Culture Envy: Zak Tovin

The KPU student and hip-hop artist is releasing an album reflecting on mental health and society

Zak Ludwig is a political science student at KPU and the artist who performs as Tovin. (Submitted)

Zak Ludwig is a political science student at KPU and the artist who performs as Tovin. (Submitted)

Zak Tovin was only 10 years old when he recorded his first EP. His parents had gotten him an entire desktop music studio setup from Best Buy for Christmas. 

By the time he was 14, he had released three more projects by himself, and two more with his best friend. 

After being away from music since 2016, Tovin taught himself how to mix his own music, started recording again in November last year, and released his new single “mess.” last month, which reflects on mental health and society. 

Zak Ludwig, a political science student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the artist who performs as Tovin, began writing “mess.” in his minivan parked on a road in the middle of nowhere, finishing the song in three hours. 

He wanted to express his frustration with dealing with anxiety, depression, and the struggle to leave his house due to how overwhelming the world can be, especially during the pandemic. 

The song expresses what can happen around all these feelings in response to the physical mess that accumulates in his life, like dishes piling up or dust collecting on the shelf. 

“It’s important to talk about how you’re feeling,” Tovin says. “The reason I released that first is because I knew that there’s a lot of people who are going to feel that way right now.” 

“Our whole meme culture is based on the fact that everyone is depressed, and it’s like, ‘how can we all be feeling this way right now?’” he says, adding that he considered releasing “mess.” anonymously due to negative comments he had received in the past.

“I didn’t want it to get judged because of who made it. I wanted it to be judged based on its artistic merits,” says Tovin.

After receiving positive feedback from close friends and peers, Tovin felt comfortable releasing the single and hoped that people would enjoy the song. 

Once it was released on Feb. 25, the same day his last full-length project was released eight years ago, he stayed away from social media for the night because he wasn’t sure how people would react.

Two days after the single’s release he saw tons of positive feedback from people online. 

“People were hitting me up like crazy,” Tovin says. “They’re all like, ‘I didn’t even know you did this,’ [or] ‘this is really cool, good stuff.’” 

“I’ve dealt with a lot of rejection from my peers, within my own family, and that’s kind of been like a consistent theme in my life,” Tovin says. “Now I feel like that’s becoming super common for people to say or feel, and I hate that because I know how disheartening it is.”

In addition to the single, he also created a music video to accompany the song. His partner, Brooklyn Nielsen, helped him record the video which was produced by the director group Coach House.

With a mix of different video clips of Tovin rapping and his house, he gained inspiration from videographer SENJI, a Vancouver rapper named 4ORTY 7EVEN, and the visual aesthetic from JPEGMAFIA, a U.S. rapper.

He says he is approaching his upcoming album titled “doubt.” differently than his previous work. 

“I spent a lot of time in my music days writing stuff that was kind of inauthentic to my actual situation,” Tovin says. “Not always, but a lot of the time, I felt I had to fit the mould, which took me a long time to figure out how to make the mould fit me.”

Before his album comes out later this year, Tovin’s next single “omg!” will be released in April, and he says it has been constructed in a way where the music and lyrics sound drastically different from each other.

“I really hope that [the album] manages to make somebody who feels like me realize that someone else feels like they do,” Tovin says. “Just believe in yourself because nobody else is going to do it for you.”