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In the Trenches with IAMGAWD: Navigating Chicago’s Hip Hop Terrain

Today, we’re fortunate to be joined by one of the underground’s most intriguing and tenacious voices. Hailing from the Windy City’s now-extinct LeClaire Courts housing projects, IAMGAWD has solidified his place in the modern rap game with his unapologetic, raw and profound lyricism, all delivered in a style that’s wholly his own.

After pairing up with California’s producer Clypto on his most recent eight-track odyssey, Bloodstained Suede, IAMGAWD continues to push the envelope, blending his signature ferocity with insightful social commentary and unfiltered braggadocio.

This relentless Chicago MC proudly carries the banner of #CHICAGONEVER4GOTHOW2RAP, a testament to his city’s enduring legacy and evolving future in the world of hip hop. Today, we’re diving deep into the man behind the music, his influences, his journey, and his vision. Welcome, IAMGAWD. Let’s get started.

IAMGAWD, thank you for joining us today. Your name is intriguing and also an acronym for “Getting Ahead Without Devolving.” Could you elaborate on this ethos, and how it guides your rap career?

I appreciate you having me. Definitely happy to be here. The name IAMGAWD represents a way of life. As you stated it breaks down into I AM Getting Ahead Without Devolving which means I will get ahead in life and achieve my goals and dreams and what success looks like to me without going backwards. Without participating in any activity that would make it hard to look in the mirror. I have to maintain my ethics, morals and integrity regardless of what I’m doing not just regarding music but life in totality.

You hail from the LeClaire Courts housing projects. How has that environment, and its subsequent transformation, shaped your perspective and influenced your music?

Shout out LeClaire Courts. That’s the crib forever. They took the buildings but they can’t take the memories. LeClaire Courts, Chicago in general, has a tendency to make its residents aggressive in different ways. You can hear my aggressive side in my music. It’s also made me aggressive in the sense of relentlessly pursuing what I want in life.

I understand I can’t just sit around and wait for great things to happen to me. I have to be proactive in my greatness. Which also leads back to my name. No disrespect to any religion in any way but while faith is very important to me I can’t allow myself to just pray and do nothing else.

So in a way I am an extension of God or whoever one may pray to in the sense that I have to find a way to manifest my reality. But the old neighborhood has given me an abundance of traits that are helpful not only in rough inner city environments but in life too. 

Your mother clearly had a significant influence on your early love for music. Can you share how she used music to teach you the alphabet with notable musicians? How has her influence impacted the artist you are today?

She would say things like A is for Al B. B is for Bobby Brown, C is for cameo and other notable artists of the time. She always was playing music and singing through the house so it was only natural for me to be involved in music in some way. It just so happened to be hip hop.

After taking a two-year hiatus from music, you released your self-titled album I Am GAWD with Max Julian in 2020. What prompted that break, and how did that time away redefine what you wanted to accomplish with your music?

I was just overall disgusted and disappointed with my inability to advance in music and the overall state of music at the time. This was around 2016 when I decided to “quit”. Old habits die hard as they say so it didn’t last long obviously.

The time away allowed me to grow and mature mentally and in my perspective as an adult and musician. It definitely gave me a better and more helpful perspective in dealing with the journey of trying to be successful in music and also time to further realize who I am and what I want to do as an artist. 

Your recent album Bloodstained Suede, in collaboration with California producer Clypto, is an 8-track musical experience. How did you ensure it was packed with your signature style, yet also collaborative with Clypto’s own touch?

Well it’s hard to not be myself regardless of who I’m working with so my signature style and natural ability will always shine through. I take pride in being able to adapt to different styles of production and this experience was a fun one for me. I struggled initially with meshing my style to Clypto’s production but when I stopped “trying” and allowed myself to naturally do what I do it all came together beautifully. 

The album has been described as containing “unfiltered braggadocio, straightforward social commentary, and vivid imagery.” Can you share more about the themes that run through it? Are there any particular societal issues you wanted to address?

A common theme in my music is the state of black people in America. Our plight in this country historically has been an interesting one to say the least. Also I wanted to speak to the ever increasing numbers of rappers being murdered. I hardly ever go into projects knowing exactly what I want to say or how I want to say it. I normally just allow the music to guide me and take me where I need to go lyrically. But with my last project, Murder Castle, being dark, grimey and brazen I knew I wanted to say something more meaningful with Bloodstained Suede. 

Your determination to stay true to yourself without using any autotune or formulaic song structures is commendable. How do you navigate the balance of maintaining your unique style while also evolving to meet the ever-changing landscape of the hip-hop industry?

Honestly I just do what feels right. I don’t allow industry standards to dictate how I approach making music and creating art. Whatever I choose to do always has to feel right. 

With your impressive discography, including works with Doc Da Mindbenda, The Black Depths, and now Clypto, you’ve become known for your masterful collaborative efforts. What’s the creative process like when working with different producers?

I just try to blend what we do individually to the best of my abilities. I’m confident in being able to work with anyone and adapt to a multitude of sounds. I’ve yet to work hand in hand with a producer. The way things normally work is they send beats and I write to what speaks to me. I’m very big on composition as well so I handle the track lists and everything inclusive of what I want the final product to sound and feel like. 

Your music is often referred to as displaying a level of art that’s not widely heard from Chicago artists at the moment. In what ways do you see your music standing out from the crowd?

The first thing that tends to come to mind when you think about Chicago rap is drill or some form of trap. Chicago is a market that still very much clings to what is considered commercial and popular. But along with myself there’s an abundance of other emcees and artists alike that are rejecting that notion and creating seriously great music whether it be hip hop or otherwise. 

You’ve been very clear about your mission to let the world know who IAMGAWD is as an emcee and artist. Looking ahead, what do you hope to accomplish in the next phase of your career? Any new collaborations or projects on the horizon?

In the next phase of my career I plan to take my brand to the next level. To be more visible and more respected in underground hip hop. I feel like I’ve been at the ground level forever and it’s frustrating because I know I’m just as great as the more notable emcees on the underground scene. I want to make history and eventually become one of the best emcees EVER. I want to be mentioned amongst the GOATs. The Nas’, the Biggies, the Pacs, the Jay-Zs, the Rakims, the Kool G. Raps etc. 

You use the hashtag #CHICAGONEVER4GOTHOW2RAP in connection with your work. Can you talk about the current hip-hop scene in Chicago, its influence on your music, and where you see it heading in the future?

As of now Chicago rap is heading out of the drill era thankfully. I believe that particular sound amplified a lot of destruction that was already there. Chicago will always have a major influence in my music because I am Chicago through and through. In the near future I see a more lyrical sound thriving and we have a lot of incredible and highly skilled artists to contribute to pushing that narrative and making that sound popular here once again. 

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