Cal U student a rising rapper, 'entrepreneur at heart'
When he graduates Cal U, Daeshawn Ballard hopes to secure a full-time job, but that won't stop him from producing rap and hip-hop.
To the college senior known as Lil-D Da Prince, the notion of even pausing his music would be “like telling me to stop breathing.” At age 22, he's released six albums in a decade-long career.
He works “nonstop” on his music, while balancing an academic scholarship to study business administration at California University of Pennsylvania along with managing his own clothing company “S.W.A.G.” — “Something We All Got.”
Ballard describes himself as an “entrepreneur at heart” and an “entertainer.”
“I love to make people happy,” he said. “I love to take people on a ride when I'm on stage.”
YouTube videos of his songs have racked up thousands of views — up to nearly 40,000 for song “Bottom Dollar.” His YouTube presence often includes local references, such as a Penn State Nittany Lions sweatshirt and Pittsburgh's skyline, along with his trademark flat-brim cap embroidered with “Da Prince,” a crown of sorts.
Musically, he strives to inspire.
“What sets me apart is I tend to take the stories of the people who really don't have a voice, and I fuse it with my own,” Ballard said. “I give them a chance to be heard.”
Ballard doesn't use expletives in his lyrics. He also doesn't drink and doesn't smoke, noting that drinking and smoking are not necessary “to achieve success in this community.”
“I never needed it to be a creative mind or needed it to have fun,” he said. “Life itself is fun. I don't need external things that will harm my body.”
The artist credits his parents for encouraging reading and education. Years ago, reading the dictionary was his punishment for childhood indiscretions.
“I wanted to embrace that. I didn't need to belittle myself with use of expletives,” he said. “Knowledge is what really started.”
Ballard grew up in Wilkinsburg, then moved to Penn Hills where he earned a degree from Penn Hills High School. At Cal U, he specializes in marketing studies.
When he's not writing music or studying, Ballard is most often DJ-ing, watching movies or listening to a wide range of music, including Frank Sinatra and composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
Ballard's interest in music took root a decade ago at his family's dining room table when Meach Ballard dubbed his 12-year-old “Lil-D Da Prince.” That year, the elder Ballard, a longtime rapper and musician who also owns Meach'z Y2 Kutz barbershop in Wilkinsburg, wrote a song for his son.
“He gave me that name. As a whole, it just embodies me as a person,” Ballard said. “Like any kid, I wanted to be just like my dad. From there, it just took off. I started writing my own stuff the same year. (I've) been growing and progressing from there.”
Fast-forward a decade, and Ballard has produced a half-dozen albums, each featuring his signature wordplay. His discography includes many unreleased records, too, which he said bring his total number of albums into “the double digits.”
Ballard counts his father as a musical influence, along with vintage Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Snoop Dogg for their ability to captivate listeners. He also admires musicians Drake, Big Sean and Childish Gambino for their creativity.
In 2011, Ballard was voted “best hip-hop artist under 21 in Pittsburgh” at the Pittsburgh Hip-Hop Awards. Pittsburgh rappers Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, who have achieved international acclaim, have also won awards at the competition.
“(Khalifa and Miller) are definitely goal-setters. They make you want to be better because they've been able to achieve such success,” Ballard said. “They give light to the young people who want to chase their dream, and that's what I strive to be, to be a positive beacon to the young people.”
Ballard is no stranger to the ability to achieve goals at a young age, and he's certain his musical career is far from over.
He released his first album around age 16 or 17. His songs are available for download on iTunes.
The musician recently performed on stage at the Hard Rock Cafe in Station Square, and he's scheduled shows at Cal U, Soldiers and Sailors Hall in Oakland and a college in Colorado.
With one year left at Cal U, Ballard plans to continue promoting his music and his clothing company. He'll travel to perform shows and will court retailers to sell his clothes.
To Ballard, Cal U is a turning point in his life.
“Without the scholarship they gave me, I would not be in college comfortably,” he said. “I'm just really glad that I get to be that beacon of hope, thanks to Cal U. You can do better and be a better man and give back to the community.”
In addition to the university, he credits support from his family, including his mother, Angela Addison; his father and his siblings, as well as friends and mentors.
“I thank God for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me,” he said. “I love my family for all the support and my friends.”
Rossilynne Skena Culgan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.