CLAIM TO FAME
Derrick Bledsoe (stage name Lil Derrick) is an 11-year-old rapper who has performed live more than 100 times in the last five years in venues as far away as Ohio and Mississippi. He has released one album already and has another on the way by year's end.
* School: Sixth-grader at Center for Creative Arts.
* Hometown: Chattanooga.
* Rapping hero: T.I.
* Favorite song: "Big Things Poppin'."
* Favorite subject: Math.
* Person he'd like to meet: T.I.
* Nickname: Lil D.
* Stage name: Lil Derrick.
Watch videos of Derrick "Lil Derrick" Bledsoe on his YouTube account, www.youtube.com/dbGlobalArtists.
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When Derrick Bledsoe began bustin' rhymes, he was still so young he couldn't even write his ideas down.
Now a semi-professional rapper, Derrick, stage alias Lil Derrick, began his career at age 6 while rapping along to a radio broadcast of T.I. in his father's truck.
Noticing his son's ability to follow the rhythm of the Atlanta-based artist, Derrick's father took him later that week to his first recording session at a studio on Tunnel Boulevard.
Although some may stereotype rap as a vehicle for negative messages, Derrick's rapping has always focused on positives, such as the chorus to his first song, "Meet Me at the Playground":
"I get good grades and they never ever go down / If you wanna chill, baby, meet me at the playground."
"When I got done dropping [that], they played it back to me, and I thought, 'Man, I'm good,' " Derrick said, as his mother, Mary Bledsoe, and producer, Kevin Freeman, laughed beside him.
Derrick said he's always been attracted to rap because he likes the music but also because it appeals to his desire to be the center of attention.
"I like the beats," he said. "I like how rappers use metaphors and how they perform and have swag[ger] and confidence."
That attraction with stardom started early on. At age 3, Derrick's mother said, he became a rabid fan of R&B artist Usher. After watching concerts of the former Chattanooga resident, Derrick would dress and act like him, Bledsoe said. Derrick insists that, while he still enjoys Usher's music, he long since latched onto the music of other artists, such as Michael Jackson and T.I.
He first took the stage at Hamilton Place mall at age 4 performing a dance named for St. Louis-based rapper Chingy.
Since then, he has rapped more than 100 times as far away as Mississippi and Ohio in a variety of settings, from skating rinks and birthday parties to step shows and music venues.
As such a young artist, Derrick often faces a challenge simply getting to the stage. He won a contest that entitled him to a spot performing on "106 & Park," a No. 1 video countdown on BET, but Bledsoe said the producers decided he was too young to perform.
Derrick also has performed on local stages, including at Midtown Music Hall and Club Drink. Rapper Plies once paid him $500 out of pocket after Derrick opened for him at Memorial Auditorium.
He also has performed twice at T.I.'s Club Crucial in Atlanta, where, Bledsoe said, she and Derrick's father had to bring him in through the kitchen and rush him off stage after his performance because of the club's age restrictions.
The key to being a rapper is as much about vocal flow as it is swagger, Derrick said.
"I feel alive up there. I tell myself I'm going to rock this show and get the crowd jumping," he said. "I like making people happy."
Regardless of where he's performing, Derrick always exudes a confidence onstage that belies his age, said Freeman, who began working with Derrick about 18 months ago.
Freeman helped Derrick produce "Class in Session: Volume I," a follow-up to his first album, "Meet Me at the Playground." The album should be released independently by year's end.
Having worked with several young artists, Freeman said few possess Derrick's combination of natural vocal rhythm, dancing ability and charisma.
"At his age, he's the most talented I've seen from this area ... no doubt," Freeman said. "I can't think of any rappers who ... do all the things he does. Probably Michael Jackson, a young Mike.
"He loves that attention, and he has the charisma that people respond to him without him having to do anything."
Despite the negative perception some have of rapping, Bledsoe said she's glad her son has found a passion and is able to share a positive message.
"I hope he does make it. I'm ready to stop working," Bledsoe said, laughing. "I'm ready for my Escalade."