If you see Ed Balloon on the street, chances are he’s bobbing his head to a melody he just made up, a bit of levity in his step. That’s just who he is. Really, I mean, it’s in the name.
Ed Balloon is a 27-year-old musician worth keeping an eye on as he’s primed to float up and over whatever will come his way, just like his moniker implies. Born in Roxbury, he has been channeling music through his system ever since he was 10 years old, forming a band with neighbors and idolizing artists like Michael Jackson and Prince who took the stage with undeniable, mesmerizing confidence. Balloon began writing music on his own time in high school. Soon, he left to study philosophy at Brandeis University, with the underlying intent that he could eventually become a lawyer. But it wasn’t until talking with a career specialist in his final year of college that he realized it was music he wanted to pursue, no matter how risky the entertainment industry is for creatives.
Now, Balloon lives in Quincy, unable to afford anywhere else in Boston proper like most local musicians, where he’s following through on that dream. And while it sounds like a pathway covered in glitter, the decision wasn’t as easy to make as it sounds.
Balloon and his younger brother were the first American-born children in his family. His parents emigrated to the US from Nigeria. That meant he and his siblings would grow up with a slightly different set of standards, following traditions from their parents’ homeland instead of the typically American traditions his classmates experienced at home. It also meant that Balloon was raised on the belief that you must pick a career path that’s stable and dependable, particularly in regard to income. Being a musician isn’t the safest choice in that sense.
“Black Americans don’t have as strict parents as immigrant parents, I think,” he says. “I was the first child they had in America. I did what I wanted to do, while still respecting them. I saw that my American friends were encouraged to do whatever they wanted to do. And I think now, after I’ve decided to dedicate my life to this, my parents have come around on it to support me. Because at first, that wasn’t’t the case. My dad sat me down and said, ‘What are you doing? You won’t make any money. This isn’t right.’ There was a sense of fear. They came from a third-world country and sacrificed so much to help their children have a better life. It’s difficult to come here and difficult to see your kid walk their own path. You have to be able to understand where they’re coming from, and it took me a long time to see that.”
When Balloon decided to commit to a career as a musician, he knew he couldn’t slack off. Not a single year has gone by where he’s wasted his time; he’s released a steady stream of EPs: No Smoking in 2015, Yellow 20-Somethings in 2016, and Flourish in 2017. No matter which EP you put on, the music feels like magic, as if it pops out of the speakers to swirl around you, playfully juggling glam pop, electronic beats, filtered guitar, and thick, alternating drums. Ed Balloon has figured out a way to diversify what it means to be a pop artist while zoning in on the heart that gives R&B such an immersive sound. Perhaps his interest in artists like of Montreal, Jill Scott, and Maxwell explain the blend.
All of this comes as somewhat of a shock, though, when you realize Balloon doesn’t play any instrument. He never took piano lessons. He never fooled around on a guitar. He never took concert band in school. Instead, he’s been blessed with the gift of an innate songwriting ability. It’s a skill that allows him to come up with melodies, harmonies, and hooks while walking around on the street or sitting at home. After creating a sound, he then works closely with producers and friends to turn the ideas cooking in his head into concrete notes he can then confirm or deny match the song in his head.
The twist that makes Balloon’s music so special is how he imbues optimistic but heavily-grounded lyrics into the mix. The blend of social and political undertones feel approachable, as he does his best to pin them down with personal experiences. On a song like “BDA (Still Riding),” he confronts the way finances directly influence our lives, often cutting off more opportunities than building them. Nowhere does his voice shine as brightly as it does on “@ # trapkaraoke,” an ode to “black boy joy.” It’s one of his favorite songs he’s written, particularly due to the resonance of the lyric, “Only got 28 days to black out before they call the cops.” It’s a timeless and deeply upsetting truth.
“I put that song out to comment on Black History Month,” says Balloon. “It’s the one month in America where everyone decided to celebrate black people. After that, it’s like nobody celebrates us anymore. I’m torn, because you feel like you’re waiting for February of next year to arrive. People get killed every day, but it feels like it happens less in February because of it. I feel like we only have those days to be free. Once that time has ended, in that short month, then we’re back to work, fighting for our rights. It’s painful. I’m so much more than a month. It’s not fair that we’re shoved into those 28 days. Being a black male means, okay, if it’s not Black History Month then I’m not allowed to be a certain way. Black History Month should be every day. ”
Though it’s been a struggle to get a start creating music beyond the indie rock, jazz, and rap pillars that take up the majority of the Boston music scene spotlight, Ed Balloon has found a way to rise up. He’s spent months trying to track down producers who not only create original work, but producers who invest in the music they help shape by caring about the final product and what it stands for. He spends extra time turning his tracks into experiences, bringing the studio-polished versions of his songs to life onstage thanks to new arrangements with a full band.
All of that’s to say, yes, Ed Balloon is working on a proper full-length right now, and fans will be pleased to know that it expands upon the wide range of sounds he has showcased so far. But it also takes a turn into something new. While he’s hesitant to expand on the theme or the collaborators featured on it—“I’m definitely releasing a lot on this album. Like, a lot,” he says with a laugh. “Take that as you want.”—it’s clear the album will be nothing less than special. At the very least, know that the album will help you keep your chin up, just like how Balloon’s past work helps him keep his head bobbing.
NNAMDI OGBONNAYA, ED BALLOON. TUE 6.5. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 COMM. AVE., ALLSTON. 8:30PM/18+/$10. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM