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Blvck Svm

'I want to be a rapper for a lot of reasons, and one of those reasons is the financial stability and comfort that comes from it. But within that, it’s really being able to eat whatever I want, and go wherever I want, and not even think about the logistics of it'

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Evan Dale

Evan Dale // April 23, 2023

We met at Taqueria El Mezquite off the 18th Street Station of the Pink Line in Pilsen. It seemed a fitting spot - Svm’s choice - and one of his favorite Mexican joints in all of Chicago, where he’s lived for years after relocating from Florida, reverse retirement style from a climatic point of view. If you’ve listened to his music (and if you haven’t, take a few moments to get to know a canon more lyrically-inclined, quickly-elevating, and exponentially refined than anyone else across the modern rap spectrum), you know he writes a lot about food. It was going to be a part of our conversation, so it may as well have been woven into the fabric of our physical presence, too. Al pastor, carne asada, pollo. We spent a couple hours talking over tacos, the conversation always orbiting the culinary world. But, just like his opinion on sushi buffet rolls and their practical role for spicy mayo and wasabi, the topic was a utilitarian vector for him to speak more deeply about the precision cuts, quality components, and a willingness not only to be culturally vast but to bring a truer, deeper knowledge of things and experiences into his words, and ultimately, into his artistry at large. Reserved, but beyond intentional with the cascading contemplations on which he muses, Svm speaks with the confidence, clarity, and depth of someone who truly cares about the words he says, and the value they bring to a conversation. That rings equally true in his music. His learned and experienced truths and opinions on food, fashion, and music make him a force of lyrical propensity for those still searching for timeless poetry in a modern scene not necessarily defined by it. And yet, with Svm’s guiding hand, there’s an argument to be made the penmanship has never been not only more valuable, but that it can also be more creatively manipulated than ever before, triple entendres and spoken alchemy sharing space on a track with the cursory need for a hit. Blvck Svm’s creative duality bridges that gap, and he’s only just getting started.

RNGLDR: We’re here, meeting and having this conversation over one of your favorite Mexican spots in of Chicago, for a reason. Your affinity for the culinary world is well-documented. What does food mean to you personally?

BLVCK SVM: Food is one of the most important things in my life for sure. And I don’t know if it’s necessarily more important to me than it is to the next person, but I’ve just always enjoyed good food. I’ve never been an eat-to-live person, I’ve always been a live-to-eat person. And as I’ve progressed musically, I’ve got the opportunity to experiment with a lot more. Whether it’s been cooking, or restaurants, or going to different places that have difference types of food, that’s all been on the table. And that is one of the driving forces behind a lot of what I do. I want to be a rapper for a lot of reasons, and one of those reasons is the financial stability and comfort that comes from it. But within that, it’s really being able to eat whatever I want, and go wherever I want, and not even think about the logistics of it.

RNGLDR: And what has driven you to rap so much about it?

BLVCK SVM: I just really like good food. I also really like describing food. I like reading food critic reviews. I like thinking about how food is similar to other things in the world - the way you prepare it, the way you cut it, the different things that go into making something really good. All those things can be described. Parallels, analogues can be created, and that’s one of my favorite things to do in music - not even describing an experience you can have with food, but to create imagery, similes, and metaphors about food - about other things related to food - I just think that’s cool.

I think I got into that when I started listening to Action Bronson.

RNGLDR: That man definitely loves food.

BLVCK SVM: He was the first rapper I ever heard that was just rapping about food. One liners - clearly not doing too much with a reference - but I thought, well, I really like food too. Maybe I should rap about it because it’s really me. I don’t want to rap about a life that I’m not living necessarily. Food is the life that I am living, so I rap about that.

RNGLDR: It’s not like you’re just weaving food references into anything. You’re rapping about sushi and caviar and truffle and chocolate ganache and porcini yachts. Your depth of culinary references is deep. So, where does that come from?

BLVCK SVM: Some food is real rustic, and it’s good because how simple it is. Some food is good because of how complex it is. Some food is good because of how exclusive it is. Putting that on paper, you can represent it in so many different ways. You can write about so many different things. There are gonna be the cursory lines. But there are gonna be lines that have double meanings or triple meanings. You can think about the complexity or simplicity of flavors the same way. Some stuff can be very much one-tone. Other stuff you’ve gotta wait until the after taste, or you need a palette cleanser. There can be a lot of different elements in a dish.

'Food is the life that I am living, so I rap about that'

RNGLDR: And when it comes to fine dining - which you rap about a lot - have you had a favorite meal?

BLVCK SVM: Yeah. There’s a place in Chicago called Momotaro which is a Japanese place. They don’t only have sushi, but they have a sushi bar there. I went there with my homie for his birthday, and it’s expensive sushi - it’s a high-end West Loop kind of place. Up until that point, my understanding of sushi was that it was a vector for spicy mayo and wasabi. You know, it’s good, but it’s not really good because of the sushi itself. But this sushi was so good, it was my first time eating sushi like that. I had only ever been to all-you-can-eat places, but this was like comparing a wagyu burger to McDonald’s. I’m not shitting on those places - I still be going to those places - but I just see it as a different experience. The sushi I had at Momotaro - no soy sauce - just fish on rice - was amazing. Otoro and Chutoro. Like, this is what I was missing out on?

It’s not like I can’t even go back to the buffet and eat the spicy tuna roll again. I do, but I just see at as two different things. That was a transformative experience for me, too, and really got the gears in my head spinning in regards to quality and simplicity, and how I wanted to use those things in my music going forward. And I think that’s where I’m at now, and weirdly enough it’s because I sat down and had some really good sushi.

RNGLDR: You’re always showing wagyu steaks in a pan on your IG story - so cooking is another passion then — or perhaps a deeper extension of your love of food?

BLVCK SVM: I recently got a lot more into cooking, so that’s given me more of an appreciation for how flavors come together, and how dishes come together. How they look, how they smell - everything. I’ve developed more of an appreciation for food and how it comes together on a plate as I’ve started to cook more. Ultimately, it’s just something that people aren’t really rapping about - outside of Bronson - and something that I thought I could really lean into because in real life, I’m very much leaning into it - trying new stuff, sometimes for the expressed purpose of rapping about it, so I can have the experience.

I’ve been cooking for a while, but I haven’t had this kind of energy for cooking. I would make chicken things and regular things. But now that I have a little more money, I can go back to West Palm and get a bunch of Wagyu steaks, and figure out how to make those. That’s probably been the biggest jump outside of regular food for me. But it’s also made me appreciate how when the quality is higher, then you don’t have to do as much to the item to make it taste good. And I think there’s a cool parallel to music too. It can be plain, it can be regular, as long as the base quality is very high. If the base quality isn’t high, you’ve gotta do more to it. I don’t really spend money on non-food. If it’s not rap or food, I’m not spending money on it. It’s my main expense.

I’m really having fun with food and rap at the same time, and I feel like it elevates me creatively. Every time I try a new restaurant, or every time I try something new, in my head I’m thinking about the different ways I can describe it, and the different ways I can fit it into this rhyme scheme. My brain is on fire, but in the best way possible.

'If it’s not rap or food, I’m not spending money on it. It’s my main expense'

RNGLDR: Parallel to your understanding and appreciation of food, your references to fashion are also well-documented. Like food, do you have a legitimate interest in that world, or is it more a space to use so you can expand your lyricism?

BLVCK SVM: Both. I am interested in fashion, and am slowly expanding my closet. I’m learning more about different brands and things like the cuts of their shirts, the cuts of their pants, their sizing, and the materials they use. I’m really into not even certain brands, but certain styles. I like oversized shirts, and baggier pants, and there are a lot of brands right now that are doing those things really well.

RNGLDR: Do you have a favorite designer?

BLVCK SVM: I really like Heron Preston. He’s one of my favorite brands right now. I’ve started watching interview with different fashion designers and hearing how they discuss fashion, and in a lot of ways, there are similarities between how designers speak about their craft, how artists speak about their craft, and how chefs speak about their craft. I’m interested in it, but I think I’m even more interested in it from a lyrical perspective.

RNGLDR: Can you expand on that?

BLVCK SVM: Fashion is one of those things where there’s a prestige attached to it - there’s an allure attached to it - and if there weren’t, things wouldn’t cost as much as they do, and people wouldn’t buy them for those prices. I think about fashion as a series of precisions, similarly to how I think about food. If a chef is making something, it’s about precision, it’s about getting the right cuts. It’s about bringing that vision to life. So whether you’re bringing that mentality to a dish, or cloth, or paper, it’s similar. I like rapping about fashion because it gives my songs texture. It gives them an elevated feel.

But also, I try not to be condescending about it. I am getting in a position where I can go and get stuff from Neiman or whatever. The point of it is to highlight that freedom, but not to invariably shit on somebody for not having that freedom. It’s not necessarily about motivating someone to get to that point either. It’s more matter-of-factly, this is what I’ve got, this is what I’m doing. People can interpret it in a lot of different ways, but for the most part I’m just saying it, and it’s a way to bridge two ideas together that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to bridge.

'In a lot of ways, there are similarities between how designers speak about their craft, how artists speak about their craft, and how chefs speak about their craft'

RNGLDR: You do a great job of incorporating fashion into your music that from a listener’s standpoint feels like the same amount of depth as the way you talk about food. There’s not a gap from our point of view, because you have this innate attention to detail in your lyricism. You take your time to learn about the things and understand the things that have creative, precise parallels to your own art form.

BLVCK SVM: I appreciate that. But yeah, I’m very much into food. I’m practically obsessed with food. I’m not obsessed with fashion in the same way. I’m not obsessed with cars in the same way. I’m not obsessed with consumerism in general the same way that I am with food. But lyrically you can do so much with those topics. You can create so many references, and vivid imagery. It’s like an unlimited vault of creativity when I think about those things. Food is definitely that thing for me. If I could rap more about food, I probably would, but now I feel like in the back of my head, there needs to be some kind of balance. While I may pull on certain themes more than others, I need a balance of references in my music to where anyone can enjoy it. That way if they don’t get one reference, they got the other. That way I’m still rapping for me because I’m still rapping about the things that I want to. But at the same time, I think about user experience, and the kinds of references that the average person would get, and making sure that I’m giving them an experience that allows them to be fully engaged.

RNGLDR: Because you write with such depth, and weave in so many thematic directions, it’s easy to listen to your music a lot - even if it’s just one song - and get something new out of it every time. A good album, a good movie, kind of work the same way as simply just a good track, because there is that depth, and you can catch different elements each time. It’s an important part of any art that has that long-lasting potential.

BLVCK SVM: That’s why I fell in love with Wayne. I feel like I fell in love with rap music once I started listening to Wayne. He had the type of rhymes - especially when I was younger because there was no way I was catching all of his references - where you could come back to a song five or ten listens later, or even three years later, and understanding something new about the music. Also, making music that could be understood at that deeper level when you want to go deeper, but could also be enjoyed at a cursory level sonically, if that’s how deep you want to go.

I don’t think either one is necessarily good or bad. I just think people listen to music for different reasons. Some people listen because they want to really dig into it, and other people don’t. Other people want to listen with half their brain on. So being able to make something that appeals to both important. But lyrically, I had to learn how to couch references with other things, and I had to learn to be patient with listeners too.

You can’t just load up a track with references front to back and then be upset when people don’t get them, or if people aren’t calling them out. Some references have to be somewhat universal. Not every one. But, if you’re trying to make pop culture references, there’s a reason those exist. Sports references are a little more niche. Food references are niche. Fashion references are niche. But there are also things you can reference that just about anybody is going to get. And you don’t have to do them in the same way that everybody else is. Just like lyricism in general, you can make those references in a different way. And that’s the challenge for me now: keeping audiences hooked, but also making them come back and look for more stuff later, or just having that line creep up on them randomly because that’s the moment when you really have someone fucking with your music.

RNGLDR: Of course, lyricism is a learned and studied skillset. Nothing that contemplative comes easily. How much of that do you equate to your stretch of when you were putting out new music every other week?

BLVCK SVM: I was writing everyday, and it was a sense of urgency that I had not felt ever in my life before. That level of stress, in the middle of the pandemic with no job, trying to make it so that I could stay in Chicago and make music, which is what I want to do. That urgency made it so that I was in the studio for like three months straight. I was going to my homie’s crib - I record at his crib still - I was there so often that not only did I become close with him, I became part of his family. I was just there every day. I was consumed with the thought of making it as a rapper. He had put me onto the idea that releasing consistently was the way to go because of your algorithm.

And so I started releasing really consistently. I had nothing else to do. I couldn’t go to the gym. I could find some spots to shoot around outside. My homie got the adjustable weights at his crib, so I could lift a little bit, but my day-to-day was writing, recording, and trying stuff out. Because I wasn’t doing anything else, I could do a lot of that, and when I started releasing, it was to see what would happen.

About a month after I released Bleach, it got on Discover Weekly, and it shot up. So I started thinking that I’ve gotta of this on every song. I naively thought it was gonna happen with every song. So, I would drop and song after song was a dud. That process was the most important thing for me, because it made me develope a work ethic that I didn’t have before. Being able to channel that desperation into actionable creativity - full creativity but in an actionable way - I feel like that muscle memory has made it so that I can write very easily now. I don’t get blocked up anymore, and I did a lot before that stretch.

The downside was that I was releasing music so often, that I only had a week to push each song. It doesn’t really matter how good the song is. Also, I wasn’t putting money into the new song’s ads. I was putting money into Bleach and Gristle because those were the ones that I was getting a really big return on. And part of that was that those Instagram videos had so many views and positive comments that it’s that thing that people will like what they’re told to like, or what they’re invited to like. So, they would go to the videos and be like ‘Oh, these have top be good because look how many views they have.’ When in reality, I didn’t have the money to promote the new songs every time, so I wasn’t even making ads for them. So, I think I had a few songs that at a base level were really good, but weren’t promoted at all. And it worked - but it didn’t work for those other songs.

Now I’m at a point where I’m releasing once a month - once every four weeks - and I’m also doing a lot more than I was before, but there are songs I can revisit. I can make an old song better in every way, and then re-release it.

'My attention to detail is up, my sound is more polished, my flows are more diverse, my references are more refined, lyrically, I’m more poised, and I’m working on all this stuff either directly in some regards or indirectly in some regards. Consuming more, breathing more, eating more - all the things that matter to me and my artistry, I’m just intentionally focusing on those things'

RNGLDR: Having a back stock of in-progress projects you can continue to build on is another great positive to come out of that moment in your career. But still, putting out tracks at a pace of 26 per year is a hectic schedule

BLVCK SVM: It was a lot, but I wasn’t doing anything else at that time. I was scared that I was gonna have to move. So, I was putting all my energy and my positive thoughts into making it work. I didn’t have a mental block leading up to it, but it felt like the dam in my head broke and everything came flooding through. I was writing so much, and I really think that’s because my brain was telling me I couldn’t stop. I had released a good amount of music before that, but something was just different about those first months of the pandemic. By the time I was six months in, it felt easy. I could just wake up tomorrow and write another song. And then if the next day I write another one, that’s a month of music. Having my back against the wall really squeezed that out of me.

RNGLDR: I guess fear, and with having your back against the wall, people can go one way or another. It’s a fight or flight thing. Pressure gets to people different ways.

BLVCK SVM: I think so. There are definitely ways in which pressure has affected me like that - with the flight response. But for this, I felt nervousness, anxiety, and a lot of other negativity, but on top of all those things, I felt clarity. All the stuff I wrote from that point on was my best stuff, and it was completely fueled by a fear of failure. I don’t feel that same fear now. So, creatively it’s not the same, but I’ve been able to find different sources of inspiration so that I’m still hungry, I still want more for my career, and still want more for the people I want to put on. But it’s coming from a different place. How do I motivate myself now that I’m safe? It’s not urgency, but it is something.

RNGLDR: Where did you find the motivation to put together Mangelica Mink? Because it is a very complete body of work. And where did you source inspiration for the whole project and what you eventually wanted it to be?

BLVCK SVM: When I was writing those songs, I wasn’t doing so with a project in mind. I wrote Hyogo when I went home for Winter Break in December 2021, and recorded the day I got back to Chicago. I knew it was a hit. I had no thoughts of putting together a project, but these four tracks I had written had a particular feel. I had been struggling with my distributor - I wasn’t getting the placement I wanted on playlists and stuff - so I didn’t want to drop the songs then. So, as other companies started to reach out about distribution, I wanted this body of work to be my introduction for whatever distribution I ended up in. So my motivation became that this needs to be my breakout. I signed with Empire for distribution, and released mercurymorris as the first single in September 2022.

RNGLDR: As you mentioned, it’s a cohesive project, even if the tracks didn’t have the same producer or weren’t necessarily made with the idea of a project in mind. Top-to-bottom, it flows as if you envisioned the project before you even started writing.

BLVCK SVM: It’s kind of weird that it came together so cohesively because I wasn’t writing any of those songs with a project in mind. But as the pieces started to come together and the songs started to get made, I could see it. It came from the idea that I wanted that to be the moment for me. I wanted to experience that rollout. I wanted to put all of my energy into creating this one body of work. I was apprehensive at first because I had never released a project that long in my more recent artistry. I wanted people to receive it well, and I wanted people to give it time. In the past, that’s not what happened. I had a few hundred monthly listeners and the music wasn’t that good. Now, it feels very validating, because I knew Hyogo was that song, and I knew this was my best work up until this point.

RNGLDR: How did you link up with Valee?

BLVCK SVM: So, I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. I asked my manager to email his manager, sent the track, said it was open, fingers crossed. He hit us back saying that he really fucked with it.

RNGLDR: You two sound so different, but it comes together so well. I don’t know what it is that makes your sounds complimentary, but it works.

BLVCK SVM: He’s one of my biggest inspirations in rap. The way I rap is less is more, and he’s one of the artists I learned that from. He and Draco are two artists that sound so distinct and powerful, and they’re not yelling at me, they’re not putting in a crazy amount of energy. But I still feel captivated by them. And that’s what I want to accomplish with my music.

RNGLDR: I hate that ‘look inside my cup, and you’re gonna see another cup’ works so well…

BLVCK SVM: Haha! Yeah he’s crazy man. He has some really cagy lines that where if you’re not paying attention, you’re not gonna get it. I think it took like three or four listens for me to get ‘armed twice like a canoe.’ You’re just thinking he’s saying random shit, but he really be saying something profound. He’s got some really sharp shit. I’m really glad that record came together because it was one of those things on my rap bucket list. That was the first dream feature that I got.

RNGLDR: You of course just put out THAT MUCH BREAD ON ME on January 19th, so there’s no pressure this. But, what’s next for John Wells?

JOHN WELLS: REDACTED… we just keep moving.

Long live my man Jayy Grams

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