Swedish musician Benjamin Reichwald, whose moniker Bladee is pronounced more like a Wesley Snipes movie than a child’s nickname for a knife, has emerged from his experimental cocoon. Surfacing onto the scene as an autotune-soaked collaborator of Yung Lean, Bladee and long time friends Ecco2k, Thaiboy Digital and producer Whitearmor form the cloud rap supergroup Drain Gang. Although now Bladee would be a team captain for the 2023 Soundcloud all star game, his beginnings were humble. As in his music sounded like shit. For the uninitiated, Bladee’s work, particularly his older music, sounds like something you’d put on as a joke. But when the joke isn’t funny anymore and you keep playing it, you are left with the sad reality that you are a Bladee enjoyer.
In the caterpillar stages of the singer/rapper’s metamorphosis, Bladee sounded exactly like who he was: a kid in Stockholm rapping over his friend’s beats, disguising his nearly atonal singing with buckets of effects. On his early projects, the autotune covering his voice often quivers and wiggles, as if the program is struggling to identify what note Reichwald could possibly intend. He croons seemingly without reason and with a poor attempt to rhyme; certainly with little regard for the shimmering, alien and surprisingly well-produced cloud rap instrumentals he performs over. To give him credit, Bladee does not hide his origins; whereas other musicians may guard their first projects from the grasp of the internet, Bladee’s 2014 mixtape “Gluee” rears its ear-slaughtering head on all platforms.
His 2018 cult classic release “Icedancer” shares the acquired taste qualities of his earliest work, but it’s clear this is where Bladee’s transformation begins. The autotune still cracks and the vocals are still lethargic, but the mixtape sees the Swede turn over a new leaf in terms of songwriting and catchiness. On by far his most played track, “Be Nice 2 Me”, Bladee carols the hook of “To be honest, if it's wrong, I don't want to be right / I don't wanna talk if you're not gonna talk to me nice,” like he’s wagging his finger at his listeners. He bursts out laughing while delivering the song’s first lyrics, as if he can’t quite take the Tamagotchi-esque whistle of the beat seriously. The song also experiences two separate downward modulations, which artificially induce a more seductive and intense atmosphere out of nowhere. It’s pretty funny. Another pick off this tape is “Mallwhore Freestyle”, which shows off how Bladee’s inabilities effortlessly translate into charm. Along with sneaking in a stock “boing” sound effect on the beat drop, his pitchy crooning about designer fashion has an infectious sense of joy, making you want to try your hand at being Swedish T-Pain yourself. Sure, it’s still tough to listen to a full track and keep a straight face, but the record’s flaws accumulate into an inexplicable appeal – like you and Bladee are in on the same joke.
Wings finally sprout on 2020’s “333,” which has the singer transition his vocals from abrasive and overpowering to gentle and fragile. Bladee finds his strengths on this album, finally matching his delicate demeanor with equally timid instrumentals, and he takes strides in all aspects of his music. The first words spoken on the album summarize the experience to come: “Crystalline bliss from within.” The only thing he forgot to mention was all the trap high hats. Bladee’s lyrics reflect an understanding of his niche appeal and fleeting relevancy, repeating the motifs of not feeling special, crumbling sand castles and deterministic playing cards across the track list. The theme that stands above all is the embrace of femininity. Bladee’s hushed falsettos wield a certain androgyny as he compares his purity and elegance to that of Cinderella. The song “It Girl” sees him use feminine status as something to strive towards, as he trills “In this world you gotta work to be the it girl.” The album captures the sentiments of a generation of men who acknowledge pitfalls of masculinity and the importance of being vulnerable. Bladee pulls back the curtain on his mysterious persona and his insecurities being a young man whose fame brought unexpected responsibility.
Later releases continue to show self improvement for the 28-year-old. “The Fool” carries his upgraded writing chops onto his earlier sound, bringing the loveable goofiness of “Icedancer” to a poppier, tighter sound with far sharper lyricism. Ecco2k and Bladee continue “333’s” celestial euphoria with “Crest,” a project characterized by muted catchiness and library bangers. Play the track “Yeses (Red Cross)” and you’ll know what I mean. Bladee’s transformation is not to be understated; he went from your high school acquaintance whose mixtape you pretended to rock with so he’d let you hit his vape, to mastering his corner of experimental trap. His contagious enjoyment of making art has always bled through the speakers, and his artistic journey is marked by self discovery, vulnerability and the desire to create.
Listen to Cam and his buddy Brett talk about music at 7 p.m. Fridays at WDCE.net.
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