Cleveland, Ohio — On and off the stage, Ishmell O’Neal is a wearer of many hats: artist, model, self-promoter, dreamer. However, as his stage name suggests, the most appropriate hat for O’Neal to wear is a crown.
For eight years, O’Neal — known on the local music scene as Prince Ish — has been aspiring to transcend the conceptual definition of being a rapper and being known as an entertaining, ever-experimenting artist.
But, interestingly enough, music was not O’Neal’s first career choice. Upon listening to Childish Gambino for the first time when hanging out with his family in 2010, O’Neal’s mindset on music changed forever.
The Reserve contacted Prince Ish on his career, what he’s most proud of and where his career will take him from here.
“I dropped what I was doing and searched [Gambino] up,” O’Neal said. “He gave me the itch to write, simply because I could relate to him, and made me feel comfortable to tell my story.”
Gambino and rapper Kid Cudi became early inspirations for his work, but O’Neal has stated that he would rather choose to create music that suited him at the given time instead of aspiring to be like someone else.
That mentality was the inspiration behind his moniker, and later, his logo. Designed by Austin Wade, it sets him apart from other artists, as O’Neal — aside from his music — has been adamant to make himself a brand to stand out and be more credible in the eyes of potential opportunities. To O’Neal, it’s more than just a paint-brushed P adorned with a crown.
“Every time I look at [the logo] it reminds me to stay in a prince headspace, to thrive for the king position,” O’Neal elaborated. “It also means willing to learn and always be self-aware.”
Speaking of his music, “A Tragic Beauty” is O’Neal’s latest EP. Released February 12, ‘Beauty’ delves into several outlooks on relationships and love.
“A Tragic Beauty” EP
“I’ve been planning to release a project like “A Tragic Beauty” for a few years [since releasing “94”, my previous EP],” O’Neal said. “I wanted to create a project where I can be more personal and discuss important topics in relationships that aren’t talked about, such as loving yourself. I want people to be in deep thought, but [be able to] dance to it, too.”
In “A Tragic Beauty,” O’Neal flexes his ability to meld genres.
“I describe my music as Eclectic Hip Hop,” O’Neal said. “I pull from so many places, but I do it naturally. I love blending styles and genres, I really want to get into alternative rock and chill EDM one day.”
“Twenties” Music Video
O’Neal credits his success so far to staying positive and drug free, and he says he’s proud of the man he’s become. Though his current schedule of live shows is up in the air, O’Neal embraces every chance he gets to perform on stage and entertain people.
“The vibe of my live shows is like I’m hanging out with a bunch of friends,” O’Neal elaborated. “I want [my fans] to be comfortable and have fun.”
The biggest show O’Neal has had to date was a performance at the House of Blues on March 22 where, as he explained, he felt like all the work he’s put into his career over the past eight years has been more than worth it.
“It was a packed house,” O’Neal said. “I remember when the curtain opened and the host said my name. I looked up to the balcony, and my first thought was ‘I belong here.’ It honestly felt like I’ve performed there before. So many people wearing my merch and singing along to my songs. That was the best feeling in the world! I can’t wait to be back.”
O’Neal’s live shows have been his most successful method of expanding his brand and image as an artist aside from social media. O’Neal says his favorite song to perform is “Gassed Up,” which as the release of this article is not available to listen to online. He prides himself on being someone who turns frowns upside down and brings energy to a room, and he has found supporters in the unlikeliest of ways.
“I remember I did a house show last year, and there was a guy who had the biggest grin on his face watching my performance,” O’Neal said. “When my DJ and I were wrapping up, he walked to me and gave me this amazing pep talk. You could tell in his eyes that he was proud of me and meant everything he said and more.”
The one thing O’Neal is aspiring to be — more than a successful artist — is a positive influence on the music scene and someone that people can relate to.
“I want to be able to connect with each individual. I love my supporters,” O’Neal explained. “They’ve seen me evolve and grow over the years. I want everyone to feel special because I grew up always wanting to feel special to someone.”
For Prince Ish, the sky is the limit. But for now, O’Neal is more than comfortable staying close to the ground and connecting with those who truly understand his music and open to promoting positivity to the local music scene.
Photo courtesy Ishell O’Neal