Here’s something an 18-year-old wants you to know: You don’t actually have to get old.
Oh, you’ll age. You might be on this earth for 80, 90, 100 spins around the sun, but you don’t have to grow up and get old.
Shaheed Waddy, 18, said as much to Donna Paris in the first few seconds of his interview with her, on a video for Paris Hair and Beauty Supplies’ YouTube channel, in August.
Paris Hair and Beauty’s role in Waddy’s life is one of two things that will be explained in more depth below. The other is BALK. The two are related.
Naturally shy and yet effortlessly charismatic, Waddy is a musician, performer and clothing line entrepreneur with a whimsical sense of humor that folks with a lot of laps around the sun tend to find funnier than middle-aged people.
At 18 and newly done with high school (he was home-schooled by his mother in Ewing) he is already a veteran rap performer who has played on stages around New Jersey, Pennsylvania and London, England, where his mother is from, by way of Jamaica.
“I started with music when I was 7,” he said. “I started recording when I was 12, I’ve been performing since last year.”
By age 13, Waddy had his own YouTube channel, which he no longer runs.
But while it was up, he dabbled in recreating hip-hop and honed his identity as a “tech boy.”
He liked to play around with audio and video and liked the tech boy identity so much he decided to get a shirt that said that.
His sound evolved mainly from the influence of Snoop.
“I was 9 when I heard him,” Waddy said. “It was just the way he spelled his name.”
Taken immediately with the D-O-Double-G, Waddy started by mimicking his hip-hop idols, building what eventually became a much more organic, intrinsic sound—performed under the stage name Shy the Weirdo.
“I don’t have the ears of an engineer,” he said. But he does have the ears of a musician and enough tech boy savvy to have taken his demos to recording studios in Trenton, Philadelphia and London.
At least one of his tracks, Y-U-Y-I (say it out loud) is available on SoundCloud. In it, Shy/Shaheed wonders why he keeps letting someone always “slide back” to him (despite always making a fool of him) atop a breezy piano-and-horns track that puts anyone with at least 45 trips around the sun in mind of the high-key, jazzy piano sounds of New York City, circa 1980.
Which brings us to BALK. This is Waddy’s clothing line, inspired by early 90s hip-hop. The colors are bold, mostly primary, but with a healthy serving of fluorescence.
The acronym stands for “Big A** ‘Lil Kidz,” which is something Waddy wants himself and everyone else to be. Age, he said, is basically a number, but youth doesn’t have to fade, nor does having some fun. The origin of the name?
“I’m the baby out of all my cousins,” Waddy said. “They were playing Super Smash Bros.”
An adult in the room, figuring they were a little too old for the game said, “Y’all some big-ass little kids,” Waddy said. And so the phrase stuck.
The reception to the name?
“Middle-age people have a problem with it,” he said. “Old people think it’s hilarious.”
He sort of likes the conflict. Waddy is, after all, a self-directed entrepreneur, in music and in fashion. And as such, he understands, “you have to be willing to take the risk.”
Part of his fashion statement is his on-stage statement. Waddy wears his own clothing line to performances, where, he said, people immediately asked him where he got his shirt.
The bait taken, he revels in telling them he made it—and that they can get one too, or some canvas shoes, bags, or pillows.
For the moment, BALK clothing is not in stores, but it is online, through KIN Custom.
Waddy is planning to get his line into stores as soon as he can. He just needs a little backup, which brings us back to Paris Hair & Beauty Supplies.
The Trenton-based retailer was integral to getting Waddy started in business. The owners, Drew and Donna Paris, bought Waddy his press machine so that he didn’t have to have someone else making his stuff.
“He’s a great kid,” Drew Paris said. “He has a real je nais sais quoi about his personality.”
Paris said Waddy came into the store one day and told everyone he was going to be an entrepreneur. And everyone believed him. But enthusiasm also requires a plan.
“I asked him, ‘Do you have a shirt-making machine?’” Paris said. “He says no. I said, ‘That’s not what an entrepreneur does.’”
Paris, who’s also affiliated with Trenton’s 1911 Smokehouse and BBQ, marshaled the two businesses’ resources and purchased the equipment to help Waddy enter (and win) a contest sponsored by the NAACP’s Trenton office in 2017.
The contest was the organization’s ACT-SO program, Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, which seeks to boost students of color in their pursuits of greatness in the arts, sciences and business.
Waddy also got a hand from his mother. Natasha Pennant, a.k.a., the Health Conscious Diva, who runs her own business extolling the benefits of a good diet and healthy living.
“Mom helped me with the EIN (employment identification number) and how to figure out a business model,” Waddy said. “It was a lot of studying.”
Self-promotion and self-advertising paid off early, he said. Waddy is becoming noticed for his sound and for the bright colors he wears while playing live.
But he’s well aware he needs a bigger plan if he’s going to be the success people like Drew Paris say he’s going to be. That said, Waddy is taking things in measured bites. He’s got a manufacturer in China lined up to mass-produce his clothes,. He just needs some money to get the order.
“I need about $5,000 to kick off,” he said. “I’m going to spend $2,500 on the clothes and the other half on advertising.”
Part of his blitz is doing more live shows. “I’m a rapper, I’m constantly going to shows,” but he is also attending fashion events in New York and elsewhere. And even though he’s generally the quiet type, who refers to himself as “an extroverted introvert,” Waddy isn’t worried about doing business in the bigger world.
“I’m a people person,” he said. “I love people, but only for a certain amount of time.”
He also wants to give back. He saidthat when (not if) he makes it, he plans to help other young entrepreneurs get started, like the Parises and the NAACP have done for him.
“A lot of kids have a lot of ideas,” Waddy said. “But they don’t have any resources.”
He said he plans to use a good chunk of his earnings accordingly.
“More than likely I’m going to donate it to young entrepreneurs,” he said.
Outside the stage and the sales and the business plans, Waddy returns to the music in his head and his heart.
“I do a lot at night,” he said. “I don’t know if anybody’s awake but me.”
Drew Paris, at least, is sure everyone else will wake up to Shy the Weirdo, Shaheed Waddy, and BALK soon enough.
“He hit the ground and he’s been running ever since,” Paris said. “He’s out of himself. Selfless, sincere. I just see him being successful.”