The mysterious Sydneysider BLESSED has generated buzz with his post-genre blend of hip-hop, R&B, grunge, emo and pop. But the singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer – who’s just unveiled his inaugural mixtape, ‘Music Is The Medicine’ – is no novice.
BLESSED actually helped usher in a new diverse, individualistic and experimental direction for Australian hip-hop in the 2010s under his previous handle Miracle. “So much has changed since then – like just me as a person,” he muses to NME. “The music’s so different to what I was making back then as well.”
The auteur’s epic story began in Ghana. As an infant, he battled respiratory distress as his mother offered fervent prayers. The “miracle baby” would be christened Blessed Samuel Joe-Andah. BLESSED’s family migrated to Australia shortly after. They resided in Melbourne before heading to Canberra, eventually settling in the Western Sydney suburb of Quakers Hill. Through the local West African community, BLESSED remained attuned to a culture where rhythm is constant.
Growing up, BLESSED listened to punk and hip-hop alike. Initially, he messed around with the guitar. But after impressing friends with his freestyles, BLESSED realised he could rap. Today he cites as his most enduring influences Kanye West (and protégé Kid Cudi), Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix. “There’s certain artists that I relate to because of the era that they came up in and the fact that they were against the grain.”
BLESSED’s first hit was an accident. In 2010, he cut a hip-hop remix of Pete Murray’s acoustic ‘Better Days’ for a school assignment, and it went viral on YouTube. BLESSED was offered a deal as Miracle with Sony Music, and in 2014, amid considerable A&R manoeuvring, he debuted with ‘Mainland’ – a concept album inspired by Peter Pan that thematised diasporic identity, belonging and coming of age.
Working with ARIA-winning producer Styalz Fuego, BLESSED furnished what Sony marketed as a “progressive” combination of hip-hop, alt-rock and electro. He had a banger with the Californian electro-pop band Youngblood Hawke in the festive ‘Mainland’ single ‘Endless Summer’ and cameoed on 360’s ‘Utopia’ – and the already in-demand support act later joined ’60 live at Splendour In The Grass.
Still, as a Black creative in a predominantly white hip-hop scene, BLESSED felt lost. Executives pressured him, he says, to record inauthentic songs for radio or to appeal to particular demographics. “Being a hip-hop artist in Australia that’s not the traditional Aussie hip-hop – like beers and bongs-type rap – the label wanted me to do certain things I didn’t wanna do,” BLESSED observes wryly. “I was just so young as well, so I didn’t really have a voice or a say in what I wanted to create.”
“It’s very exciting to see so many ambitious young artists from all over the world that live in and have grown up in Australia, put on for Australia”
Regardless, the shy BLESSED established himself as a songwriter/producer – co-penning Justice Crew’s mega-hit ‘Que Sera’ even early on. Inevitably, he connected with the Gen Z hip-hoppers emerging from Western Sydney’s surging underground. “I feel like I’ve been a silent member of that movement, ’cause I’ve done a lot of production work for a lot of these artists – like B Wise, Manu Crooks and The Kid LAROI.”
In 2018, BLESSED served as executive producer on The Kid LAROI’s breakout EP ‘14 WITH A DREAM’ – and deems the teen rapper’s continuing global triumphs as “awesome”. Indeed, BLESSED welcomes any mentorship role, his approach one of sharing experiences, rather than imposing opinions. (In turn, the kids turn him onto fresh street sounds.)
Meanwhile, BLESSED’s Canberran cohorts Citizen Kay and Genesis Owusu also made successful forays into music. “Looking at it now in 2020,” he pronounces, “it’s very exciting to see so many young talents and so many ambitious young artists from all over the world that live in Australia, and that have grown up in Australia, put on for Australia.”
In 2016 BLESSED parted from Sony – a relief, though there are no hard feelings. “I’m very easygoing,” he confides. “I don’t hold grudges. I learn from my mistakes.” BLESSED rediscovered his guitar and started to sing. “I just decided like, I’m gonna make music the way I wanna make it,” he says of his thought process at the time. “I’m gonna come from a place of freedom, a place of love and passion for music-making and see what happens. So I just didn’t take myself too seriously.
“I’ve always played guitar; I’ve always been into rock music, rap music – just all types of different music. But I thought, why not create music and put it out and see if people enjoy it? If they do, they do. If they don’t, that’s OK – I’ll just make more.”
BLESSED first dropped the jaunty single ‘One And Only’, which was synced for Netflix’s cult US teen dramedy On My Block (along with his streaming smash ‘Sorrows’). In 2019 the diligent singer launched #BLESSEDSUNDAYS, uploading a track every weekend to YouTube and SoundCloud. “I just had so much music,” he chuckles. “I still have so much music that I’m sitting on and I feel like it’s just going to waste.” He didn’t fixate on playlists, streaming stats or money. “That’s really what I had to go back to – just the pure passion and joy of making music.”
With ‘Music Is The Medicine’, BLESSED maintains that he’s finally expressing his “true self”. (He’s released the mixtape via his own label, GODSPEED, having partnered with the French 404 Human Records.) Songs like ‘Something To Believe In’, ‘27 Club’ and ‘Antidepressant’ represent a more refined, and melodic, variation on Kid Cudi’s grunge forays, BLESSED vocalising with Auto-Tune and adding a trap bounce.
“Why not create music and put it out and see if people enjoy it? If they don’t, that’s OK – I’ll just make more”
Notably, BLESSED samples Rosalía on the song named for the Spanish flamenco star, and duets with the Ghanaian-American sensation Amaarae for the Afro-pop ‘Count On Me’. Sonically, the mixtape’s heaviest number is ‘Well At Least We Tried’, which offers combustible riffs. “I’d say I’m definitely a soon-to-be rock star!” BLESSED laughs.
At points, BLESSED channels Lil Peep, but his brand of emo, though raw, conveys “positive energy” over nihilism. In fact, BLESSED – who’s fascinated by the power of music through the ages – sought to record songs that are spiritual, cathartic and restorative. “The music that I’ve been making has been super-introspective – just aligned with my soul; aligned with my spirit. I want those who resonate with it to take that piece of me with them and be able to know that they’re not alone and they’re not going through whatever they’re going through by themselves, but everybody goes through things.
“Everyone has different stories, everyone has different trials and tribulations, but, at the end of the day, we all have this one music thing that brings us together; that unites us; that helps us to get through certain situations.” BLESSED has plans to give family, friends and some lucky fans a journal, which illuminates research he’s conducted into healing frequencies.
BLESSED’s new sense of liberation and possibility also extends to his styling – which evokes Woodstock bohemia, glam-rock costuming, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. “I want to really push that idea of individuality,” he says, pleased. Eschewing hip-hop athleisure, BLESSED now favours gender-fluid attire, jewellery and eyeliner. “I’m just happy to do things that people see outside of the norm and not be associated with a very singular way of thinking or a very one-sided view on what I should be wearing or how I should look. I’m just sweet to wear whatever I want, make whatever I want and be myself.”
BLESSED’s ‘Music Is The Medicine’ is out now