Samurai Stanzas: How Blvck Svm Forged his Flow into a Beat-Slicing Katana
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
I don’t know about you, but when the pandemic first hit and we were forced into quarantine, my motivation went to shit.
How could anyone be productive in a social apocalypse like COVID-19?
Enter 23-year-old rapper Blvck Svm, real name Ben Glover, who capitalized on COVID harder than every toilet paper company combined.
When he dropped his single 'Bleach' in March of 2020, Blvck Svm was like many of us: He had a lot of free time on his hands. The kicker? He has something to show for it…
As 'Bleach' sits at just over 3 million streams on Spotify, the Florida native’s following has skyrocketed since the pandemic, soaring from a modest 300 monthly listeners to over 125,000 strong as of today; all during a global health crisis.
Blvck Svm: "Bleach" - Bar4Bar Breakdown | Full Lyric Analysis
So how did the kid who lived off PB and Js as a broke college student evolve into an 808-slaying hitmaker?
By studying idols like MF Doom and Lil Wayne, the slick-rapping shogun's student-of-the-game mentality is evident in each and every syllable of his fast-growing discography.
Weaponizing a smooth cadence, biting lyricism, and a cerebral-trap aesthetic, Blvck Svm wields his pen with lethal intent, hellbent on brutalizing any beat flung his way.
In this WaterWaveTV exclusive interview, Blvck Svm delves into the shaking nerves of his first performance, the secret world of industry ghostwriting, and why he thinks 'In-and-Out Burger' is the perfect metaphor for J.Cole...
Growing up, how did your love of Hip-Hop first manifest?
I was exposed to Hip-Hop pretty early on, but around 12-13 years old is when I first heard Lil Wayne, and he immediately became my favorite artist. Just the way he played with language and bars really molded my taste before I ever even considered making music on my own. Though I played around with rap in high school, college is when I started taking it seriously. The first performance I ever did was a poetry slam at a Chicago open mic. I remember I had a crumpled piece of paper with my lyrics that I was trying hard as hell to recite cause I forgot to memorize it; rookie mistake! It came off sort of shaky, but a few of the bars got some good reactions, and that initial response gave me the confidence to pursue rapping for real.
What was your perspective on rap when you first started, and how has it evolved over time?
You often hear from people who aren't super into rap who get glimpses of it from the radio and think it's vice heavy, surface-level, and reductive. In other words, I feel like rap gets a bad rap. There's a sincere lack of appreciation for the craft. If you truly look beneath the surface, you'll find a lot of gems in terms of lyricism and wordplay. Personally, I'm a lyricist. But because a lot of people's experience with rap is just what they hear on the radio, they write off the entire genre; it's a damn shame. There's literally a genre of rap for every type of person. The way that people generalize it is lazy, it's way too diverse a genre to be boxed in. A huge part of my mission is to mend that gap between what people think rap is, and what I know it can be.
In terms of bridging the gap between heavy lyricism and mainstream trap, how would you define your pursuit of that?
If you can make a song that's enjoyable on a cursory level, beat, flow, etc. but at the same time it's cerebral and calculated, you're hitting two huge markets at once. So by fusing them together, you know, make a song that's lyrically tight, clever, has good wordplay, but at the same time it sounds good on a surface level, it's bound to hit the widest demographic possible. That intersection has crazy potential in terms of fusing that gap. Like 'Bleach' for instance: That's a song that checks all the mainstream boxes: Smooth beat, 808s are hitting hard, claps, a clean hook, etc. While at the same time, the lyrics bite because the song has something unique to say.
Other than Bleach, which track do you feel like you best towed that line between Mainstream and Lyrical?
Polar Vortex. It's as lyrically dense as anything I've put out, but sonically it still hits that club demographic.
Which track is your most hype, up-tempo club track?
I'd say Bleach is up there for sure. As I said, it has all the pieces of a classic trap beat, plus I use a sort of triplet, Migos-like flow. 'Possessed' and 'Cactus' also have more of a low-fi-trap feel as I've actually heard those played at larger functions. 'Steam on My Socks' also hits that trap feel really hard.
Steam on My Socks [Official Music Video]
What's your most obscure influence as an artist?
In the grand scheme of rap, he's fairly obscure cause he's not technically mainstream though he does have a huge cult-like following, but MF Doom was huge on me in college. I was blown away by how easily he was able to manipulate the English language. It's been described as non-sequitur rap. Not talking about anything specifically, but he's just rapping. You always hear when you rap, you have to tell a story. You actually don't have to do anything. And MF Doom is a huge proponent of that sort of creative freedom that really inspired me when I was ramping up my own musical output.
What would you say is a primary contrast between your style and Doom's?
Content for sure. Doom was an older guy when he really popped, so his perspective was different. I rap about fashion, food, and obscure pop culture references while Doom was really all over the place. I'd also say that our cadences are different in that Doom had a very gravelly voice whereas I have a softer, smoother tonality. But I do mimic his flows a lot. I lean on his influences more than any rapper, other than Lil Wayne of course.
On the topic of your voice, how long did it take for you to discover that unique cadence of yours?
In 2019, a lot of my influences were trap-based: Autotune, triplet flows, ad-libs, etc. After a bit though, I realized that it really wasn't me. Sure, it's fun to make, but I knew there was more to my voice than Trap. After I recorded Gristle, that was the first track that I really found my baseline as a rapper. From there, I kept curating, experimenting, and my voice really crystalized from there. Tracks like that were huge in terms of giving me a benchmark for the sound I've continued to cultivate since; that dry, sort of detached, meandering type of rapping. The contrast with faster tracks is the speed at which I'm rapping combined with the casual cadence. That contrast between production and lyrics.I was going to the studio 5-7 days a week cause I just didn’t have anything else to do. My job at the time fell through, so I just locked the f**k in. I didn't even have a blueprint, I just knew that the more time I put into it, the quicker that flash would come. It was around December of last year when that really clicked.
How would you describe the period between your first show and the leveling up you experienced?
I was fortunate enough to go to a school where I could stand out in East Chicago. I felt like a big fish in a little pond. The first open mic I went to, despite flubbing some of my lyrics, went well, and I was kind of on the map from there. Going to East Chicago also pressured me to improve because there were people who were checking on me; which was really encouraging. Coming out of school I had a lot of performances under my belt from performing at clubs, frats, etc. Even then though, I still didn't have the work ethic I do now. When the pandemic first hit, I was touch and go on my music. However, once quarantine went into full effect and I lost my main source of income, I realized that I had a captive audience(literally) and music was all I had. As crazy as it is to say, I'm grateful for the pandemic in that way; it catalyzed me as an artist.
When you first started performing, what was your style? Detached or more energy-focused?
At that point, it was much more energy-focused. More recently my stuff began to morph into a style of "My craft is going to speak for itself while my production will carry the crowd". Back then though, while I was still figuring out my style, it was pure hype.
How did you get into the world of ghostwriting?
The first time I ghostwrote was when my high school friend who made music hit me up like 'You should try this'. From there, I met with my first artist, figured out their style, and went from there. While in Chicago, I utilized some connections, and word spread pretty quickly. So much so that I started making money ghostwriting, a lot. Eventually realized I wanted to hone in on my own sound, but those experiences taught me a ton; The whole process of taking other people's ideas, cultivating that, really shined a light on my own tastes and preferences compared to everyone else's. Have them send me their music. do they like melodies, rap hard, rap soft? What feelings etc, any style, emotion? But a lot of them would tell me to just write whatever I want which was very freeing for me as a writer. Now I'm almost exclusively focusing on my stuff. But ghostwriting really helped in terms of speed, production output, and overall work ethic.
What’s something you wish more people knew about ghostwriting?
Having a bunch of writers listed on the song isn't necessarily indicative of somebody's not doing the work themselves or not doing the bulk of the work themselves, but sometimes it is so. Up until that, I was just pretty ignorant as to the inner workings of industry songwriting.
How did that unique glimpse into the rap industry affect your approach going forward?
Up to that point, I didn't think that many artists were using ghostwriters, but that's just not the case. If one person gives the slightest feedback: Change this line, put that there instead of here, that can get you a writing credit, and if you’re smart you'll do it. Doesn't take away from the artist. some artists are better at certain aspects than others, flows, voice, vibe, etc. I'm a lyricist so I'll always be a lyricist, but that's just where I'm coming from. You don't have to be a great lyricist to be a great artist. Shit some rappers aren’t even great lyricists. But every artist has their unique strengths, and writing just so happens to be mine.
Everyone brings something unique to the table. There are a lot of artists who aren't claiming how good of writers they are. It's definitely eye-opening to see how many artists are utilizing it, especially considering the taboo formed around it. It's a natural part of the creative process, even if it is a more streamlined version of it. All art is collaborative to some extent.
How do you go from first hearing the right beat to the finished song? Is there a set-in-stone process?
It's simple as once I hear that right beat, I drop everything I'm doing and start writing. I'd be lying if I said that there was some sort of formula or method that I follow. Sure, I'm thinking of how I'm gonna start this verse or how I'm gonna switch things up, but even that's intuitive. The value of having recorded so much music is I'm keenly aware that creativity is all about chasing your excitement. You don't know where it's gonna lead you or how, but you trust in the energy that the right beat or the right flow gives you, and you get lost in it. The more energy you feel from it, the less you stress the 'process', even when it comes to something a specific as songwriting. Whatever thoughts start coming into my head, I roll with. Once I get the first four lines I'm good. Those first four inform the next four, which inform the next four, and so on...
If you were to give your younger self one piece of technical advice and one piece of mental advice, what would they be?
The craft advice would be to rap comfortably. Meaning, make music that you feel comfortable making. Make music that's you. Though it's great to experiment, that's how you find it. Don't venture too far outside of your own tastes and preferences to please others.
Mental advice: Don't be afraid to take Ls. A lot of coming up is taking Ls. I've taken a lot of Ws this past year and a half, and I've still taken about 95% Ls; and it's been a really good year. Putting yourself out there is difficult, especially if those early attempts fail. Plus, people don't start f**king with you until other people start f**king with you. You have to embrace the losing part of winning.
What would you say was the most valuable L you've taken?
In the summer after my second year of college, I was getting ready to release my first mixtape. My school had a scholarship program called the Metcalf scholarship where you'd get a stipend of $4000 and you worked forty hours a week to earn it off. I remember, after what I'd set aside for rent, I blew all my money on studio time, half-assed blog write-ups, typos, and just a lot of cheap promotion tactics that never really paid off. By the end of the summer, I was so broke that I would go to Aldi and buy peanut butter and jelly because that was literally all that I could afford. I lived off of PB and Js for the last month of summer. Needless to say, I realized I never wanted to be broke again. But the value lied in the lesson that if people f**k with you, they'll put you on for free. They'll post your music for free, they'll give you write-ups for free, etc. But yeah, I haven't touched a peanut butter and jelly sandwich since, definitely some PTSD there.
On the topic of food, what’s your most underrated fast food restaurant?
You know, I'm gonna have to go Subway. I get it, they don't use real tuna, but I don't know why people are mad: You're getting tuna from Subway! What did you expect? No Subway slander will be tolerated; I just don't care to listen to those criticisms. A full sub for $6? 3 cookies for $1.30? That's just stupid value right there.
Most overrated fast food?
In-n-out Burger for sure. The whole influencer wave is casting this prestige upon 'In-n-out' when it's mid at best. My issue with it though is that people gas it up to be better than it is, which is actually also my issue with say, J. Cole…
In-N-Out is like the J Cole of fast food in that by itself it’s cool. I don't have any problem with In-n-out as a concept. My issue is when fans elevate it to this pedestal and swear it's elite. In a vacuum, I don't have an issue with it; but hype invites hate and vice versa.
What is it about J. Cole that gives you that impression?
People think I don't f**k with Cole but I actually have no problem with him. A writer friend of mine described J. Cole as a ‘paint-by-the-numbers’ artist, as in he follows a tried-and-true, formulaic-like approach to music, checking all the boxes on what a modern rapper should sound like, and as expected, people go crazy for it.
I mean no disrespect, it’s just how I see it. I just don't see him really pushing the envelope like that: not that you necessarily need to be genre-bending or innovative, I’m talking more about the hype around him. But he's a great storyteller for sure and he enunciates well.
Once again, for anybody reading this: I don't dislike J Cole, I just think he's regular. I don't think he's elite.
How would you say that your current lifestyle compares to the glamorized ideal of a professional rapper?
Honestly, my life isn't particularly glamorous right now, unless it comes to food...
I do mostly the same thing every day: I play basketball, lift, work on music, and spend inordinate amounts of money on food.
Just know if you’ve ever heard me rap about food, there's never been cap. My bars about food are as real as it gets.
Sure, there are times where I’ll stock up on groceries and cook pretty diligently. But then there are times where I’m like ‘F**k it, bro, I'm gonna get Uber Eats for the 20th day this month'.
I'm very fortunate to have touched some more money recently because I blow racks at Cheesecake factory. Keep in mind I don't drink or smoke, but I spent a lot of money on food. My food budget is probably equivalent to what a regular person spends on their food, liquor, and other vices.
At a certain point, I think I’m going to look to write it off as a business expense because I actually get a lot of inspiration when I go to restaurants. I wrote ‘Roka Akor’ after being in a restaurant and kind of getting that side eye from the white family who looks at me and my homie in Nike tech in a fancy-ass steakhouse ordering $300 worth of food. That's kind of the life I'm meant to live. That’s my final form.
Roka Akor [Official Visualizer]
What would you say is your biggest self-care cheat code? Reading, meditating, etc?
Basketball for sure. The cardio’s built-in so you get a great workout too. It’s really my favorite thing to do outside of making music. Most of my life, I wasn’t very good but the people I play with now are, so I’ve gotten a lot better by default. I've also gotten a lot bigger from lifting so the game’s a lot more fun now that I'm not being thrown around like a little kid.
I'll say lifting too because it's great for establishing a routine: You hit your marks, or you don't, and then you set an aim for next time. Exercise also helps you sleep better too. As an artist, it’s great to get out of your mind and into your body to refresh yourself.
Is there a trend in today's Hip-Hop that frustrates you?
I’d say the trends that I don't like aren't really that pressing or specific. I honestly don't mind that hip-hop is moving away from lyrical rap. People are always like ‘Damn you’re so different than all these trash mumble rappers nowadays!’. Like no bro, I think they’re cold. People think I just listen to Griselda all day, I f**k with all kinds of rap, ‘mumble rap’ included.
Because the genre’s always evolving, I don’t like the way that people perceive rap and make it a morality/ethical debate. It’s okay to like what you like, but don’t shit on something other people are rocking with because it’s new or it’s not your thing. At that point, that’s just toxic fandom.
The truth is there are just so many different ways to get it popping as an artist. Like Blueface blew up by deliberately rapping-off beat. You do some shit like that, and I think that's funny as hell. Or people pushed into the limelight like Bhad Babie. You think she went on Dr. Phil and humiliated her mom on national TV like that with the end goal of being a rapper? No, people did that!
What’s an underrated marketing tactic that you feel more young artists should know about?
Definitely the Spotify algorithms. We wouldn't even be talking right now if the Spotify algorithm hadn't put ‘Bleach’ on your Discover Weekly. Since it‘s dropped, it’s been on discover weekly for roughly 95% of the weeks since then.
I had no idea about any of that stuff before. I didn't know how playlists worked or anything. I just thought you kept sending it to people until they realized how great you were and that’s how you blew up. I didn't know that the playlists were legit algorithms as opposed to people with agendas.
But yeah, getting on those algorithms is the biggest thing that's ever happened in my career. If ‘Bleach’ or 'Gristle' don't blow up like they did, I wouldn't have had the momentum or confidence to go as hard as I have over the past year and a half.