by Ben Gardner
When I first heard Bladee, I laughed. He was trash. How could anyone want to listen to this random Swedish guy’s low-effort, autotune-heavy, weak excuse for music? I was completely against the idea of listening to “Be Nice 2 Me” again, much less becoming a “drainer.” Yet, on one late night last year, I was sitting in my Hastings Hall single when I felt an ungodly urge. My hands, controlled by an unseen force, opened up Spotify and typed in HIS name. I shamefully tapped on “Be Nice 2 Me” while attempting to suppress my excitement, and sat back while the goofy/catchy synth lead started, quickly followed by the beat drop. It… slapped. My shame was immeasurable. I listened to jazz and conscious hip-hop! I was pretentious about my music, and to keep up that image, I had to listen to music worth being snobby about. Yet, there was something about his music that kept me coming back.
Now, one year later, I’m a proud drainer. You could even call me an honorary member of the Drain Gang, their collective. I was sent by Thaiboi Digital, Ecco2k, and Bladee himself to deliver the good word and convert you, the reader, to join our cause. On first listen, the music Bladee and his peers make sounds abrasive and low-effort. After more listening, I found that their music can be hypnotizing, intoxicating, and immersive. A year later, and I’m a proud fan. Before I fawn over Bladee for the following few paragraphs, I must clarify that as a new fan of his, I have yet to explore his entire discography. I’ve only dipped my toes in the water. My opinion is based on Crest and Icedancer, as well as some other songs from albums such as Obedient and Western Union.
I used to think of Bladee as just another lazy SoundCloud rapper, lifelessly mumbling over generic beats. As I listened closer, I realized he’s the proponent of a unique style that offers something genuinely different in the oversaturated rap scene. Bladee and his contemporaries such as Yung Lean grew up outside of the U.S., hip hop’s mecca. But instead of becoming a crutch, their unique locations forced them to create a new, unconventional style from a myriad of influences. Bladee’s music is a mesh of rap, pop, hyperpop, and R&B. His cryptic lyrics are often cloaked in heavy autotune, and it’s sometimes difficult to remember that the sounds you’re hearing come from a human mouth. His vocals are paralleled by his dense, glittery production, which often comes from Drain Gang’s in-house producer, Whitearmor. If aliens came down to earth and were captured by the U.S. government, given a microphone and production software, and forced by the CIA to make music, it would probably sound something like Bladee.
One main criticism I had of Bladee before was that his lyrics seemed random and meaningless. Now that I’ve been converted, I realize that he does have meaningful lyrics, although there’s still a share of questionable bars. His lyrics are esoteric, even poetic. One of my favorite lines comes on “White Meadow”: “Sky comes down, peace be found / The noble strive, the great perfection / Deep, deep down, silent shout / A flower sprouts, tries to reach heaven.” There’s some good imagery here: I interpret these lines as Bladee’s description of his struggle to become perfect through the metaphor of the flower trying to reach the sky. He isn’t just rapping about the typical rap topics of drugs, violence, and sex – he has the ability to go deeper. Some of his lyrics are just straight-up weird, such as “I can’t even trust myself when the night comes / Step on my head twice like a cockroach” on “Obedient.” His weird words add to the mysterious and alien nature of his music. Bladee is rapping about things only he can understand, which gives the listener freedom to assign their own meaning to his words.
According to his Wikipedia page, Bladee describes his musical style as “pain.” I’ll assume he was probably just trying to be edgy there…but regardless, the output is a distinct sound that contains many elements of modern music. As I mentioned earlier, he uses a lot of auto-tune, which is frequently criticized as gimmicky and faking uniformity to popular sounds. These criticisms are valid: look no further than the stagnation of the modern trap sound. Many new rappers have attempted to mimic the auto-tune heavy sounds of the likes of Playboi Carti and Future, but often come off as boring and uninspired. Bladee’s flavor of auto-tune is different. It’s more lethargic, which contributes to his dreamy and distorted sound. His production is often very dense and layered, similar to genres like hyperpop. Micheal Datz describes Bladee’s relation to the genre perfectly as “hyperpop but left in the freezing cold”.
Throughout the past few paragraphs, I’ve attempted to explain my affinity for Bladee in a logical way. If you weren’t convinced to listen to him from that, I have one more argument for you: Bladee’s music has an intangible, addictive quality to it. When I listen to certain songs, I instantly feel happy; my walk to Algo is always improved by listening to “Waster.” He also does small things that make me appreciate his attention to detail and love of music. For example, “Be Nice 2 Me” slows down and changes keys around halfway through the song, and on “Mallwhore Freestyle,” there is a funny ‘boing’ sound effect before a beat drop. Moments like these make his music memorable.
Now, there is no doubt that I have piqued your interest in Bladee, the auto-tuned dark angel. I recommend you start by listening to Crest, his recent collab album with Ecco2k, and go from there. Happy listening!