When the abstract meets the aurally glamorous, magic happens. Such is the tale of French-Cameroonian rapper Mikano’s debut mixtape, Melting Balloons. A nine-track blend of melodies, party themes, and intense raps, Melting Balloons is a worthy introduction to the upcoming rapper.
“Melting Balloons is something that only exists through your imagination and through something you could represent if you draw it,” Mikano explains to me over the phone. “A balloon that melts, everybody already has an idea that’s in their mind. You can imagine it. It’s exactly like life and emotions, because if we’re talking about love, we’re gonna know what we’re talking about, but you’re not gonna know how I feel exactly.”
Melting Balloons revels in moody and glitching soundscapes. The bellow of Mikano’s voice is matched perfectly by his equal parts glimmering and brooding soundstage. On “When It Rains Glitter,” sparkles in the production brush against Mikano’s abstract writing. The chords shift and bend, with Mikano, 25, seemingly guiding us through a meditation of sorts. His voice fades in and out behind a dreamy piano line. Thoughts of Frank Ocean cross our mind, but only momentarily, because Mikano’s voice returns to sing, “Give you something you can’t refuse” and captures our full attention across this odyssey.
Tucked into Melting Balloons is the practice of vulnerability. Beyond practicing his craft, Mikano finds strength in admitting to his weaknesses. There is no value, according to him, in only showing sunny days. “When It Rains Glitter,” the fourth track on Melting Balloons, captures that ethos. The song showcases all sides of life, the good, and how it naturally goes with the bad.
“That’s a form of strength,” Mikano says of vulnerability, “because by admitting you’re vulnerable, it’s letting people know you still wanna know how to be better… The more you experience, the more you realize, everything is not always bright and happy. It’s also important to have dark sides to grow.”
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did music come into your life?
Mikano: It came into my life when I was a bit too young to understand I was surrounded by music. It was through my cousins—they were 10, 15 years older than me. They were listening to hip-hop and R&B. I was always staying with them, so I was always in their rooms when they’d listen to Lauryn Hill and Snoop Dogg. By the age of five or six, my father got me [Snoop Dogg’s] The Last Meal. I’ve been a fan of listening to music ever since, but when I started wanting to write was around 13. It was when I was in Abu Dhabi; I was inspired by one of my friends because he was already writing R&B lyrics. I ended up realizing [music] was my passion and something I wanted to do. I was comfortable with expressing myself while writing.
Your debut mixtape, Melting Balloons, summons some crazy imagery. What’s the title mean to you?
Melting Balloons is something that only exists through your imagination and through something you could represent if you draw it, or something. It doesn’t exist. A balloon that melts, everybody already has an idea that’s in their mind. You can imagine it. It’s exactly like life and emotions, because if we’re talking about love, we’re gonna know what we’re talking about, but you’re not gonna know how I feel exactly. Everybody has those words like love, hate, or friendship that are universal. Melting Balloons is the same: Everybody can imagine how a melting balloon looks, but everybody’s going to have a different representation of it.
All over Melting Balloons, you blend intense raps with glitching soundscapes and warm melodies. How did you find your artistic voice?
By working. When you record, your voice is way different when you speak in real life, so you have to adapt to the beat—also, the tone. If you smoking cigarettes or drinking, your voice is gonna change automatically on the microphone. [I find my voice] by doing it, and then you get to know your voice better. It’s just practice. The more you do, the more you’re gonna come to something that represents you.
I appreciate how introspective and creative you are in your writing, as on “So Silently.” When did you become comfortable with your vulnerability?
I was always vulnerable when it came to music because one artist that inspired me the most was Kid Cudi. Also, Drake, he’s pretty introspective. These guys were not afraid to speak about how they feel, while rap music was about being tough and making a lot of money. They were honest with their feelings and how they felt about their families and their lovers. You have a more fragile side of them, and it was way more interesting, because [they rapped about] things we go through every day. Even as a tough guy. Everybody goes through, approximately the same stuff.
In my music, I started wanting people to know me. It was important to me to be vulnerable, so [listeners] can understand me. Also, my father named me Mikano. It’s not only my stage name, but it’s also my real name. It was his father’s name, who passed away a bit before I was born. I feel like I represent him, and therefore, whatever I do, I need to be honest, because it wouldn’t be fair to represent him and not be honest.
Do you feel vulnerability is a sign of strength?
Of course! Being vulnerable is being honest with yourself and being honest with people. You showing someone that you’re not scared you’re weak on the [inside], that’s an important thing. You know yourself. If someone hides their weaknesses and only portrays the sunny days, and the strong aspects of [their] life, they’re not comfortable [with themselves]. That’s not a form of strength, to only portray what’s good in your life. It’s important to show both sides. That’s a form of strength because by admitting you’re vulnerable, it’s letting people know you still wanna know how to be better.
“When It Rains Glitter” is such a nicely moody cut. Talk to me about the writing of that one.
The second part was not meant to be in the song at first. It was [added] maybe a month later because I went through something, and I was pretty sad… There was this piano that was playing [that] we had on Google Drive as a loop, and at that moment, it spoke to me. I asked my producer to put it in the beat and add it on the first part, and then… The second part was a one-take. I think I did the second part in 20 minutes because it was so pure and so spontaneous.
It makes sense because the first part is pretty happy. The second part [is] melancholy. It’s sad, and it shows… This song portrays life, because you can experience a lot of things, and the more you experience, the more you realize, everything is not always bright and happy. It’s also important to have dark sides to grow and experience more. It was a pretty deep track for me.
What does success look like to you?
Success is being able to do what you love without having any health issues, financial issues, and it doesn’t mean being super-rich. It’s just about having enough to provide for your family and yourself, and being able to keep on doing what you love. That’s the definition of success. It’s able to do what you love without any compromises.