BLESSED takes centre stage and shines on ‘AUSSIE BLACKSTAR’
An iconic moment in Australian hip-hop’s history has arrived, with the creative sensation known as BLESSED releasing his debut album ‘AUSSIE BLACKSTAR’ last Friday. Following on from his rock influenced 2020 mixtape ‘Music Is The Medicine’ and 2021 project ‘LOCKDOWN TAPES VOL. 1’, BLESSED has further solidified his place as a boundary-pushing titan in Australian music with a knack for balancing the familiar and previously unexplored with sophistication and ease through the release of this album.
Having transitioned from Miracle to BLESSED, the album arrives at a culminative moment in his trajectory, signalling a direction towards an even higher echelon for an artist ready to take on the world on his own terms. Renowned for his impact in having helped to foster the talents of some of Australian hip-hop’s biggest contemporary acts, ‘AUSSIE BLACKSTAR’ allows BLESSED the well-overdue space to embrace the spotlight. The West Sydney artist, producer and creative visionary has evoked a fearlessness in evolving with each project, a factor which is demonstrated by his transition from the guitar-heavy, pop punk feels of ‘Music Is The Medicine’ to what now feels like a sonic precursor to ‘AUSSIE BLACKSTAR’ in ‘LOCKDOWN TAPES VOL. 1'.
WAR ON LOVE
The introduction to ‘WAR ON LOVE’ immediately stands out as a powerful and musically deep way to begin the album. As a listener you’re immersed in the soft harmonious, sustained vocals and the melody of the violin which leads into a tantalising bass and electronic combination. After the intro we enter the hip-hop paradigm of the production as BLESSED enters with a groovy and rhythmic flow. The hybridisation of gospel and hip-hop elements works to differentiate this track from the other songs on the album, with the beat change amalgamating the two contrasting sections (verse and chorus) and concluding the song in an unexpected but artistically creative way. The gospel section is also representative of the meaning of the song, in that we are all on our own introspective journeys of love and of having to persevere through contrasting war-like moments internally and externally, for the outcome of love, “I want love, I want love, don’t want drugs, don’t want drugs, tried to numb who I was”. To close the song off with fellow West Sydney artist Chirine’s harmonies adds to the grandiose, epic nature of this release, and assures the listener is well-and-truly captivated for what’s to come.
DOWN UNDER ft Baby Prince
‘DOWN UNDER’ has one of the catchiest hooks of 2022. Representing the talent from down under we also have Brisbane’s Baby Prince on the track with his own style contrasting BLESSED. BLESSED has a relentless, long and freely-paced flow which exemplifies the melody perfectly. This is contrasted with Baby Prince’s shorter, more rhythmic verse and has a lighter tone which creates a good balance of tone throughout the whole song. BLESSED’s personality and finesse is wonderfully showcased in this song through all its musical entities. There are many playful Aussie references in the lyrics as well such as vegemite, kangaroos, red rocks, Centrelink and the didgeridoo, alongside many other plays on words. In the music video we see a rural and natural Australian landscape of desert that encapsulates parts of Australia that people forget exist but are very much part of the culture. Conclusively, this track is about recognising what Australian music is achieving in a fun and enticing manner especially with double entendre and references to cultural and social dynamics in Australia.
‘LOVE YOURSELF’ depicts BLESSED feeling helpless as he experiences having to see someone he deeply loves searching for affirmation in a person that has hurt them time and time again. The track speaks volumes of BLESSED’s internal monologue in this situation and the struggle of seeing this significant other fall for the same trap yet again, wishing for them to trust and love themself. The dejected mood of the production by Boss Beats pairs expertly with BLESSED’s versatile delivery and pain-soaked vocals, “Cover your scars to cover your heart” / “I can’t take you off my mind”. This feels like a callback to the love-worn, heart-on-his-sleeve themes of BLESSED’s ‘Sunday Sessions’ era and it’s wonderful to have it back.
‘NO CHANGES’ samples the 1986 song ‘The Way It Is’ by Bruce Hornsby and The Range, which was previously infamously sampled by Tupac in his song ‘Changes’. The original track is about compassion and love, and accepting everyone regardless of their differing race, culture or beliefs. BLESSED’s song begins with a graceful choir singing a melody from ‘The Way It Is’ with him speaking plainly that “It’s the way it is but not the way it should be”. He begins to sing the chorus, “I’ve been waiting for changes, but nothing seems to change”, which is bursting with emotion, sung beautifully and possesses a catchy melody. The verses consist of BLESSED rapping, the first verse opening with, “All I see is racist faces ‘cause this human race is stuck in the matrix”. The lyricism is poignant, identifying the cycle of unacceptable racism that continues to poison our world even in the 21st century. In all honesty, the flow of BLESSED’s rapping sounds disjointed and a little unpleasant, presenting itself as aesthetically disconnected from the powerful and gorgeous vocals and instrumentals in what feels like somewhat of a takeway from the impact of the track.
Delivered over a bouncy trap beat, ‘SKELETONS’ oozes confidence. With a distinctive menacing and emotive flavour conjured by producer Chandler Jewels, the track makes use of 808s, trap hi-hats and verged-out ad-libs to emphasise the hyped-up energy of BLESSED’s lyrics. BLESSED speaks of his dedication to his craft and vision: “married to the money, no divorcing”. He’s focused and hustling, “Till I’m touring again, touring again, balling, scoring again, scoring again, calling, I’m ignoring again, ignoring again”, dispelling distractions in his pursuit of excellence.
LOOT ft Manu Crooks
On ‘LOOT’, we see BLESSED coming together with long-time collaborator and Australian hip-hop pioneer, Manu Crooks, for the biggest feature of the album. This is the fourth time we’ve seen the pair collab (Manu’s iconic 2016 track ‘Blowin Up’ where BLESSED is credited as Miracle, as well as ‘Top’ and ‘I Want it All’) and on this occasion they’ve crafted an ominous trap banger. The track starts and finishes with a signature Manu hook, with BLESSED professing that he isn’t here for the ‘LOOT’. Above all, this track represents a decade’s worth of perseverance and hard work for the pair of artists. Together, they’ve been traversing the industry and providing us with some of the scene's most iconic moments. And now with the introduction of the BBGB movement, we are incredibly excited for what’s to come for the pair.
IN GOD WE TRUST
On ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’, BLESSED reminds us to have faith and trust the process, even in the face of adversity. The track begins with BLESSED’s signature humming over an electric guitar which transitions into a thumping hip-hop beat crafted by GXNXVS and Nic Martin. His distinct hum is a welcomed return, it wouldn’t be a BLESSED record without it. BLESSED takes our industry head on, calling out the nepotism and continued under representation of coloured people on our radio and screens. The track is a defiant moment on the album with BLESSED truly professing himself as the ‘AUSSIE BLACKSTAR’ and representing the changing face of Australian hip-hop, stating “I’ve got love for Triple J, but me and my black nation gonna start our own radio station,” and “rich white boys pass the bag around and around, I’m intercepting.”
TROUBLE ft Maina Doe
TROUBLE is a stand-out track on this album, telling the story of a relationship marred by past grievances and miscommunication. Both parties feel misunderstood and underappreciated – the inevitable conclusion when we shy away from honesty and keep our cards close to our chest. The production by aywy and BLESSED is more within the realm of alternative R&B, compared to other tracks which lean more into trap and hip-hop, featuring phased guitar notes and an upbeat rimshot-heavy drum pattern. The hook “Trouble stuck, trouble stuck on my mental, thinking ‘bout the things that I been through” introduces us to a man stuck in his own head. He owns up to his misdemeanors, “(I) was a liar, now it’s awkward, won’t bother you,” but his demons continue to isolate him from his other half. Maina Doe delivers us a characteristically ruminative verse. She’s hurting, disappointed by her partner’s lack of openness and attention. Still, Maina remains rational, recognising the toxic patterns she and her significant other fall into: “we’re both acting too strong, this ain’t a face off”. She criticises the toxicity that lies at the centre of every failed relationship: ego.
The intro of ‘REPLY’ is short and sweet, establishing the sentimental energy of the song. It commences with gentle acoustic guitar plucking, which is then joined by BLESSED’s melodic humming. After another eight beats, a modulated vocal sample joins, creating a moody yet beautiful harmony. The chorus starts as the drums kick in, with BLESSED singing, “Now that you’re gone, how do I move on, how do I be strong, when you’re not home”. The reason behind the title of the track ‘REPLY’ is revealed in the line: “I message your phone and wait for a reply”. The song is ultimately a story about the agonising heartbreak of losing someone who was once part of your life and no longer is. The lyricism seeks to capture the raw sadness of the story, as BLESSED sings, “Wipe all my tears tonight”. The fusion of the heartfelt music and BLESSED’s pained yet sweet sounding vocals produces a truly stunning song and effectively provokes an emotional response from listeners. Initially, the content of the song comes across open-ended, mentioning ‘heartbreak’ and someone special to him leaving, suggesting a breakup, a relationship shared with a romantic partner coming to an end. This interpretation changes when BLESSED sings, “Guardian angel, brand new halo, looking over me” and later, “One day I’ll be in the sky with you”. Despite this, BLESSED has cleverly allowed it to remain mostly up to interpretation, meaning anyone can connect and relate to the song because everyone has lost someone in some way.
FAMILY > EVERYTHING
‘FAMILY > EVERYTHING’ is a significantly moving penultimate track. Instantly, cinematic strings take centre stage as BLESSED testifies “I put my family over everything, and for the family I’ll do anything”. He pledges “I’m a lover, I’m not a fighter, but I’ll still kill for the ones I love”, the gravity of his dedication echoed by sustained grand piano chords. In the verse, the West Sydney artist settles into a faster flow and the production by Liam Thomas and BLESSED picks up pace too, delivering a piano solo that speaks to the BLESSED’s vulnerability. The outro is grand; with Sydney singer Matt Black repeating “Mother don’t worry, Mother don’t cry now”, before the rest of the strings drop out and a shrill, haunting violin solo takes over. It’s a touching ode to love and blood, and a stern warning to those who hurt those whom BLESSED holds close.
Following on from the melancholic feel of the previous tracks is the direct contrast of ‘SYDNEY NIGGY’, a song where BLESSED catches the listener off-guard in dynamic and emphatic fashion. The hyper pop-themed, electronic production by Brisbane’s Infaced sets a platform for BLESSED to construct a catchy self-confident track filled with references to the creatives (Jody Just, Manu Crooks) and iconography that his city is home too. As the concluding song on ‘AUSSIE BLACKSTAR’, ‘SYDNEY NIGGY’ proves that BLESSED will always opt to push boundaries sonically and surpass expectations.
‘AUSSIE BLACKSTAR’ feels like a celebration – alongside the boundary-pushing artists he helped to shape – of the man whose legacy is forever cemented within Australian hip-hop as an individual defiantly pursuing his dreams and reshaping the scene around him the process. When breaking down BLESSED’s 2020 mixtape ‘Music Is The Medicine’, we proclaimed that “if music is the medicine, BLESSED is the cure”. That same phrase resonates to this day following the release of ‘AUSSIE BLACKSTAR’, where BLESSED addresses what he wishes to see healed in the world around him, thus allowing listeners to in turn heal themselves.
Moreover, BLESSED's willingness to speak from the heart unapologetically and subsequent defiance towards staying within musical boundaries is reflective of the authenticity of his message, and of the regard he has undoubtedly earnt. BLESSED's forward-thinking, optimistic and inspiring energy has helped to nurture and cultivate the scene we have today, leaving us assured in saying that wherever BLESSED ends up next, we know we’ll see him shining.
Photos by @rocketweijers
Words by Portia Brajkovic, Byron Zeledon-Torres, Livdaangel, Amit Pala & Matthew Badrov