“Balloon ’87”: Villanova’s Rising Rap Duo



By: Taylor Malatesta Staff Writer

Lately, it might seem as though everyone is what pop culture has bitingly dubbed a “SoundCloud rapper”, that is, just about everyone can —and—does make music, for better or worse. With all the self-produced artists out there, it has become increasingly easy for up and coming artists to get lost in the shuffle, yet this is not the case for “Balloon ‘87,” a rap duo fronted by the University’s own Blase Clay and Dominic McDermott, who have spent the past few years making a name for themselves on the music scene. Last week, we caught up with Clay to learn more about the group and their music, and how it has managed to carve out a space for itself in this densely populated world of music.  

“Balloon ‘87” started when cousins Clay and McDermott decided to join their creative forces and musical talents to form their very own rap duo. It all began when Clay, who has been “seriously making beats for two years, using real production tools,” and McDermott, who comes from an “extremely musically talented family,” entered the University last year.

“We’ve always been close, but last year when we came to Villanova, we started hanging out a lot more,” Clay said of his relationship with McDermott. 

This close bond and mutual love of music led the two to join forces to form their group last November, when they set up their first studio in the closet of Clay’s bedroom. It was there, in that studio, that the two began to embark on their first foray into the world of music.

But what exactly led the two to pursue rap as their primary genre? According to Clay, McDermott “has always done rap,” while, surprisingly, Clay “used to hate rap.” Clay’s initial disdain for the genre stemmed from ideas harbored by his own family that “rap wasn’t real music.” However, by his freshman year of high school, Clay revisited rap and started listening more closely to the genre. “I started digging deep, and it just sort of hooked me,” Clay said. 

For Clay, who loves music of all genres and has a penchant for older music, like that of the Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder, one of rap’s greatest appeals is the way its musical influences are often derived from completely different genres. Tyler the Creator, who according to Clay is “extremely influenced by Stevie Wonder,” demonstrated perfectly for Clay the fascinating ways in which rap influences can transcend genre and time constraints to give rise to new and complex sounds and lyrics. These diverse influences and sort of musical intersectionality is exactly what Clay and McDermott are trying to pursue with their own music, while still following in the footsteps of their predecessors within the genre itself. 

For Clay, it was listening to what he considers to be “one of the greatest albums of all time”— “Rodeo” by Travis Scott — that set the tone for the style of music he wanted to create. 

“That album changed my life,” Clay said. “It was this really cool grunge rap album, and when I listened to it I knew I wanted to make stuff like that, so I just decided why not.” So, with artists like Travis Scott, Kanye West and Childish Gambino in mind, the two set out to create their very first album.

The duo’s debut album, “A Tree Falls,” was born not only out of these influences, but also from their own musings on the simple things in life, like a fallen tree, and the quasi-philosophical musings these mundane observations spurred in the two. The name of the album itself, as well as its broader conceptual themes, developed from one such experience. 

“Me and Dom were hanging out one day with my brother,” Clay said. “We were out walking at Eastern University and were like, ‘wow this is really beautiful.’ We were walking through the forest, and we saw a tree fallen over, and we were just like, ‘that’s cool.’ 

A year passed, and that disappeared from our minds, and then one day we were just driving home through Delaware, and we saw the dark scenery and started talking about forests. It was really weird how we came up with the name but Dom was like, ‘if a tree falls does it make a sound?’”

 It was from these simple musings that the entire album, right down to its striking cover featuring a Shel Silverstein-esque image of a fallen tree, and its pointed exploration of sound, came about. 

For Clay and McDermott then, the goal of their debut album was not to create something necessarily lyrically thematic. Instead, the two sought to make the album “sonically and musically cohesive,” creating an intro and outro that comes full circle, clearly tying the entire album together, as well as making their own sounds and effects. For the two, their aim was to create an album that places a distinct and original use of sound at the fore, a sound that is “conceptual in that it’s not the kind of rap you hear every day.”

Creating such a fresh sound and transforming it into a cohesive album was no simple undertaking, however. In fact, the production of the duo’s debut album was a time-consuming and laborious task, resulting in a body of work that is self-produced from top to bottom. “We use no loops, we do it all from scratch,” Clay said Unlike many artists, the two cut everything themselves, a tedious task that they are happy to do, as they feel that such a method is “the purest, and not synthetic in any way,” producing authentic and carefully hand-crafted material. Such thoughtful care and consideration regarding the production of their sound and lyrics did prove to be challenging for the two, who worked long and tiring hours to achieve their desired results. “Love and Hate (Poison),” for example, was “made in 30 minutes the day the album dropped,” the result of countless revision and self-editing. “It was a completely different song,” Clay said. “The original song was called ‘Sick,’ and the intro was initially keys, and it just wasn’t hitting what we wanted for the album, so we changed it.” The revised, final version of the song “popped into our head at 6 o’clock in the morning and we had an 8:30 class, and we made it, and it was completely done and ready to go at 7:30,” Clay said. “It’s funny being a student,” he mused. “We stayed up all night doing this and we had a couple of other nights like that.” It’s a difficult balance to strike, but somehow the two have managed, and quite successfully at that. The duo has even found the time to create not only their music, but the art that goes along with it. “Dom is a great artist,” Clay said. “He did the art for the cover of ‘A Tree Falls’ and our single ‘Roof Gone,’” drawing and digitizing the whole thing. Truly, this group is impressively self-made in all facets of production. 

Seeing as the two have devoted so much time and energy into building their group and forming their unique style and sound, it seemed obvious that music was something Clay and McDermott had the intention of committing themselves to for years to come. “I’d like to make music for the rest of my life, but I don’t want to make a career of it,” Clay said. The same holds true for McDermott, as well. Instead, the duo wants to focus on enjoying the work they are doing now, while working toward constant improvement as artists. Currently, both Clay and McDermott are working on solo albums, and the two plan to put out a mixtape this year comprised of what Clay refers to as “old songs.” “We have a lot of old songs that we’re bringing up to our standard, remixing them up so they fit our present talent level, because we’ve definitely had a lot of improvement over the years,” Clay said. The duo, then, seeks to bring together the old and the new, using each piece of their work to elevate the others, and continue to evolve and develop their sound and style. So far, it seems as though the two have done just that, achieving constant improvement and growing success, which Clay and McDermott themselves have sensed, noting that “it’s nice to see your ceiling rising,” Clay said. Certainly, it seems as though “Balloon ‘87” will just keep rising and rising, only going up from here.