Chicago rapper/producer gravedream says her glitchy new single, “Squares and a Five,” was born out of the snowballing stress of being alive right now. “The lyrics were largely inspired by my day to day struggles just trying to keep going while humanity implodes upon itself,” they say. “It’s really rough having to work a shit job, pay bills, make enough to stay alive, all during a horrible pandemic–and with the harshness of winter in Chicago, everything feels crushingly bleak. I wanted to capture a bit of what that feels like for me.”
gravedream compares the struggle–living under the massive income inequality endemic in late-stage capitalism–to an inescapable hamster wheel. She crystallizes that experience in the song’s woozy, crushed loop as well as its title, “Squares and a Five,” a phrase inspired more specifically by the high cost of smoking to get by.
“For background, the tax on cigarettes in Chicago is super high, to the point that the stress of funding a nicotine habit is often more than the stress of not having cigs in the first place,” she says. “It’s such a weird dilemma. Working my last job, I would always go to the gas station near my house with 20 bucks, come home with a pack of squares and five bucks left over, and question if it was worth it. It kinda drives you crazy.”
“Something about that concept–of busting your ass at an awful job all week just to blow the little money you have on the very coping mechanisms that help keep you going–is so poetically ludicrous to me. I just kinda had to write about it.”
The lyrics were written around December of 2020, but the instrumental ideas have been floating around for over a year. With layer upon layer of frazzled synths, crunchy drums, and sample contortions, it’s characteristic of gravedream’s dense production style. “I feel like my style is almost sound collage-like, centered around recontextualizing little bits of audio and mangling things in a way that feels nice to me,” she explains. “I’ll sample literally anything I come across. Songs I love, songs I hate, random YouTube videos and TikToks, stuff around my house, anything.”
That approach developed over the past five years–it started with watching videos of other beatmakers and sound-designers and tinkering in Ableton. From there, gravedream has been able to build her own skill set and make the kind of rich, hard-hitting beats she likes to hear. “Over time, I’ve really honed my ear for textures, and it’s a bit of a central theme within the stuff I make. I’m also very passionate about drums and the rhythm section as a whole. I want my songs to be texturally fascinating and also to just go really hard and evoke the feeling that really good beat music brings me.”
You can stream and download “Squares and a Five” now via Grimalkin Records. gravedream has hinted at more music to come in the near future, with the pieces of an album starting to come together after years of work.