BLESSED by name, blessed by nature: "Artists should be the voice of the times."
He's helped kickstart the careers of some of Australia's biggest rappers, but with the release of his debut mixtape, BLESSED focuses on himself.
Header and in-article images by Leo Harunah.
The history of the guitar in hip-hop is a long and complicated one.
An essential element of the crafts that preceded it – namely jazz, funk, and soul – the guitar has been a staple since the very start. In the beginning, it was by way of samples but soon came rap-rock, both a fleeting phase and a genre that quietly endures. Hip-hop bands such as The Roots channelled the power of the six-string, at one point counting three guitarists among its members, and recent strains of melodic trap have seized upon that same power, particularly on JuiceWRLD’s Sting-interpolating hit, Lucid Dreams. If the guitar still isn’t thought of as hip-hop adjacent, it’s because of presentation, not production. That’s an impression that Sydney artist BLESSED challenges: to him, the guitar is more than just another instrument – it’s truly instrumental.
BLESSED’s guitar is doused in the carefully constructed atmospherics that helped make artists like Post Malone and Kid Cudi household names, but there’s something all the more real to his love of punk music, one that feels as genuine as his passion for hip-hop. He’s far from a rockstar channelling hip-hop sensibilities, just as he’s far from an emcee cradling a Strat – when BLESSED plays, he finds that elusive fusion, a slither at the centre of a tricky Venn diagram. His debut mixtape, MUSIC IS THE MEDICINE, angles those uncommon skills at spaciously cinematic tales of love, loss, and things left unsaid.
“It's been in the works for over a year,” says BLESSED, relieved. “It's just weird for me, 'cause I usually make music fairly quickly, I just try to get that emotion, or that idea, or whatever feeling I'm feeling out.” That’s an approach enshrined in his equally uncommon release schedule, which has seen a staggering 38 singles dropped since the start of this year alone. “Honestly, I'm a very, very obsessive person,” he explains of that peerless productivity, “all I do is make music. There's really nothing else to it… just the way that I am, I don't really go out or party, I don't have too many friends either, so all I really do is make music, and I do it in my bedroom.”
That’s time that shows in his art. “It took a while to refine, because the sound changes so quickly, and I self-produced most of it, so I was really trying to keep up with modern hip-hop sounds slash authentic live elements,” he says of the record, an uncommonly patient process for the quick, cathartic artist. It’s time that’s fostered a deeper understanding of his own style, that production prowess enhancing both his instrumental performances and his vocal presence. It imparts character on his chords, the dials and knobs but another instrument at his disposal, but BLESSED says he “really wanted it to still feel organic.”
In a sense, those are duelling threads: BLESSED’s singles derive some power from their turnarounds, the raw cathartic energy of the emotions within untainted, but the patient refinement of his sound offers a richer arrangement of vocal effects, sly embellishments and soaring guitar lines. Not only is BLESSED shooting for the intermediate between raw and overdone, he’s also exploring the structure of the mixtape itself, a format that pushes past the sum of its parts. “I mean, I've never done a full-length project, and my favourite artists are the greatest at full-length projects,” he explains, “like Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it's probably one of the best hip-hop albums of all time.”
It’s a lofty choice of comparison, but West’s masterpiece certainly showcases the power of sequencing and the potency of even the loosest narratives. “An album is meant to take you on a journey,” he elaborates, referencing Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? as another touchstone. “You know the story setup where it's the troubled beginning and the revolution at the end? That actual idea of what a book would be like, what an album would feel like, I tried to soak up all of that.”
The sing-song refrain that lifts the curtain on MUSIC IS THE MEDICINE – “you say you’d rather die young, so everyone knows you” – nods to the tragic fates of the titular 27 Club, channelling the emotional resignation of a disaffected generation shaped by the spectre of fame. It’s certainly a “troubled beginning” that befits any film, the internal conflict coming through in BLESSED’s soft croon: “you don’t even know yourself, living on your own, yourself, all your talk about is yourself, all you think about is yourself.” The distant sound of kookaburras fade into the mix, their laughter discordant against BLESSED’s big question: “who do you see when you look in the mirror?”
The mirror might just be where these comments are directed, as BLESSED quickly sinks into the role of the protagonist. Single Bonnie Killed Clyde channels those legendary exploits to interrogate blindsiding romantic betrayals, undercutting the epitome of ‘ride or die’ with an alternate history that makes for a crushing reality. “I don’t want to die tonight,” he sings over the harsh crunch of the relentless bass, the heightened emotions well in line with his pop-punk predecessors.
It’s far from the only track that calls back to that bygone era. Bled Me Dry, featuring fellow Sydneysider LENGHOCK, is a pitch-perfect pop-punk dedication, namechecking early 2000s mainstays such as Blink, Avril, Simple Plan and Haley Williams while patching those inspirations into something distinctly modern. The soaring theatre of the chorus would be well suited to the angsty hooks of those forebears, itself an influence on much of melodic hip-hop, but the presence of LENGHOCK – one of just two guests on the tape – also shapes the track.
“I love collaborating, but I'm a recluse as well, so I really love being by myself with my own thoughts and taking things at my pace,” says BLESSED, his extensive production career far more collaboratively rich than his ever-solitary songwriting. It was through his label connections that BLESSED came to know Amaarae, the record’s only other featured artist, which proved to be a kind twist of fate. “I remember when I went to Paris at the start of the year, they were playing me her music and I was like ‘Wow, she's amazing,' and then they're like 'oh, she's Ghanian,' I'm like 'what!? I'm Ghanian too’!”
“We just had that kind of background and cultural link up,” he continues, tracing the trail to their peppy collaborative standout, Count On Me. “She was such a sweetheart, and really enthusiastic about it as well. We've never met, but we've just spoken online and her energy was so good, and like her voice – that real angel whisper type tone that she has – just suited the song perfectly, and I'm just really glad and blessed to have her on the project.”
The blessings don’t stop there, and while the tape largely eschews guests, one superstar lends both her sound and her seal of approval. “She's amazing,” he beams of Rosalía, the namesake for his newest single. “Honestly, I thought I'd just put out the song,” he admits, “I'm just about the music and I was happy enough to have to put it out without getting it cleared.” The sample, taken from 2019’s A Palé, “feels like a really old, flamenco-type classical song, and then it turns to a dance record,” he explains, “and I like both sides, but the first part really touched me.” That the track was cleared is more than just a legal relief – it’s a personal triumph. “I was over the moon just thinking that her team, and her herself, approved the song to be officially released, which is insane!”
“I'm just more cut out for exclusively making the music,” continues BLESSED, musing on the business of sample clearances. “Just the way that I am, I'm not a very social person. I'm a very introverted and quiet individual.” The music is the mission, but the commerce that swirls about it – clearances, marketing, promotion – can almost be seen as antithetical to that liberating creative impulse. “Other artists who are more extroverted, it's easier for them to present themselves to the world and sell something, or sell an idea, or just sell a lifestyle. With me, my lifestyle is just in the studio, recording songs.”
That fealty to the studio has not only honed BLESSED’s craft, but it’s introduced him to a string of collaborators, including young hip-hop titan The Kid LAROI. “It was actually through a colleague of mine,” he begins, casting his mind back to what would be Laroi’s debut single, 2019’s Blessings. “At the time, Zig… he was just managing Kid Laroi and we all had a studio together. Me, him, Manu Crooks, B-Wise, and a few other artists… Laroi was like 14 years old, coming to our studio every day. From school, he'd come to the studio, sometimes he'd skip school and be in the studio, so from then I knew he was very dedicated to music and just... born for greatness.” There wasn’t any doubt about it: “I knew he'd be a superstar.”
“I mean, I love helping people, that's just my nature,” he says of those creative relationships. “Especially if I can help you with something I'm good at… I love helping young artists and just giving them whatever knowledge I have and trying to steer them away from the mistakes I've made.”
A debut though it is, the road that led to MUSIC IS THE MEDICINE is longer than most, tracing back to a decade past, when the then-fledgling artist went by another name entirely. “I've been making music since I was 15. I even went under a different moniker – when I first started making music, I went under the name Miracle, and I was signed to Sony Music for a while,” recalls BLESSED, wistful. “I just went through the ups and downs of the industry, and like really figuring out myself and the kind of music I want to make.” It feels like a qualified statement, the kind of concession made only once the dust has cleared, but with nothing less than a genuine feeling. “As long as I can pay my bills and put food on the table, I don't really have that many worries, you know what I mean?”
It’s the kind of low-maintenance take that ties a bow about BLESSED’s brand of sustenance artistry: he creates voraciously, passionately producing moments of raw catharsis and emotional vulnerability, happy without the fortune and the fame. It might just be something he has to get used to, though, with MUSIC IS THE MEDICINE a convincing case for bigger venues and brighter lights.
“Artists should be the voice of the times,” he tells me, considering responsibilities at a time of great upheaval. “Whatever everyone's collectively going through, an artist would find a way to cultivate that energy and transmute it into music, and a message, and a feeling of the overall times.” Through the peaks and valleys of his 13-track mixtape, BLESSED charts a journey of introspection and self-discovery, qualities that define a year of lockdowns and quarantines. A collage of rock-heavy guitars, shifting ambience and hip-hop rhythms come together without as much as creases, their overlap as seamless as ever.
At the close of Something To Believe In, a sampled voice interjects with some sage wisdom: “one of my favourite preachers says this about music – when you have something hard to do, find a song.” In BLESSED’s hands, music is more than just an aide – it’s the medicine we so badly need.
BLESSED's debut mixtape, MUSIC IS THE MEDICINE, is out now via GODSPEED / 404HUMAN.
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