NATIVE Exclusive: Balloranking Is All About Preaching the Ghetto Gospel
The Street Hop savant continues to reach deeper into his storytelling
The Street Hop savant continues to reach deeper into his storytelling
Growing up in the Lagos mainland, Balloranking was always familiar with stories. His family lived within the bubbling intersection between Ajegunle and Surulere, and the realities were heavy but instructive, and went into his professional music. Balloranking listened to the likes of Fela Kuti and Burna Boy, “but that was before I found my own voice,” the artist who just released his debut album ‘Ghetto Gospel’, told The NATIVE one recent weekday. “I started with the street freestyles”.
One can surmise that in the period it took the man born Balogun Olamilekan from being a music lover to being an artist himself, he went deeper into the wells of his own inspiration. That means being a youngster raised in the streets, seeing the things he’s seen, and trying to make sense of it. He wasn’t the only artist with those motivations, especially those who lived in Lagos hoods which echoed similar realities. The likes of Bella Shmurda and T.I Blaze were some of the street poets whose vision aligned with Balloranking’s, and like many artists of the present generation, he turned to social media as a promotional tool.
There he garnered the appreciation of an excited fan base. This was just before the pandemic and through it all, Balloranking released singles which revealed his energised, wizened grasp on Street Pop. A spate of singles in 2020 which included the aspirational gems “Never Die Poor” and “Never Stop Trying” first came out. Then came “Time No Dey,” a poignant collaboration with Seyi Vibez. If the soundscape of Street Hop was intrinsically hinged on close-by narratives, then Balloranking was focused on the least-told of those stories, especially how religious beliefs play a formative role in the shaping of one’s trajectory.
“I’ve always wanted to create good music,” he tells me now. “Although there are a lot of different genres here, I just want to like, have my own sound, which I already do. I’m very grateful; any song I drop, my people already know this is my sound, my voice”.
But there were challenges at the start. Prior to when his career started to take off, his parents doubted the feasibility of creating music full time. Like many Nigerian artists have revealed over the years, the familial insistence on a white-collar job was a considerable weight on their dreamy flights, but through persistence the likes of Balloranking were able to stick their neck out for what they love. He relates this story now with a triumphant smile on his face, as his white designer clothes glistens on my laptop monitor.
The telling moment for Balloranking came two years ago, when the breakout song “Based on Believe” preceded the release of his debut project, ‘Zero Panic’. An audacious body of work, its assurance was evident from its first song “Supernova”. Over the mellow production, he sings, “Might not be popping yet, but I know that I’m a rockstar/ Believe in my confidence, I know Lord is my shepherd”. It’s a life-affirming statement which, more or less, is the ethos of Balloranking’s music. “Dayemo” and “Gangster,” which features the late Dablixx Oshaa, further showcase the enjoyable minimalism of Balloranking’s sound; with poignant, almost muted percussions, the music allows his striking vocals to come through unencumbered, relaying distinct stories from far-off memories and recent experiences.
As the years went on, so did Balloranking’s sound evolve. His deal with Dvpper Music was increasingly proving effective, as it opened Balloranking to wider audience streams, and through the music those markets became home. You’d hear the glossy lining behind “Feeling You”, an affectionate love record where the artist stretches his vocals into fresh sonic plains. With the feature of Bad Boy Timz, the NATIVE uNder alum stood by his ambitions to soundtrack the contemporary experience. No where would have been more evident than on ‘Trench Kid’, the sophomore project which arrived in May 2022.
It’s a direct precursor to ‘Ghetto Gospel’, particularly in terms of its lyrical vision. A successful attempt to turn localised events into details of myth creation, its titular record picks akara over samosa and speaks about rocking okrika when “raba no dey to buy original”. It’s a stark reminder of where Balloranking is coming from; on the remix of “Elevate,” that grass-to-grace narrative is again reiterated, this time with one of the most introspective offerings from Bella Shmurda. But it’s Balloranking who takes the song past the finish line, his awareness for the unassuming metaphor yet palpable. He combines the duo of Majeeed and S1mba on the sweet breeze of “Fine Girl,” while the seven track EP ends with the Lyta-featured “Omo Ogbon”, a reiteration of the musicians’ wisdom as gleaned from the streets.
“As a musician, I want to talk about life experiences,” he says about the overriding ethos in his songs. “I want to talk about others that I know about, my friends or my family. I really want to talk deeply about reality; I just don’t believe in going to the studio and saying all sorts of things that’s not meaningful. I calm down, I write my lyrics, and make it perfect. I don’t believe in telling false stories.”
Take me out of street, you can’t take street out of me ✝️ pic.twitter.com/qVIDQAIeKi
— Badboyranking (@Ballorankiing) July 8, 2023
That dedication to relaying intrinsically valuable stories poured into the making of ‘Ghetto Gospel’. Coming from a religious family, although both Balloranking’s parents were Muslims, his dad would often listen to Christian messages and loved to buy its scriptural CDs. “It gave me more view and perspectives about singing the reality I am singing,” says Balloranking, “It says more about me. There are a lot of albums, and people name their albums the way they want, but I feel I should be in this religious way because my music is not all about lifestyle and enjoying. And I really want to put people on the right path; I don’t wanna lead people astray”.
The album was put together this year, but on there, you’ll find songs that were created as far back as 2021, thus establishing the idea of a sprawling, sonically progressive body of work. “It’s just like bringing the old vibe and the new vibe together,” he affirms. On the sombre, sparse “XXL,” he features Oshaa, who was a beacon of street-influenced Trap until his unfortunate passing in November last year. Bella Shmurda features on “Healer,” a similarly evocative record whose late-night appeal is evident from the tone of its drums, and the reserved vocalism of both artists. Interpolating his flow on “New Born Fela”, the feature is one of the many which strategically improves their associative songs.
Yet while the album undoubtedly pleasures in the revelry of new and better stories, Balloranking isn’t divorced from the realities of many coming from where he’s from. “Bode Thomas” is one of the most profound album openers you’ll hear this year. Its soundscape resides in the atmospheric church zone, spurring the therapeutic gaze Balloranking adopts throughout its two-minutes runtime. Carrying the heft of an autobiographical performance, it begins with the poetic admission: “In my head, I’ve been trying to put things together…”
‘Ghetto Gospel’ witnesses the range of Balloranking, especially the structural strength of his songs. Its sprawling vision already places great expectations on the artist, but he’s mastered his presentation, some seven years after he began exploring his sound. Other standouts on the project include the amapiano-flirting “Aye,” the Dancehall-coloured “Dinah,” and the breezy “Backwoods,” but seriously, there’s gems littered over the soil of this fifteen track album. Like he reiterates throughout our conversation, Balloranking’s grasp on narrative conventions purposefully informs his music, making this one of the most assured debut albums to have emerged from the Street Hop tradition.
He’s instantly reflective when I pose the question about the merits of this album, and his music, being a stretch of collective moments reaching for the sun. “Whenever you listen to Balloranking, I just want you to have belief in yourself,” he says now, touching his chest. “Whatever you have in mind, just keep doing it”. By way of final comments, Balloranking imagines a blooming effervescence in his musical journey. “More is still coming,” he affirms. “As long as I’m still growing, exploring more, I think you can’t get enough of Balloranking.”