Supa Bwe likes to pinpoint the precise moment when he literally flipped himself into Chicago hip-hop lore. Supa and his then-band, Hurt Everybody, were playing an early opening slot in December 2014 at a sold-out Lincoln Hall show, headlined by their friend Towkio (of Chance the Rapper’s Savemoney collective).
When: 7:30 p.m. Apr. 6
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark
Tickets: $16 Advance/$21 Day Of – All Ages
“We were onstage, everybody rockin’ with us, havin’ fun,” he related. But all the wiry West Sider could think, he said, was, “‛How can we turn this up?’
“I felt jubilant — electric! I felt like those rock stars I grew up watching, as invincible as Prince, as ambiguous as Rick James, as invulnerable as — ” And then the wiry West Sider suddenly somersaulted off the stage.
The fans, Supa said, promptly went bats, “carrying me all around; everybody’s, like, screamin’ my name. … Never in my life had I had 700 people [hollering] ‘YOU! YOU!’
“And that’s what solidified our position in Chicago,” the rapper-singer-producer added, noting that soon after, gig offers snowballed to the point where he risked oversaturation.
Now a solo artist who’s accrued over a dozen recordings (with and without bands), Supa Bwe (“Boy”) will bookend his new tour right here in his hometown. He headlines Metro Apr. 6, performs through the summer at regional music festivals — and finishes off in grand fashion with his Lollapalooza debut.
“It’s official,” Supa crowed. “Dirty Ghetto West-Side Baby [a racist taunt slung at him in high school] is playing Lolla! I used to lie, finesse, fight, jump fences, anything I could, to get in to Lolla – and now I’m playing there.”
Supa Bwe has “challenged the current state of rap as he transcends genres with his eclectic production and blend of melodies and rhymes,” online magazine HipHopDX stated upon the release of his 2016 album “Dead Again 3.” It was then the latest in a series of morbidly-titled, much-acclaimed recordings that had begun with Supa’s 2014 solo debut, “Dead Again” – which featured performances by Chicago rap figures from the legendary Twista to superstar-in-progress Chance the Rapper to buzzed-about upstart Mick Jenkins – and continued last December with “Finally Dead.”
The rapper is now 28, and Supa Bwe, who grew up as Freddy Burton in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, readily acknowledges having had to be talked out of suicide five years ago. “I was just really down, in a terrible spot; I thought I really didn’t have any more options, and I didn’t feel like fightin’ anymore,” he said.
Supa Bwe does retain a handful of wryly affectionate memories about his often harrowing youth in a gang- and drug-drenched sector of the West Side. In summertime, “I’d go outside, knock on doors, get my friends up. And we’d throw rocks at each other, ’cause we didn’t have nice toys.” They’d also fashion painful playthings from the tiny, spiny, weed-spawned burrs they called “sticky-bugs”: “We’d gather them up in balls and throw ’em at each other – like, have wars,” he laughed.
Those were just the good times, though.
“Then there was the dark part, where you’d see crackheads everywhere, and prostitutes,” Supa said soberly. “I remember, as a kid, taking out the garbage early in the morning, and seeing [addicts exchanging sexual favors for drugs] in the alley. I’ll never not remember that, you know what I mean?”
Supa Bwe, who identifies himself as a “child of abuse – all kinds of abuse” – pointedly expressed appreciation for the #MeToo movement, because it is “holding abusers accountable.”
“Those who’ve been hurt and those who’ve been silenced have a voice now,” he said, adding, “I feel that’s why my music connects with people. A lot of people been hurt and silenced, and in my music I’m like, ‘[F—] that – speak. Speak!’”
One of Supa Bwe’s fondest personal dreams is to “have a self-sufficient farm where the tilapia poop feeds the grass that feeds the chickens that feeds the solar panel … I want to live like that, by my own means – with my family and people I’d invite.”
And he plans to introduce quality grocery trucks to his old neighborhood, long a food desert: “I want to come with the cheapest and best food I can, and make it like the ice-cream man. Kids chase down the ice-cream man – I hope they’re chasing down my apple truck!”
Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.