SVMI: The new wave of Manchester MC’s set to ‘P.O.P’

In the modern music era, there is one unanswered question that has catalysed more hot-tempered debate than any other. Which city really is the epicenter of UK music? Ever since Bugzy Malone entered the game with his 2015 release ‘Walk With Me’, all eyes have been firmly fixed on Manchester to see where the city’s creative underbelly would take the sonic soundscape of UK hip-hop next. 

Those of us who love UK underground hip-hop where always aware of the deep pool of talent that dwelled up north. However,  it wasn’t until the cheeky-chappy Northern Quarterz (NQ) Records artist, Aitch, burst onto the scene with ‘Straight Rhymez’ that the rest of the country took notice. Today, NQ is at the helm of Manchester’s musical mission, carving out their own lane and establishing a real blueprint for local talent to be discovered. However, it is their adept eye for spotting local talent that has helped Manchester become the premier battleground for up-and-coming MC’s in the UK. No MC better represents the spirit of NQ more than their latest signing, SVMI.

SVMI is a local Manchester boy who stepped onto the scene as a music video director for almost the entire drill and grime scene at the time. He was Manchester’s answer to Risky Roadz in a time when there was no infrastructure for local rappers to promote or create music videos on a budget. So with a camera in hand, he took to the streets and began filming freestyles for the likes of Aitch and 40 Samurai in any empty Aldi car park he could find. It was SVMI that actually directed ‘Straight Rhymez’, foreshadowing the indelible imprint he would come to make on the Manchester scene. Flash forward and SVMI now finds himself on the other side of the camera, looking down the lens while others film his own music videos. 

Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a breakout year for SVMI after some life changing opportunities arose in the form of a record deal and a landmark collaboration track with fellow Mancunians P1 Caps & A1. His newest track ‘P.O.P (Hold It Down)’ drops today and showcases a whole new stage in the evolution of his artistry. We caught up with SVMI to find out a little more about ‘P.O.P’, the rise of Manchester MC’s, and his new partnership with NQ Records.    

What’s good SVMI!  The last year or so has obviously been a complex and draining time, how have you felt dealing both with pandemic and the ongoing fight for racial justice? What has been your biggest takeaway from the last year? 

If anything it’s taught me just to take things as they come. The beginning of the pandemic is really when everything started to kick off for me in terms of my music career. I dropped ‘Bait Lies feat. P1caps & A1’ in January of 2020 then… boom… two months later everything was closed down. I had a good four or five headline shows booked as well as some guest appearances at a few of my mates’ shows, but it all had to get swept under the rug until further notice. However, in amongst a tough year I have been fortunate to be offered some real life changing opportunities. It’s got me feeling extremely blessed and if things hadn’t unfolded exactly as they have then I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

Continuing that thought, your debut single launched in 2019 so a lot of your releases haven’t been christened onstage in front of a crowd yet. How gassed are you to perform again and do you write thinking about how your tracks will transition to a live context?  

Yer man totally, i am extremely excited to say the least. I was always hitting a lot of shows before the lockdown, especially at a lot of other people’s shows, so I have still managed to have plenty of stage time but I honestly can’t wait to be in that atmosphere again. At the same time it’s been a long while so I know before the first show the nerves will definitely kick in but once we are a couple of bars deep in the set then it will be back to normal. I feel like I was ready to perform these tracks back in January of 2020 so I’m definitely ready for it now! This whole past year and half has really given me so much time to develop as an artist. Of course in terms of my visuals and musically but even down to the little things like my presence in front of the camera. 

To be honest when it comes to writing I try to stay as focused as possible on making music for the moment. Let’s say I’m in a typical session with my producer LiTek, we are always going to make a track that reflects the vibe and feeling we are having in that session and run with it. I know certain guys do write tunes with the intention of making tracks specifically for live shows or the shoobs but at the end of the day if you make a track that’s banging then it’s usually going to bang in the club as well. I feel like when people try and force a club banger it ends up sounding rinsed. It’s just not the one. If your music has a vibe then it’s a vibe, that’s all I really worry about.   

Well speaking of music that’s an absolute vibe, you have a brand new single dropping today titled ‘P.O.P’ produced by LiTek. I feel like this release really showcases how your sound is continuously evolving and becoming more personal and developed with every release. Do you notice the growth you have gone through as an artist in such a short space of time? 

Not even just as an artist bro but as a whole person. You know I’m really glad you pointed that out because I feel like when it comes out everyone is hopefully going to notice exactly the same thing. ‘P.O.P’ was actually finished and ready to come out a couple of months ago and even in that time so much has changed. I have grown up a lot for the better in the last two years and I think you can see, hear, and feel that in my music. With that I hope a lot of people in the industry start to take me a lot more seriously instead of thinking “Oh the cameraman is doing music now’ you know because it’s a lot more than that. 

Would it therefore be fair to say that P.O.P and your last few releases are indicative of you having found your ‘sound’?  The track hits like a more polished, complex and rounded off evolution of your artistry. Is that a fair assessment and how specifically did you and LiTek cook this track up?

With ‘P.O.P’ specifically, I remember thinking when I made it that it embodies my sound. It’s like I know what I’m coming with and the direction I’m trying to take this thing. Even with the last few releases everything has just come to me so quick, smooth and organic. I can’t even lie, we created ‘P.O.P’ so quickly. Literally within the space of a few hours! The way me and LiTek work is that he always makes the riddims in session because he knows I’m not really on that ‘come with a beat and something pre-written’ type of vibe. He’s my boy and long term brother so we like to be there for a while and just hang out. I feel like that’s how the best music gets made, when you have a natural partnership with someone that just gets how you work best and makes it easy. 

Sometimes you might be in certain studio sessions with a producer or artist and the talent feels forced to make something because the producer is rushing them for studio time or out of frustration. I’ve seen it plenty of times in my time filming rappers as well. That’s why it works so well for me and LiTek, because he knows that I don’t give a shit what I say or do and I know he doesn’t care either. So whatever comes out of that session is what comes out of it and nine times out of ten it’s something that works. 

You know I have to ask why you sampled the classic ‘I’m legally blind’ meme for the intro to ‘P.O.P’. Was that just something you and the boys had been creasing about and had to find a way to add it in? 

I can’t even lie man, that video is just legendary. It will go down in history. It’s the “hold it down!” bit that gets me every time. It’s actually a lot deeper than it seems hahah! Me and LiTek just love looking for weird samples and finding a way to incorporate them in a tune and we know it’s that sort of thing that can end up popping off differently. When it comes to inspiration like that there is always something that will spark off an idea and I’ll run with it. It can come from anywhere at any time but once it does it’s like everything else just clicks in my head and we run with it until we get the right one. That’s my formula for writing and it works so i’m sticking to it!   

Are you a short spurts of creativity kinda guy or is it more of a constant slow grind to get the most out of the studio session?

Like you said bro, ideas just come when they come and there’s literally nothing I can do about it. I’m not that guy to force a song or force an idea, I hate that whole idea of trying to force or manufacture music. I’ve seen it so many times behind the lens where guys are trying to force music out and you know when it’s happening because you can noticeably hear a difference. You know it’s forced and you know it sounds different.  You can’t force greatness so you just gotta let it be in the moment as much as possible. We might not make something dope every session workin like that but at the end of the day I feel like that’s just part of the process of making music. 

Looking back to the genesis of your relationship with music, where did you discover your love of music? I know that WhyJay had a big role in getting you to pick up the mic, was he the one that showed you the ropes?

How it happened was,  me and the mandem were almost always in the studio because our mate Connor (Con M1) had a studio in his house. I always fucked about on the mic and played but at the time I was deep into the video side of things. It wasn’t until I jumped in on a session and WhyJay just said that I should really give this music thing a try. I had such a heavy workload that I started doubting myself until I thought “Fuck this, why not!” and decided to pursue it seriously. Since then I have run with it and now I’m here at this stage and to tell you the truth it just feels like a blessing man.  

What was playing in the house growing up and when did Manchester’s music scene begin to influence you? 

I grew up on a lot of old school R&B and rap. I got a big sister and a big brother (shoutout to them!) and they were playing a heavy rotation of 90’s R&B classics like Aaliyah, Ashanti, Ja Rule, all that good stuff. Then as I started to grow up I began to develop my own taste in music, that’s when US rap like Young Thug, Gunna and the rest of the new wave began to make an impact. By that time I began following everything online and exploring all sorts of artists. We are all a product of what we listen to and surround ourselves with so I think those artists help to explain the sound that I have now. 

Then in terms of local Manchester music, I used to see Bugzy Malone around town every time I got off the Metrolink because his studio was in my area. He is the only guy that had really popped off like that from around here. In those days I was on my full grind filming for a lot of the local MC’s like 40 Samurai and Aitch. You end up meeting people you never expect you would and all those guys ended up influencing my music tastes. Like I said, you’re a product of your environment.  

You have a very unorthodox journey into the music industry as you initially began as a videographer and music video director. What drew you to picking up a camera?

It started because I was just always around my mates while they were spitting. There were no cameramen round here in those days, not like you did in London, there was no Risky Roadz or anything like that up here until around 2017/2018. I was roughly 14 when I first grabbed a camera and I just started filming guys freestyle outside of Aldi! That turned into music videos as my skills kept on improving. I’ve just always had a love for editing and at that time I had a lot of admiration for the scene and the moves that everyone was making. The little scene that was going on then was just a lot of fun and there wasn’t really a whole lot else to do so I just wanted to do my part to capture it while it was going on and be a part of it in any way that I could. I started charging £30 for a music video and haven’t looked back since!

You actually directed the music video for ‘P.O.P’ yourself alongside Archie Erskine, to what extent do you think it’s almost an artist’s duty now to be involved with creating the whole package, the visuals, the branding, everything?

You have to have creative control over your shit man! I see it so often today that these kids just don’t have a clue what to do, and that’s not me being a dick or anything, but in today’s game you have to know how to brand yourself. If there ain’t anything noticeably different or special about you then nobody is going to take you seriously. Honestly, I ain’t anything special but I know that my music is special and now i’m on my way. For a lot of guys there just isn’t much to them you know, it’s just the same old shit. I know that having stood behind the camera for so many shoots, it’s just the same video, the same car, the same models in the video, same shit different day! 

If you’re not going to brand yourself correctly then your music really needs to come correct in order to compensate for it. There are a handful artists that blow eventually with no marketing because their music is quality, but in my opinion the importance of branding yourself and retaining creative control over your image cannot be stressed enough in today’s market. You should know what you want to do with your brand instead of handing it over to someone else to figure out for you. 

Continuing that thought of maintaining control of your image, I know in the past you have said that you’re extremely wary of big labels capitalising on the relative infancy of the Manchester scene. However, you recently just signed with Aitch on his label NQ Records.  What was it about NQ Records that made you trust their vision for you? 

It comes down to the fact that I know these people. NQ is local to me, I’ve grown up around the guys running it and me and Aitch have had that long term relationship since shooting videos back in the day. I would much rather sign with a local and transparent label than a bigger faceless one down in London or something like that. I trust that whatever NQ wants to do with my music is right and I trust that they actually believe in my music. I support the cause. It’s not even necessarily that it’s Aitch’s label that made me want to sign with them, it’s more the fact that it’s Manchester. There was literally nothing here a couple of years ago when it came to infrastructure for local artists to succeed. So whether it’s a label or platform I feel like we need to help build them up and add to the strength of their brand for the good of the city. 

As a boy from Manchester, what has seeing Aitch’s journey over the last five years or so meant to you?  How does that influence what you think you can achieve in your career? and what did it mean to you to get signed under him knowing that he rates your music?

Watching Aitch release ‘Straight Rhymes’ and seeing where it went from there was crazy. Nobody from around here had ever taken these things to those levels and for me it was confirmation that this shit really is possible. I realised if Aitch could do it while staying true to himself and made the music he wants to make then I can do it too. He just kept doing him. If I can keep doing me then in due time it should pay off. 

Lastly SVMI, I want to run a few rapid fire questions past you:

  • What’s your advice to any younger filmmakers looking to get into music video production?

Hustle, network and know your worth! Don’t ever let any artist or client undervalue your contribution. 

  • If you could see any 3 artists or bands in history live, who would they be? 

Pete & Fucking Bas! They are the fucking best! I told all  my mates that we are going to go see them in October. I’m buying tickets for everyone! They are the coldest out right now, no lie. Then BackRoad Gee and for the last one i’ll go with J.K The Reaper. 

  • What track was the last one you listened too?

Plottin’ by Yung Bleu.

Follow SVMI on Instagram

Stream P.O.P (Hold It Down)

Words: Chris Kelly