussy, in 2015 he’s talking about pussy, in 2019 he’s talking about pussy. Each time it’s the same thing but he’s able to give us different metaphors, imagery, etc.. That allows you to see the world from his point of view and see the world from his experience. The triple and double entendres, the metaphors, he’s starkly different from Obama. When I listen to Lil Wayne I’m floored, talking about pain, drugs, promiscuous, he’s able to give you a range that’s exciting.”
There’s a certain duality to the highest profile black icons that makes them that much more relatable. Barack Obama is both a Harvard lawyer and community organizer, while Lil Wayne serves as a prolific lyricist and gangster rapper. Akin to many of these icons, Will’s had to wear and show certain elements of himself, especially being a kid from the south side of Chicago to attend a Big Ten University in the Midwest. Fortunately for us, he’s been able to direct his negative energies toward something greater.
“As a child every year I had an explosive event, taking the knife out on my teacher, exploding in my church. Every year I was enraged, angry, calling my teachers bitches and hoes, I cursed my 7th grade teacher out. I cursed her out for 10 minutes. I remember that rage, I was angry, I was upset, I was mad that I had these experiences. I think it’s dangerous to carry that around. You can repurpose that energy for your work, but you gotta get it addressed. At some point you gotta confide in someone. Otherwise it will manifest it in ways that are unhealthy. I grew from that and worked toward becoming the designer I am today, but it came with a different set of problems. I was so focused on being a great designer and getting clients that I neglected my sleep and health. Spreading myself so thin that I gain almost 100 pounds. I did these things in the name of the creative work I was producing. That energy was from not wanting to go back to those circumstances. But, I think every creative has to be wary of that.”
Will’s elegantly played with the hand he’s been dealt to become a great artist, entrepreneur, friend, and now talent-manager. These days, when he’s not managing the wunderkind Ausar @AusarMusic, he’s ruminating over his next creative project. The duo have a relationship that we’d all be blessed to have at one point in our lives. Their combined intellect and creative energy has paved the foundation for their extensive musical platform.
“We think about our concerts and want them to be welcoming, and warming. We want to capture the idea of the audience, the kids from the city of Chicago. I wrote hundreds of drafts to tackle the market. I came up with hundreds of drafts as a way to find the right audience. I asked myself the same questions in design that I ask in Poly Sci/English. With Ausar I employ those communication skills differently. I think about marketing initiatives that support his music, his brand, and what kind of authentic things we could do to reach his audience.”
My initial introduction to Ausar was through The 6 Page Letter. A truly soulful brother with a professor’s wit, Ausar’s honesty is undeniable as treats the audience as his confidant, musing about his insecurities, fears, and greatest hopes while blessing the eardrums your eardrums with a lofi sound. I’ve listened to 6-Page letter many times over, and my only regret is that I won’t hear it again for the first time.
Managing Ausar, building out his own business, and still finding time to write; Will is slowly carving out his path with reckless abandon. Will the artist can out design the best of them, Will the poet has a vernacular thicker than the testament, but Will the friend is the one I’m proudest of knowing. I’ve had the joy and honor of following the path of this man, and I hope you do too.