Chicago’s Supa Bwe is the most copied rapper of the 2010s. How else to explain the fact that today’s most popular rappers, like Juice WRLD and Trippie Redd, utilize genre-bending styles that Supa was trading in with they were still learning to read? He’s quick to note the similarities, often citing his imitators by name.
During our phone interview, he took care to point out that he name-checked recently incarcerated Brooklyn rapper Tekashi 69, not out of disdain or contempt, but because he made for an obvious example of the phenomenon. “A lot of Chicago artists have been doing this since 2008, 2010,” he said. “There’s videos of Tekashi literally saying, word for word, hella Chicago bars. Like, Rondo songs, [Chief] Keef songs, Taydoe songs.”
Supa, born Frederick Burton in Chicago, is one of the last of the ’80s babies who remember a time before the internet made it possible for a meme to take over the airwaves of rap radio. He came up alongside lyrical Chicago luminaries like Chance The Rapper, Mick Jenkins, and Saba, but approached the music in his own unique way, embracing the molten, slurry delivery that would eventually become the rap trend du jour among the so-called “Soundcloud rap” set.
He also embraced some of the bad habits of his contemporaries like Chance and Vic Mensa, imploding his original trio Hurt Everybody in 2016 and sending him into a spiral of drugs and self-destructive behavior that stunted his then-burgeoning career. He pulled himself out of this nadir with 2017’s Finally Dead, emerging battered and bruised, but with a fresh perspective that refreshed his creative drive.
That newfound creativity has been channeled into his new EP, Just Say Thank You, which emanates the sense of gratitude he cultivated over the past two years of growing pains and maturation. After collaborating with Chance on his ode to public access program Wala Cam, he tapped the indie star again on the nostalgic “Rememory,” emerging Bay Area rapper Rexx Life Raj on “Time For Me,” and returned to his DIY, self-produced process on the EP’s remaining tracks including the punkish “Problem/Fuel” and the keenly emo “I Hate You.”
With a sense of fresh focus and an eclectic style that draws as much from the classic punk and nu-metal his English-born mother exposed him to growing up, as from the more traditionally gangsta rap heritage of Chicago’s early rap scene he learned courtesy of his pops, Supa Bwe is setting up a career resurrection that may find him finally receiving his long-delayed acknowledgment for innovating rap’s modern sounds long before such genre mashing was as commonplace as deep dish pizza is in his hometown.
Okay, first things first. Your name has three different pronunciations listed. Which one is correct?
It’s a Cerberus, in a way. It’s got three different pronunciations: Supa Boy, Supa Boo, Supa Buoy. Whichever one slides off the tongue fast.
That solves that. So, in your own words, how do you describe the story and vibe of Just Say Thank You?
It’s really the tale of a renegade R&B soldier who’s trying to express his love, like, ‘I just risked my life for this bag, I need ya’ll to appreciate it.’ It’s an odyssey of emotions and expressions.
Within that odyssey, you have tracks like “I Hate You” and “Rememory.” How do those more melodic tracks tie into that overall story, as opposed to the more aggressive “Problem/Fuel?”
It explains why men go to war. Behind the fall of most great organizations and civilizations, is a man and a woman and the conflict between them.
‘I Hate You’ says, ‘I can’t stand the thought of you, but I also can’t stand the thought of being without you.’ We’ve all felt that way about somebody.
Then it evolves into “Time For You,” which is, ‘I’m ready to take that next step. I can say how I feel openly — I’m fearless about it.’ Which evolves into “Rememory,” which is where you’re beyond that point and you’ve made promises and maybe we’ve slowed on it, but if we can remember how we felt, maybe we can get back there.
That’s the evolution of a boy to a man, learning how to love. But behind that love is motivation, it’s fuel, it’s problems, it’s conflict. Something’s gotta fund that love. That’s when the project goes to the darker side.
One thing I noticed is that you decided to lead into this album with the Rexx Life Raj-featuring “Time For You,” rather than releasing a more punk-ish single, as you used to do.
First of all, I started off producing before I ever rapped. I drifted away from that because I got comfortable using other people’s work. It took me a while to realize I was changing my sound because I wasn’t really doing me. Doing me is doing it myself, DIY, the whole way.
“I Hate You” came about through the feeling. I made that in 2015 and that was just how I was feeling and I made “Time For You” six or seven months ago and that’s how I was feeling at that moment. Then I made “Rememory,” and it embodied me and my woman’s evolution, from eyeing each other in the club to “Yo, let’s plan forever.”
I’d never been comfortable enough as a man to express that out loud, let alone musically, and it was cool that it ended up happening that way.
That’s interesting because it’s been a while since your last project and I think that ties into this next question. How do you feel you’ve evolved as a musician and as a person in that time?
It’s been the literal largest transformation in my life, honestly. Before Finally Dead, things were really rocky for me. My entire life, I didn’t have a break the whole time. I legitimately wanted to off myself. I told my manager, ‘If anything ever happens to me, put everything in my sister’s name and put all my music on iTunes.’ I wasn’t thinking about a plan or anything. I don’t think I’ve hit rock bottom, but I was at a really low point at the time.
My girl and my manager were able to keep me afloat. My girlfriend was taking care of me. Those moments gave me the fuel to tap back in and get back to the tenacity I had at 18, 19, 21, that got me to that point to begin with.
What’s the ideal outcome for this album? Where would you like to be this time next year?
I have humble expectations. I honestly just want my work to be appreciated. I don’t want a thing. I think everything will grow and spread and people will feel more confident sharing this music because of how it’s grown.
Just Say Thank You is out now via Empire Distribution and Supa Bwe’s own imprint, Freddy Got Magic. Get it here.