Promenading up the Vliet Street Artwalk this past April, I ducked in few low-key favorites like James Steeno Gallery, Four Corners Fair Trade, newer urban kitchy facades like ReStore; a couple that might not have made it through the summer like Milwaukee Apothecary and Bare Knuckle Barbery; found a few new spots like Milkweed Designs. The sneaker freak in me will probably never grow-up, so of course I had to stop at Roots.
The standard gear was there, Mishka, kidrobot and other obscure urban accessories and Tees; Jumpmans, Dunks, SB Dunks, Flights and Addidas. Of course the real reason I’m there is stickers. I’m an sticker addict. Plain, lame or cool, no matter, I’m grabbing.
I checked out the promos EPs on the way out too. I grabbed couple including a One Self hookup featuring him with a dunce cap on the cover (it didn’t play either which could’ve been my fault) and another that’s a multi colored sleeve, huge primary color blotches with some hashed lines throughout. No name.
One of the first track fades in a pitched down segment of the old Soul II Soul cut Back to Life, infamous as the title track to the underground hip-hop version of Scarface the movie. Then then a real simple melody drops, over it “I need you now, Cause you always been down… I’m so fo’real right now,” Damir Balo pleads in an even toned yet emotionally charged vocal. These are the call letters of the Golden Boy EP, and introduction to Balo.
Not since Kid Cutti have I been struck by an emcee that can strike that balance between honest vulnerability and absurd dead serious life situations of life in the City, yet Balo drops it with consistent credibility through out the tone and content of his music.
Art of Seduction, Damir Balo via SoundCloud
A Milwaukee native, Balo has channeled a rare ability to be real and process his experiences into what listens as an audio journal of microdrama and coded paradigms, audio pulp.
Golden Boy comes just to the edge of crossover appeal and wtf, leaving frenetic and tap heavy rap beats aside for more contemporary music sentiments felt in toned down and sample heavy dubstep and trap. In one stroke of genious, Balo bridges into manic synth art pop, throwing in a genious play off of Lykke Lei’s Tonite.
Balo comes off as a kind of JD Sallinger type persona, reclusive and provacative, his lyrics call to a certain experience that a small section of heads probably feels speaks directly to them, personally. His mix of street, practical sense and rap scenester references probably shoots well over plenty of consciouses, and probably sounds pitiful and bragdociously deluded at places to other people to whom these doors aren’t familiar.
Underneath it, Balo’s sound is well rooted in the struggle of young urban kids trying to make it, by making magic, or mischief. The project is over a year and a half old and still being processed by the scene, it’s that elevated. At minimum, it’s a different listen than most in the genre.
Fukwitme, Damir Balo via SoundCloud
Recently dropping his follow-up Chasing Forever 5, Balo keeps his string taught, finding his way forward by evolving his past. He’s also rumored to be dropping in on a set of collabs with Dana Coppafeel, Rap Lords, which really couldn’t even try to be wack if it happens.
New Wave, Damir Balo via YouTube
Holding down a corner of the unseen hip-hop unestablishment, Balo has chord running between previous eras of the genre and now, a fine silk thread few can traverse with originality. Damir Balo has a well earned spot on my list of best artists of 2015, and with dues already paid, he needs some play.
Chasing Fovever 5, Damir Balo via SoundCloud