Features

“The World’s Starting To Take Notice” – BLESSED On The Global Rise Of Australian Hip Hop

Sydney’s BLESSED exudes mystique, with his auteur hybrid of hip-hop, R&B and rock – and high-fashion aesthetics. But the enigma born Blessed Samuel Joe-Andah has a formidable profile in Australia’s hip-hop and R&B scenes, having previously released music as Miracle and mentored The Kid LAROI – the ‘STAY’ rapper is like his “little brother”. Now BLESSED wants to connect with his fans as a live performer.

BLESSED was born in Ghana, but soon after migrated to Australia with his family, living in Melbourne and Canberra before settling in Western Sydney. Initially playing the guitar, he took up rapping after discovering Kanye West. The high schooler transformed Pete Murray’s folksy ‘Better Days’ into a hip-hop banger that achieved YouTube virality, eventually scoring a deal with Sony Music. In 2014 he formally premiered as Miracle with Mainland, making uplifting, albeit cerebral, electro-hop alongside Styalz Fuego and Nic Martin (aka UNO Stereo) – Allday a canny choice of guest. Miracle gigged solidly.

Meanwhile, the lowkey BLESSED worked as a songwriter/producer – being credited on Justice Crew’s triumphal mega-hit ‘Que Sera’. Communal, he’d emerge as a crucial player in a fresh Australian hip-hop movement – Western Sydney being a hub. BLESSED guided The Kid LAROI’s pivotal 2018 EP 14 WITH A DREAM.

In 2016 the MC left Sony, feeling that the label didn’t intuit his scope. He again embraced guitar, gradually reinventing himself as the post-genre ‘BLESSED’ by positively reconfiguring psy-rock, punk, grunge and emo with avant’n’B and trap. His single ‘One And Only’ was licensed for the Netflix teen dramedy On My Block, as was the beloved ‘Sorrows’. BLESSED toured with a new ally in the equally versatile indie-rocker Matt Corby. Last year he presented his first mixtape as BLESSED, Music Is The Medicine. In October, the prolific musician offered the compilation LOCKDOWN TAPES VOL. 1.

BLESSED was unable to tour nationally behind Music Is The Medicine due to the pandemic. However, he now has his own concert film, shot at the Sydney Opera House as part of its innovative post-lockdown digital music series Liminal. BLESSED’s spectacular is free to view on the SOH’s online platform Stream, Facebook and YouTube. He hopes to perform more in 2022 (and intends to commission a unique merch collection involving Sydney design talent).

Music Feeds caught up with a surprisingly lucid BLESSED, using Zoom in his back garden following a long night in the studio. “I thought I’d put my little business hat on today,” BLESSED jokes, noting that he’ll shortly hit bed. BLESSED chats Liminal, new music and live show plans, plus his intriguing associations with Genesis Owusu, The Kid LAROI and Milan Ring.

Music Feeds: It’s a year since you dropped Music Is The Medicine. What was the response to that?

BLESSED: Yeah, the response was really good. I got a lot of messages and DMs from people just telling me about how the music has helped them or how they feel connected to the music or it reminds them of a certain scenario… But it was a really good response in that kinda sense of where it was connecting with people and in an emotional sense.

MF: You recently had LOCKDOWN TAPES VOL. 1. What were you aiming to do with that? It sounds like they were just jams, but it’s quite a cohesive project, in a way.

B: Thank you. Yeah, it literally was just jamming. I was just in my bedroom obviously for the past four, four-and-a-bit months, and then I found TikTok. I thought it’d be kind of fun to take my mind off the whole lockdown situation and just record myself making music every day and uploading it onto TikTok and social media platforms. Then it kind of just formed into a mixtape or a semi-finished project. I just thought, why not put it out there for the fans or even people that kinda only came across me through social media? It’s a great way to stay connected with them and they see the process and now they get to have the finished product.

MF: Well, because it’s LOCKDOWN TAPES VOL. 1, I’m assuming there’s a VOL. 2…

B: I’ve got so many (laughs) – I made a lotta songs in lockdown, yeah.

MF: How many volumes do you anticipate?

B: We live in a different world now. We definitely have shifted into a whole ‘nother timeline. But, I mean, if we’re continuing to have these on-and-off kinds of lockdown or pandemic [situations] or whatever’s gonna come in the future, I think that’s what will determine that – ’cause this was just like a really fun experiment, just taking that isolation time and creating. I’ll probably have, like, 10 volumes by the end of this decade, if things keep going this way (laughs).

MF: The Liminal project is really cool. I know it’s a concert film, but did you pre-record this? Or is it live? How does it work?

B: Oh, it’s pre-recorded… It was my first time doing any kind of live recording thing, which is fun. It was a little bit, I wasn’t nervous, I would say, but I was a little bit – like something was missing, which is obviously the crowd (laughs). But it was cool ’cause me and my band, we kind of took it as almost like a rehearsal or a jam session, ’cause we’re just looking at each other playing, you know – ’cause I didn’t really have anyone to even pinpoint out or connect with on that level. It was definitely fun, though.

MF: Had you performed at the Sydney Opera House before?

B: No, no – that’s another plus, that’s another plus… It was amazing to be in such a monumental space. Even the dressing rooms where ballerinas and orchestral players get to rest, it was amazing being in that space. The dressing room is like a bunker almost and out the window you obviously see the water and the boats go by. It’s really calming. It just feels really elegant and official – like I’m about to go play a crazy pianist concert or something.

MF: I was wondering how lockdown was for you personally – did you find it hard? Because, generally, it seemed like parts of Sydney, it was very austere and based on prejudice. We all saw the clips of police cars. You probably have friends and family in some of those zones. But, at the same time, it sounds like you found refuge in your creativity. But how did you deal with it psychologically?

B: Well, I live in one of those zones. At first, it was pretty hard, just because, I guess, yeah, like I was saying, psychologically, I am the biggest rebel! It’s like, if you tell me I can’t do something, then I’m itching to do it. It’s just the way that I am.

I’m more of a homebody, anyway. So it was calm for me. But, just psychologically, the idea of I’m not allowed to go out – like I don’t wanna go out, but you’re telling me I can’t, so it makes me wanna go out, if you get what I’m saying (laughs).

But, other than that, it was a good time to reflect, to slow down; to really understand what’s important in my life and the seeds I wanna continue to grow in my life.

I think, for me, it was mostly about family and those true, close connections – like not really having friends, but having people that are deeper than friends; you know, really, really reaching out to them and making sure they’re OK and just keeping up that communication, ’cause I tend to kind of go off the grid every now and then. But this kinda helped me refocus [on] what’s important in my life. Music is everything to me, but actually building on my relationships with those I love, that was a big point for me.

MF: I can hear birds in the background!

B: Yeah – I love being around nature, too. It’s my favourite – it’s calming, you know?

MF: This is an ongoing mystery, but I remember Citizen Kay suggested to me that you’re cousins, which means his brother Genesis Owusu would be as well. I wasn’t sure if that was ‘cousins’ in the communal or the literal family sense. But how do you guys relate, because that’s a lot of talent in one family, if it’s true. That’s Jacksons level.

B: I wish (laughs). No, we’re cousins in the community sense, so we’re from the same country, Ghana. When our families migrated to Australia, it kind of created a small community of Ghanaians – and also Christians as well. So we went to church together. When I lived in Canberra, I used to go over to their house every Sunday and play video games with them; when we were a lot younger.

Yeah, it’s crazy just to see them flourish and grow into such amazing musicians. Now Genesis is such a big artist, representing Australia on such a large scale. So it’s something that makes me very proud to even know them – like, yes, it’s definitely a blessing. And the fact that it’s coming from such a small community and it’s affecting so many other people – it’s exciting.

MF: You produced the 14 WITH A DREAM EP for The Kid LAROI. He must have been so young then – Baby LAROI. What was he like back then? And what kind of guidance did you give him, because you had so much experience even then and he was probably totally new to a studio set-up?

B: Well, to me, he’s an alien. He’s not a normal kid. He’s always been so focused – like his drive and his will just to keep creating music and do better, I’ve never met anybody like him. So I knew he was on the way to something great. And he knew he was on the way to something great.

As much as me producing his first pieces, or body of work, being a part of [his career] and helping in that regard, he also helped and inspired me in many ways – ’cause he’s the same age as my younger sister. It’s like I kinda almost took him on as a little brother as well. We’d be in the studio for hours and hours. He used to come sleep at the crib and we’d make music in my bedroom – and now he’s a superstar! A literal superstar – one of the biggest streaming artists on the planet.

So it’s amazing just to see the talent that’s coming from Australia – and now it’s getting recognised and appreciated worldwide. That’s what we deserve as Australians because I feel like we see things differently, obviously ’cause we’re on an island on the other side of the world. But, creatively, we have something that’s infectious and the world’s starting to really take notice of it. I guess, decades ago, Australians were huge [in music] as well. But now it’s starting to come back.

MF: I recently played Mainland again – and I think that’s a fire album, it holds up. Have you ever gone back and revisited that or are you always moving forward?

B: Yeah, I’m always moving forward – like I don’t listen to songs once they come out, really.

MF: You’ve worked closely with Milan Ring, featuring on her upcoming album I’m Feeling Hopeful with the new single ‘Sydney Hue’. She’s such a good guitarist. How did you guys cross paths?

B: Yeah, yeah… She’s one of the most talented guitarists, producers, mix engineers, singers… She’s amazing. I think we met through Manu Crooks. Manu Crooks was doing a show [Red Bull Music Presents Mood Forever] at [the Sydney Cargo Hall in 2018], but she was opening for Manu and then I saw her for the first time. I was like, “Yeah!” – I fell in love with her voice, I fell in love with her guitar, the voice of her guitar… Then [I was like], “I just wanna come in for a session and hook up with you.” Ever since then, we’ve had multiple sessions and created so much beautiful music together. It’s exciting now that she’s got her debut album coming out and everyone gets to see what we were cooking up in her little cave!

MF: You’ve done so much writing and producing – and you have such impressive credits. What are your aspirations? Where would you like to go from here? Will you do more production? Or are you more focused on your own artist career? Have you even got time to do both – I guess Ye does it.

B: Yeah, for real – Ye’s my favourite artist of all time. I really do model myself after him and his ambition to create in all levels – like whether it’s from clothes to music to now he’s trying to do homes and stuff like that.

But I think, for me, I just wanna be a part of the community. I’ve always felt very drawn to like-minded artists or creatives or just thinkers. So it’s like I’ve got my music, and I’m always gonna have that expression – and that’s always the priority to me because that’s like my therapy.

But, then, at the same time, I wanna help others who have that same hunger or that same drive or that same purpose in whatever they’re doing. So production and writing, co-writing, ghostwriting – it’s just music to me. So I just wanna keep creating with other talented and inspiring artists, for sure.

MF: What’s next for you? Have you got some gigs planned? Hopefully, we’ll go forward and open up this summer.

B: I guess it’s more like I wanna work on my show a lot better before I get on the road. Doing the [Liminal] filmed or recorded show really showed me what my show looks like from the outside – ’cause I’m always in it. I’ve never filmed it before. So I think, for the summer, I’m gonna really work on building my show to the standard that I hear and see in my head. Then, from there, yeah, I’m gonna do as many shows as possible – like I literally wanna tour the whole of 2022.

Stream BLESSED’s Liminal performance, on-demand, right now.

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