Supa Bwe is Finally Back to Business
By Chioma Nwana
Chicago-native Supa Bwe has always been a star, but after years of honing his skills, he’s finally ready to take that leap from underground to mainstream. A naturally self-driven artist, Supa Bwe lives by the phrase “do it yourself.” He prides himself on his rapping, singing, production, and engineering abilities that allow him to take full control over his ever-changing sound. Though Supa Bwe’s talent has landed him collaborations with major artists such as Twista, Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Saba, Noname, Taylor Bennett, and more, it wasn’t until the 2017 release of his debut album “Finally Dead” that he began to receive attention from hip-hop fans outside of his city. Since then, Supa Bwe has been working towards the completion of his newest project, “Just Say Thank You,” which was released today and is available on all streaming platforms. Two days ago, I met up with him to talk about the project release, mental health, the Chicago music scene, and what to expect from him in the future.
Before we get started, can you please break down the three pronunciations of your name?
Yeah, there’s definitely three ways to say it: Supa Boy, Supa Boo, Supa Bwe. Honestly, it’s been so long since I’ve had the name—I’m on year, like, twelve—that I don’t even remember the origins anymore.
Alright, let’s get into it. You’re dropping your next project, “Just Say Thank You,” on April 10th. That’s in two days. How do you feel? What should we know about this project?
I’m really excited because it’s my return to really producing a lot of my work, you know? For a long time—for a couple years—I was outsourcing the production work, which changed the sound in general because it wasn’t my quirky, weird production. I’m really excited to remind people that I produce. I got a lot of cool features on there—I really just worked with my friends on this one. Chance is on there, my homie [Duffle Bag] Buru, Rexx [Life Raj]. Everyone says, “It’s eclectic. It’s a gathering of all [your] sounds,” but I really do feel that way. I feel like it’s a literal rainbow of Supa.
You’ve already released two songs from the project so far (namely “Time For Me,” with Rexx Life Raj and “Entropy,” featuring Dounia). Though they still have traces of that signature Supa Bwe sound, they’re much different from the rest of your discography—they’re slower, smoother, and more intimate. Were you intentionally experimenting with new sounds or were those songs just products of in-the-moment inspiration? Will we hear more songs like those on the rest of the project, and maybe in the future?
On the rest of the project, yes. In the future, yes. I’ve been tapping into my R&B a lot more. As I get older, things feel, sound, and taste differently than they did yesterday, you know? Before, I wasn’t really mature or comfortable enough to make a song like “Time For Me.” Asking a woman for her time like, “I know you’re busy. I know you got other niggas. I’m busy. I got women, but I would like to put my pride aside and make that work. No labels, no nothing, let’s just go.” I think the work itself is a reflection of growth that a lot of young people are going through right now. We’re all coming out of the era of “that hoe over there” to “aye, bro, chill out.” I know this might sound weird, but “Time For Me” is damn near a lesson on consent and equality. It’s about how to really approach a woman.
From project names like “Finally Dead” to song names like “I Hate Being Alive,” the motif of death is ever-present in your music. Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with your mortality?
I’m kinda growing more comfortable with the idea. Growing up in Chicago, I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost cousins, I’ve lost countless people that I’ve known and loved. And a lot of the media I ingest—I’m really into Marvel comics. Thanos, you know. We all saw the Avengers movie, and his thing was death. He wanted to erase half the universe becaue life would be easier that way. My concept was that I had a lot of trouble growing up. I didn’t really fit in, and I didn’t really feel like I wanted to continue. I figured the silence would be better than the noise. I just explored that for so long—like a decade. Just the ideas of it and what it really means to me, diving into the depths of nihilism itself, of nothingness, of true entropy, of left-right, “it is what it is,” the universe is bigger than this blue rock. It’s nothing like a culty, weird way. It’s nothing like an edgy, paint-my-nails-black way. It’s in a more existential, “what is life” way.
There are several other dark themes scattered throughout your discography, such as depression, voices in your head, and taking drugs to escape pain. How do you try to keep your head together while grappling with your mental health, especially as an artist who is getting bigger and bigger by the day? Within this context, what does healing mean to you?
Right now, I’m struggling with growth. It’s hard to grow and keep the content sounding even almost the same. Songs tend to change. I used to be the type that was like—I have this song, “The World Tournament.” It goes, “I just wanna smoke, bitch, I don’t care.” That’s really how I felt. I didn’t care what my mother had to say, or any woman in my life, or anything. It was just like, “Leave me alone, I’m smoking. I’m just trying to roll up. That’s some you shit. Do that you shit over there.” And now I don’t even have the courage to say that. I can’t even look at my woman in the eye after saying some shit like that. Even now, I still say some ridiculous things, but words have more weight to them than they did before. I think I forgot the question.
You answered one of them! The first question, though, was about how you hold yourself together and take care of your mental health.
Oh, yeah. I have to remember that not everybody is on the same journey as me. I think because of all the bad things I felt, watched, and went through growing up, [I understand that] a lot of other people [who] haven’t felt those things don’t know how to process those things. It’s not their fault, and it’s not my fault. I have to be comfortable being the fertilizer sometimes and not being the flower, you know? That’s just what I am in this situation, and I can’t take it personally. It just is what it is. Move forward. Me and my manager have disagreements, and I have to realize that he’s got the best idea for me, and I can’t overly explode on him because that’s a breakdown of communication—there’s no communication. Once it breaks down, it’s all chaos. So avoiding the chaos and sorting things out. I’m not the type to lose my mind, really. I can do a bunch of acid and be off the drugs and shit and not be the one running down the street naked. My mind just won’t let me because it’s always keeping things in order and compartmentalizing things. So even at my lowest, I’m still sharp.
On a lighter note, I checked out the tracklist for “Just Say Thank You.” You included four solid features on this seven-track project, two of whom are also Chicago-natives (namely Chance the Rapper and Duffle Bag Buru). Your commitment to collaborating, on past and current projects, with other artists from Chicago is expected and yet still commendable. Who are some of your favorite Chicago artists right now?
Favorite Chicago artists? That’s a difficult question. Everybody’s big now. Saba—we started at the same time—is going crazy now. I literally watched Saba from bald-head boy making videos on the couch in the alley to who he is today. I love the apotheosis. [Chance The Rapper], of course. TheMIND, Mick [Jenkins], everybody in Pivot Gang, Joseph Chilliams, Noname, the gang. The gang. It’s such a small pool of artists. It’s all-for-one at this point.
That leads up to my next question: what is the current climate of Chicago’s music scene? What do you think your responsibility is as a major artist?
It’s getting much better. We’re getting out of that crabs-in-a-bucket era. I think a lot of the country is. A lot of hip-hop and music is doing that in general, and Chicago is a part of that. I feel like the only thing I can really do at the moment, until I get large enough to really create a platform for somebody else, is give pointers and lead by example. But it ain’t really shit anybody can do for anybody. The scene and the culture have to get stronger by themselves. Those roots, those kids who are gonna be trees one day, have to show that they can sprout first. Then you help them out from that point. It’s really about waiting for that next batch of talent to sprout.
In the wake of the tragic passing of Nipsey Hussle, his fans, leaders within the music industry, and community organizers alike have been coming together to brainstorm ways to honor his legacy, which was centered on educating, protecting, and strengthening his community. You seem to be well on your way to following in his footsteps: in a 2016 interview with XXL, you explained that one of your long-term goals entails becoming a business owner and using your money and platform to open up schools, organize lawsuits against the judicial system, and invest into the hood. Can you tell me a little bit more about what investing in the hood looks like to you?
Investing in the hood means buying people’s houses away from the banks and giving them control. It means buying out other people from our corner stores, and getting them out of the liquor stores, and making them all Black-owned. It means buying those lots and building playgrounds and libraries. It means protecting our youth and giving them a chance, protecting our neighborhoods before they get reaped.
Finally, we’re in the beginning of the second quarter of the year. I know you’re releasing “Just Say Thank You” in two days, but is there anything else that we should be expecting from you in 2019?
Yeah, there’s a lot of content. For a long time, we took a break. We released “Finally Dead,” and there was a lot going on in my life. I had to organize a lot of stuff. “Just Say Thank You” is coming out. We’ve got a bunch of visuals. A lot of content—more content than we’ve ever had for a project before. I’m really excited about that. I just learned what the word content meant because we have so much of it. Got another project dropping before we drop our second album. I got shit coming.