To call Bladee a rapper would be a bit misleading — sure, he sorta sings in a cadence and manner one could associate with “rapping,” but the music the young Swedish savant crafts is decidedly outside the parameters that such rigid genre labels would seek to enclose him in. A student of Yung Lean, his formula goes something like this: Start with a little cloud rap (“100s”), mix in a bit of futuristic dream pop (“Don’t Worry”), add a dash of moody folktronica (“Valerie”), and, you get… well, the suggestion of these oddball parts still doesn’t provide a clear enough sense of just what exactly the dude’s about. For one Benjamin Reichwald, the sonic aesthetic that he’s crafted over the years is marked by a refusal to properly explain himself beyond vague signifiers of being “experimental” and taking influence from the disparate likes of performers such as Chief Keef and Basshunter, extending further into the sounds of the Beach Boys and Lil B. You’re either with him, or against him; either a ride-or-die member of the Drain Gang, or someone who thinks he’s pure kitsch. Like most internet musicians, there’s little middle ground to occupy on the matter. On 333, his strongest solo outing to date, Bladee’s blissful merriment proves it will not falter in the face of such non-believers; if anything, he delves further into his ephemeral sound’s elation until it begins to resemble the soundtrack to an unbegun kawaii anime series. “Noblest Strive,” one of the most beautiful compositions he’s yet sung over, could very well be the OP for the next season of One Piece with its introspective lyrics — “Endlessly go over my mistakes, just to find out what it takes to be great” — and existential angst imbued within its lush synth-heavy melody. But more importantly, the project is the mark of a prodigy who continues to pave his own way without relying on outsider gimmicks or the need to conform to contemporaneous trends. In this regard, his artistic development could be likened to one of his idols: a young Brian Wilson, as both are known for constructing heavenly — and rather distinctly foreign, in approach — tunes for depressed pre-teens to lose themselves in. At least, for the moment, his life remains thankfully free of any Mike Love figure.
Published as part of Top 25 Albums of 2020 — 10-1.