(From left to right: Bladee, Thaiboy Digital, Ecco2k )
“Though his robotic vocals have remained a constant, each Bladee release tends to sound like a new world.”
- Christian Turner, 11th grade
Drain gang is a collective of Swedish musicians: Bladee, also known as Benjamin Reichwald; Ecco2k, also known as Zak Arogundade Gaterud; Thaiboy Digital, also known as Thanapat Thaothawong; and Whitearmor, their producer whose legal name is not publicly known. They often collaborate with another group of artists called Sad Boys, which consists of rapper Yung Lean and producers Yung Sherman and Yung Gud. Rappers Bladee and Ecco2k had been friends in a punk band called Krossad --meaning “crushed” in Swedish-- prior to the formation of the group.
Ecco2k (left) and Bladee (right) performing in their band Krossad.
Their music is often categorized in the genre Cloud rap, known for ambient melodies, and trap drum patterns. The Drain Gang members were heavily influenced by the pioneers of the sound -such as Cartier God, ASAP Rocky, and most famously Lil B- but managed to reinvent it. Sweden historically is not a mecca of rap music, and thus the Drain Gang crew created a soundscape easily traceable to it’s aforementioned predecessors, yet entirely new.
Even with Yung Lean’s popularity being marginally higher than that of all four members of the Drain Gang crew, his music seems less influential. Yung Lean is most significantly known as a cloud rap artist, but he wasn’t necessarily a pioneer in the genre. Drain music is rooted in cloud rap, but through each project, something new is cultivated and influences another generation of new music. Bladee’s discography best encapsulates the ever-evolving music of Drain Gang. Though his robotic vocals have remained a constant, each Bladee release tends to sound like a new world.
Bladee performing Into Dust with Yung Lean
Despite Bladee not being a proficient singer by most standards, or extremely musically literate he is artistically articulate. Going into each project is a portal into his psyche, a true mastery of artistic expression through music despite limited means of expression.
The Swedish rapper and Drain Gang “CEO” has moved through the mournful melancholic haze of his first mixtape, 2014’s Gluee, to the atmospherically icy melodies of his 2016 debut album, Eversince, and the futuristic pop of his recent project, 2020’s Exeter. Over the years, his music has become brighter and more melodic, while his songwriting, which has often veered into the deeply depressive, has grown increasingly minimalistic and positive. 2016’s Eversince and the follow up 2017 EP Plastic Surgery, often featured lyrics of self-harm and suicide, sung in Bladee’s signature lifeless and dead cybernetic vocals. The topics covered in some of their other projects are the usual suspects in modern rap. 2018 album Bladee’s Icedancer and 2016 mixtape rip bladee for example, trail into the hypermasculine tropes of modern hip-hop (ie. money, expensive clothes, drug abuse, etc.) yet those songs are often few and far between. Bladee, Ecco2k and Thaiboy have never been afraid of being vulnerable in their music, which is something that rap is still coming to terms with in the past decade.
Bladee and Ecco2k’s music video for their 2018 single Obedient, which later appeared on the Redlight album.
Even though Bladee’s received a recent influx of new listeners, most people who have heard his music either love it, or hate it. Ecco2k is often loved even by people who generally don’t care for his counterpart’s auto-tuned singing. His recent project E is acclaimed as one of, if not the best, Drain Gang albums to date. It ventures so far away from cloud rap into experimental pop that if it weren’t for his whispery falsetto one might not recognize it as his music. Most of his lyrics go into the same territory of Bladee’s, but he goes places that Bladee never could. As someone of African heritage in Sweden, Ecco didn’t come to terms with his Blackness for many years. In a 2016 Vogue interview, he recalls himself doing “dumb” things such as not “wanting to be in the sun too long” because he “didn’t want to get darker skin”. Yet after a while he realized that he could never fit in, and thus he shouldn’t try to. He now “very much [embraces] being Black.” While his desire to stand out can easily be discerned through his head-turning hairstyles and unique fashion choices, he comes to terms with this on songs like “Black Boy” on the 2017 Drain Gang album D&G.
Music video for Peroxide, which appeared on Ecco2k’s E album.
One could make the connection between the Seattle grunge scene and the Stockholm Cloud rap scene in that gloomy cold and overcast weather (a sentiment that could be applied to musicians such as the Cure and the Smiths) can often lead to gloomy and emotive music. However, the biggest common denominator between these scenes is how collaboration and influence in a small underdeveloped area can lead to a burgeoning musical ecosystem. The Seattle grunge scene for a long time was isolated and self-contained. Musicians were inspired by each other in their small circles and by the time the music reached the mainstream, it sounded vastly different from everything else. At first glance, this type of musical ecosystem seems dead due to the rise of the internet, as well as the speed of consumption and discovery of new music, yet, while there is some truth to this, the internet also incubates niche music as a matter of fact: Bladee blew up from 100k monthly listeners to 550k monthly listeners thanks to Tik Tok trends,.
The new and thriving scene coined “Hyperpop” by most of its listeners, claims alot of inspiration from Drain Gang. In fact, Bladee and Thaiboy’s music frequently appear on the Hyperpop playlist on Spotify. However like most musicians ushered into the new genre by listeners, they would most likely not consider themselves Hyperpop artists. Popstar Charli XCX, famous for the writing behind many modern pop songs as well as producing and singing her own hits, is considered a pioneer of the genre. Ironically she recently tweeted “What is Hyperpop?” Implying that she also had no idea what the genre was. Most artists in this genre simply view themselves as original artists making original music, yet listeners notice the frequent overlap of influences and music tropes and have decided that is enough to constitute a new genre of music. Whether it’s called hyperpop or glitchcore or just experimental underground pop music, Drain Gang’s music has ventured deeper and deeper into this territory, and looks as if it’s there to stay as one of the groups pushing the envelope further for new artists.
Charli XCX on the cover of Spotify’s Hyperpop playlist, which you can find the link to here .
There is without a doubt thousands of music scenes that have not hit the mainstream, cultivated online in isolated Discord communities, Reddit forums etc. Some may never reach the mainstream, some might blow up seemingly overnight as Cloud rap and Hyperpop did, but this is what makes underground music underground. If everyone knew about it, so much novelty would be lost. Drain Gang has done so much in their seven years together to influence new underground artists, as their predecessors did before them. Music travels so fast now that artists--such as the 15 year old Hyperpop artist P4rkr--influenced by a generation of music made before they were preteens, are blowing up alongside their mentors.