By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
At first glance, Deborah Williams wouldn't strike you as a hip-hop matriarch.
In her mid-40s, the soft-spoken Williams has a kind face and a sweet smile. A single mother of two sons, Cordero and Curtis (who goes by Junior), ages 18 and 20, she moves with a certain relaxed air, with few unnecessary movements. She accepts a cup of coffee with such subtlety, you don't realize she's holding it until half the liquid is gone. Her dark brown eyes often twinkle, especially when she's laughing with her boys, but they hint at a certain detachment, as if she's thinking of something that nobody else knows about.
By day (and by night as well), Williams is the hard-working manager of a Majestic Liquors store. She often works well more than 8-hour days, sometimes arriving home at 4 a.m. Her employees say she is a kind and fair boss, as prone to cleaning the bathrooms and sweeping the floor herself as she is to delegating such tasks. She is, by all accounts, a sweet woman, a hard worker and a good mom.
But there's something that separates her from most mamas: By night (and often by day as well) she is the president of a new Dallas hip-hop label, Steady Ballin' Records, which she began with Cordero and Junior.
Deborah Williams' involvement is not the only unusual thing about the label: The story of Steady Ballin' is not your typical hip-hop myth. It does not involve the words "thug" or "inner city" or "Crip" or any of the other stereotyped verbiage that gets attached to such things in order to make them "gritty" or "genuine." It is, rather, a quiet story of hardship and dreams, one that would border on cliché were it not for the assortment of characters who have come together to make it happen.
Their apartment is on the second floor, accessed through the back door, up a flight of stairs and down the hallway, where the luster of the Uptown location is immediately forgotten. A path is worn in the fading indoor/outdoor carpet, speckled with cigarette butts and possessing a slightly moldy scent. A quick right turn takes you into the apartment, where a few random folks sit around in the spacious front room. There are three or four large TV sets, old enough to still bear dated faux-wood casings, inexplicably stacked around the room. Down the hall to the left is Cordeezy and Junior's "studio," which is actually a bedroom.
A quick-witted guy, Junior helms the production duties of Steady Ballin' as well as serving as one of its many vice presidents. He is a jokester, riffing on his friends with a goofy ease, but he also bears a gentle intensity in his broad shoulders. He has a knack for writing sharp beats and inventive, extremely catchy hooks, but for years all he wanted to do was play in the NFL. His mother pushed him accordingly. "She always used to encourage me to go outside and play football," he says. But Junior never got to play at North Dallas High School, which he attended before dropping out, "because of my grades and stuff. I was playing, and coach was trippin' on me because I'd be late because I was doing science projects and stuff, biology, so I wouldn't fail."
Cordeezy, meantime, has been freestyle rapping and rhyming since he was a young boy. Deborah recalls how she used to get him up to freestyle in front of everyone at large family gatherings. "Everybody was just shocked at what they heard," she says, "because he'd just come up with something just off the top of his head, just like that. He was really good."
Through the years, Cord started putting the rhymes in his head down on paper, and Junior began fiddling around with tracks. After goofing around with their skills and cutting a few songs, they decided, along with longtime buddy Ossie "O.C." Boddie, to get serious, to try to start making some money off their skills. The trio is honest about what motivates them: "My family is the reason I'm doing this," Junior says. "I don't want everybody to be starving." Boddie echoes the sentiment: "The main objective is everybody getting they family tight. My goal—I got a little son—is to get him into the Highland Park School District by the time he's of school age, and you can't be up in Highland Park broke."