Hi, my name is Ben Glover, I’m a fourth year, and I’m a rapper who goes by the name ‘Black Sam’.
An outdated statement: Ben Glover graduated from the University of Chicago on June 9th, after submitting his thesis to the Undergraduate Program in Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies, which he made publically available here: https://www.scribd.com/document/377604497/From-Minstrelsy-to-Migos-An-Examination-of-White-American-Enjoyment-of-Trap-Music
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Ben Glover is his mastery of language. His ability to be sharp and thoughtful, his precision and deliberation, his lyricism. Reading his thesis, the talent that defines his art becomes apparent in the prose. A few weeks ago, when we sat down for an interview, the same style that comes through his work was even more obvious in the way he spoke.
performance at Alpha Delt: photos by Allan Lake
Let’s talk about how you got into rapping; when you were younger, would you say it was an independent endeavor or something you did with your friends? Was there a culture around it at your school?
I wouldn’t really say it was a ‘culture’ at my school. I remember there was one friend in particular who rapped at lunchtime every week. In high school saw him at a table with people rapping and one of them was making a beat for him. He was the only kid in my school who did that. I mean, people listened but they weren’t rappers themselves.
Who were some of your earliest influences, people who made you think ‘this is what I want to do’?
In high school rap never became more than a hobby, I never thought of it as more than that until I came here to UChicago. But back then I listened to a lot of Lil Wayne, and was really impressed with his work and the intelligence behind it; not the things he said, but the way he said them, I appreciated his lyrical work. I also started picking up rappers here and there, and that was pretty transformative especially in the 9thand 10thgrade, when I was getting into more underground artists like MF Doom. People at school would tell me I was good, when my friend and I would rap at lunchtime, and I definitely wasn’t, I was just their first exposure to this kind of thing, but they would tell me I was and that pushed me to want to more with it. I never recorded anything or really wrote verses until my senior year; before that it was just Freestyle Fridays. But senior year I wanted to see how I could write verses, and by summer I would write down lyrics to beats I found on YouTube and record myself. I’d post those to a Facebook page I made to share it with people, and that’s when I really started recording.
Now that it’s become much more than just a hobby, but a real career aspiration, how do you manage to balance rapping with your life as a student here?
When I first got to UChicago, school was still my priority; I wasn’t good enough at rapping then as I am now. I mostly did it on the side, I’d go to Logan with my friend Atrician, to make beats and record our music there with the equipment available. It wasn’t until fall quarter of my third year that I really felt like I could do this seriously. I was asked to open for Off the Record in Brooklyn, then got flown back to New York to shoot a music video for a song on my mixtape (Mercedes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBWKUl_t-AU&feature=youtu.be&app=desktop) I missed two weeks of school then and either withdrew from two classes or ended up Pass/Failing them because I was just not ready for the finals. That was when I realized if I wanted to do both I’d have to learn to balance time better and it just became a situation where I was trying to finish my work as fast as I could and get it out of the way to have studio time and just be able to practice. That was all I was doing then, practicing, and getting work out of the way became my priority. It’s tough at times, because of the workload here, but I have a major tailored to paper-based classes, so it’s definitely been more manageable than if I had to do psets all the time.
You keep mentioning that you knew you weren’t good enough early on; how did you know when you were ready?
Shooting the music video and doing the show in Brooklyn was definitely a part of it. Up until then I hadn’t had big opportunities to perform and no one else had been reaching out. The guy who did the music video was a friend of friend, who graduated from here, and he was shooting for Rock Nation, and I thought ‘that’s wild’, and the fact that he wanted to shoot with me meant a lot to me. I also got a feature from another friend Ted, who is graduating soon, and he is currently signed with Capitol Records, and he’s already recorded with artists like Rich the Kid and other mainstream label signed rappers. So that he gave me a feature on Mercedes for free, when I knew he was charging other people for it, that was the moment where I was like this verse needs to be crazy. And when it came out well, I knew that was the next level in my writing and I only wanted to keep making better stuff there. I never wanted to dip down below that quality again.
How did your family react to your decision to become a rapper? Was it a slow process or a specific moment that made you decide?
It was a slow process. I remember showing mom a mixtape I made the summer after senior or first year, it was a three-song mixtape I made with some friend, and she liked it. She didn’t have her ear tuned to rap then, like she does now, but neither of us knew it would become as serious as it has. After I told her about New York and the video, she and I both realized it was getting serious. I never really talked to my dad much about it until the opportunities started coming up, and I forget what sparked this but I remember one morning my mom called me at 6 am and said ‘Hey we really need to get your lyrics copyrighted.’ There was no clear point they went from indifference to being super supportive, it just went along until we all started realizing it was something I was starting to take way more seriously.
What is your writing process like?
It’s a good mix of writing things down throughout day and setting aside time for it. Sometimes specific lines and punchlines come to me, and I’ll write them down in the notes app of my phone and set them aside for later, so I can try to work a song around them. There was a time when I used to just write all the time, without having the beat, but I realized when you start with a beat it makes the song sound more cohesive. When trying to fit something you’ve written to a beat it can change the verse and the way you meant for it to flow. So yeah, a mix of fleshing out a verse around the punchline and then setting aside time to get a song out and letting it sit a bit then going back to proofread it.
From ‘Miles’ to ‘Flamethrower’, there’s a noticeable change in your sound. What would you say has changed the most about your style?
Trap music has been a huge influence on my style and my taste. There was a time in high school when Gucci Mane was my favorite rapper and I would exclusively listen to his mixtapes. I always pictured myself as a minimalist rapper, like Earl Sweatshirt, where you get a lot of space to work lyrically, though maybe not so brooding. That kind of stuff never really worked with energetic cadences and flows and, that’s cool, people love lyricism and they like that brooding, but there is so much untapped potential in trap production, like 808’s, kick drums, etc., to make really good beats. And now young generations of rap listeners don’t care what’s being said more so than the beats on the song or if the production is good. So, I had to fit my lyrical style to trap production, which meant switching up flows and cadences and picking up different rhyme schemes; you can’t rap slow, so it’s been an exercise in adapting to what’s now popular but also maintaining the level of lyrical integrity I want to keep in my music, because that’s important to me.
What’s the next hurdle, career-wise, you’re looking to cross?
It would definitely be to get more consistent shows at spots downtown. The music industry itself is pretty shady, or well not the industry, but a lot of people in it, and it goes for nightlife itself. No one is really looking out for artists but for how much money they can make. For example, my most recent appearance at LiquorBox; the manager gave me a set time at 12.45, five minutes out, mic in my hand, he came back and said ‘we have to push back your set, Change and DJ Khaled are coming.’ So, I asked how long, and he said new set was probably around 2.30. Everyone would be gone by then, but I didn’t have any weight to throw around. He said he’d introduce me to them when they got here, so I thought that seemed a fair trade, I’d get to meet two huge names that could maybe help me out with my career, until 2.30 came around, the manager stopped responding to my texts even though I saw him around the entire night, and that’s how I ended up not performing because he essentially wanted to make money off the people I brought out. He knew if I performed at 12.45, all the people who came with me would leave after, and he wanted to keep making money off their drinks, considering they were around 75% of the crowd. This kind of thing has happened to me a couple of times, so it’s hard to break through that mold when you’re not a well-known artist or signed. So, I want to focus on getting more shows and performances to make a name for myself, that way people won’t take advantage of the people who come out with me and show their support.
snapshot posted by Ben of an article written about him on elevator mag (http://www.elevatormag.com/author/liammccarthy/), along with photos from performances
How would you say Chicago has influenced your music?
I don’t think of myself as being particularly representative of Chicago more so than anywhere else, but being here means being surrounded by so many people and so much music. It’s kind of like that in South Florida, where I’m from, but there is so much more cohesion here between the artists and community. Artists like Chance do so much for people all around here, and also for other artists. It’s interesting to see the comradery, and despite my experience with clubs, many other people in the industry have been super willing to help me out and I think that’s a reflection of the music culture here which is really together.
How has the reception of your music been at UChicago? Do you think it would have been very different if you had gone to a state school or a bigger school?
It definitely would’ve been different at a state school but I don’t know if it would’ve been better. People at UChicago are so supportive; people come to shows and give me feedback on music and they helpme stay grounded and also push me to keep going. Here I feel like there are so few rappers, it’s more ‘big fish small pond’ vs. if I had gone somewhere like UM, I’m just one out of a couple hundred rappers, and its harder to break through like that. As far as visibility goes, it’s better at a small school and a much larger school would mean my fan base would probably not be as tight knit. Can’t really think of any cons to being here because everyone has been so supportive.
What do you love and what do you hate about rap?
I love the work ethic it has shown me I have. My work ethic for school just doesn’t compare to my work ethic with music. I didn’t know I could work that hard on anything, which was a nice realization because fora long time I felt frustrated, why couldn’t I apply myself more to school, and I guess that’s because I don’t really fuck with it, but with rapping I’m almost obsessive about, I just want to be better. One thing I hate… I don’t like the things mainstream rap promotes, capitalism and materialism are one thing, but much less problematic than misogyny and homophobia, which are engrained in rap culture and there haven’t been any real pushes to step away from that, other than the neo-soul movement. I’m not really sure if it can change or will change, but that’s the one thing I don’t like about it.
Favorite up and coming artists?
Valee, he’s from either from here or Atlanta, though I’m pretty sure he’s from here. He signed with Good Music and dropped an EP that was executive produced by Kanye that was good. He’s got that very sparse lyrical style. Lil Wop, though I didn’t think I would like him because he only got famous from inserting himself into the fame of Gucci, but he is as good as he claims to be.
Also, Tay-K, but don’t free him.
Whether you knew him as Chief Wicked, Black Sam or Ben Glover, keep an eye out for whatever he has planned next. From his earliest mixtapes to his latest singles, he’s got a style that’s evolving in production but constant in lyrical dexterity and ability. Every aspect of his life is marked with this capability to use language, whether it be his thesis, his songs, or even his Facebook posts. Congratulations on four years at the University of Chicago, and all of us are wishing you the best!
Check out the freestyle Black Sam let us record after the interview!:
Find more of his work here:
Cover Photo: Performance at SHAY
All photos courtesy of Ben Glover’s Facebook
Article by: Carlotta Verita based on interview done with Andrea Tabora