BLESSED – ‘Aussie Blackstar’ review: the Western Sydney rapper is ready for stardom on his own terms

The genre maverick and onetime Kid LAROI mentor makes a whole-hearted, cutting return to hip-hop

The Western Sydney maverick BLESSED has had a long career ascent. With his official debut album, ‘Aussie Blackstar’, he seeks crossover success, making some concessions to today’s dominant hip-hop trends – but the album is most vital when BLESSED indulges that old singular ambition or lets loose.

BLESSED was first known as Miracle. Under that moniker, Blessed Samuel Joe-Andah advanced an individualistic homegrown electro-hop. Signed to Sony Music, the Ghanian-Australian released 2014’s ‘Mainland’, a high-concept album about diasporic experience.

Reinventing himself as BLESSED, he embraced guitar – and applied cloud rap aesthetics to grunge (or vice versa). In late 2020 the newly self-styled rock star issued a statement mixtape, ‘Music Is The Medicine’. A few years before that, he’d produced The Kid LAROI’s breakthrough EP ‘14 With A Dream’.

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BLESSED makes a more whole-hearted return to hip-hop on ‘Aussie Blackstar’, which perhaps ironically is coming out on indie rocker Matt Corby’s fledgling Rainbow Valley Records. For ‘Music Is The Medicine’, BLESSED secured a credible guest in Afro-pop riser Amaarae (whose song ‘Sad Girlz Luv Money’ blew up on TikTok last year). But with ‘Aussie Blackstar’, he keeps things closer to home. The biggest feature is Manu Crooks on ‘Loot’ – a potentially viral streetwise drill banger in the mould of ChillinIt.

Infamously, Chance The Rapper established himself with mixtapes, only for his album ‘The Big Day’ to prove anti-climatic. Arriving six years after the first BLESSED single, ‘Aussie Blackstar’ may have its impact lessened by his extensive – and impressive – prior output. On this album, he streamlines his approach and modulates any idiosyncrasies, offering tracks with tangible radio (and chart) appeal.

Indeed, BLESSED gravitates to the same melodic emo-trap as LAROI, sing-rapping with Auto-Tune and showing off his flair for hooks. But the highlights are ultimately the more experimental songs. The opener, ‘War On Love’, evokes Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ with its choral vocals, jazzy instrumentation and overall grandeur.

On that song, BLESSED calls for collective empathy – and across the album he frequently revisits ‘Mainland’’s theme of belonging and what it is to be an ‘Aussie’. In the spicy and funny ‘Down Under’, with Brisbane’s Baby Prince, he boasts about being “a stunna” (it rhymes) and subverts nationalistic tropes. The lead single, ‘No Changes’, carries the album’s most direct social messaging, BLESSED protesting inaction on racial and gender inequality as well as climate change. It has the folky twang of Arrested Development (the Southern US collective behind ’90s hits like ‘Tennessee’), but with bouncy beats.

A mature BLESSED expresses a rare sharpness in ‘In God We Trust’, dropping truth bombs on the music industry about its legacy of racism: “I speak for the culture with every word that I say / Culture vultures pick and choose, I got love for triple j / But me and my Black nation gon’ start our own radio station / All I see is nepotism, must be related to Satan, snakes.” (He also pointedly declares Bliss N Eso “not my OGs”.)

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When he’s not delivering cutting callouts, BLESSED strives to personalise his trapsoul with emotive lyrics. The album’s key relationship song is ‘Trouble’, a lilting duet with emerging Sydney neo-soul singer Maina Doe. It nods to ’90s nostalgia, even as an angsty BLESSED ruminates on pervasive modern loneliness.

BLESSED’s earlier projects piloted his music to the next creative level. But, with ‘Aussie Blackstar’, this assured artist cruises into commercial territory. BLESSED is ready to be a pop star, though he won’t give up being a truth-teller in the process.

Record label: Rainbow Valley Records

Release date: June 3

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