Chicago’s very own IAMGAWD linked up with producer The Black Depths to make one of the best albums of 2022. The result of this musical union is an album called “Murder Castle.” Murder Castle is a grimy and sinister project that leans heavily on lyricism. Murder Castle comes courtesy of IAMGAWD’S No Mediocre Recordings in conjunction with Filthē Analects Record Company.
Murder Castle is produced entirely by The Black Depths. The 13-track album features appearances by Vic Spencer, Weasel Sims, Vakill, J. Arrr, greenSLLIME, A.M. Early Morning, Skanks the Rap Martyr, Jae Haze, WateRR, and The Black Depths.
IAMGAWD talked to The Real Hip-Hop about why he wanted to remind people that Chicago knows how to rap, working with The Black Depths, and their new album, Murder Castle.
TRHH: How did you hook up with The Black Depths and decide to do an album together?
IAMGAWD: He was doing a weekly video freestyle on IG. He’s an emcee as well. He was rapping to his own production. I was like, “Man, this dude is nice.” I mess with his style because it’s a little different. His flow is kind of reminiscent of the horrorcore era. The type of beats he was rapping to reminded me of mid-to-late-90s RZA. That’s my favorite producer – 94-to-97 RZA. I think I hit him up like, “I’m messing with what you’re doing, let’s work.” It just went from there. He was with it and I definitely was with it. It was easy. He sent me a bunch of joints and it wasn’t nothing that I didn’t like, it’s just about where the project started going, what was sticking, what fit, and what sonically meshed well with the other stuff. The process building with The Black Depths was easy. One dope ass creative to another and we just made it happen.
TRHH: Why’d you call it Murder Castle?
IAMGAWD: That idea was actually brought to me by The Black Depths. I was familiar with the story, but I forgot about it. He hit me up like, “Hey, have you ever heard of this dude H.H. Holmes and the murder castle?” I’m like, “Nah.” He said to check it out and asked me what I thought about titling the project Murder Castle. I did a little research and I’m like, “Oh shit, I do remember this story.” I’d heard it some years ago. For those who don’t know, H.H. Holmes is given the infamy of being America’s first serial killer. Before him it was Jack the Ripper, but that was in London. That happened in Chicago, so for all my Chicagoan’s the actual murder castle is on 63rd and Wallace in Englewood. It’s the Englewood post office. He had a mansion that doubled as a hotel. This was during the time of the World Fair. It’s the late 1800s and people are flocking to Chicago for this big ass fair. It was rumored that he killed over 200 people. Inside the murder castle he had rooms that led to other rooms, soundproof rooms, torture rooms, shit like that. A bunch of crazy weird shit.
The way I flipped it and chose to use it for the project, the project in itself is the Murder Castle and every song is a different room or a different torture chamber, if you will. I’m really talking my shit on here. It’s very light on content. It’s not much serious content, it’s just me attempting to rap at the highest level possible over super hard ass production. The theme is, if you’re a fellow emcee, you call yourself a rapper, an elite wordsmith, a master of ceremonies, all right, you’re coming into the Murder Castle by choosing to listen to this project. And if you ain’t as sharp as you claim to be you might not make it out this motherfucker alive. That’s how I took the concept and chose to tie it to the project. It’s not really super-themed after H.H. Holmes and the murder castle. It’s just something light and something fun.
TRHH: On the song “Murder 1” you say that people forgot that Chicago knows how to rap. I felt like you were trying to make a statement with this album lyrically and you just said that. So, what prompted you to feel like you had to make a statement?
IAMGAWD: Just with the emergence of Drill. Drill basically being the dominant sound of Chicago to people inside and outside of Chicago, mainly outside of Chicago because Chicago residents know what’s poppin’. Chicago is one of those cities where motherfuckers wanna hang on to what’s cool and what’s poppin’. Chicago is one of those cities that’s still trying to hang on to anything that’s quote unquote “mainstream.” People outside of Chicago, they feel like that’s all we’ve got to offer. Even not knowing or forgetting that Chicago has given the music and entertainment industry, whether it be R&B, soul, gospel, rap, or whatever, legends to this game. Legends have come from these city blocks. Whether you want to talk about Chaka Khan, Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Common, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Da Brat, Twista, the list goes on and on and on. Just to try to restore the feeling somewhat and let motherfuckers know that.
I understand the Drill shit is what’s happening here and that’s what y’all know us for, but that ain’t all we got to offer. That ain’t close to being half of what we’ve got to offer. It’s so much here. Chicago residents know. It’s all about showing and proving. I don’t get mad about it. I’m over that part. I overstand that shit more than what I used to, and I understand more than what I used to. But certain shit I overstand, so it’s no use to really spend time being bothered by it. I just do what I do and what my purpose is. Put my best foot forward, do what I’m here to do, and everything else will fall in place.
TRHH: “The Most Exalted” is my favorite joint on the album. You just ripped through that one with no hook or nothing. Why did you choose to just spit without stopping on that joint?
IAMGAWD: I feel like most of my outros are like that. I feel like for the intro and outro, those are statement pieces. I don’t feel like I necessarily need to have the structure of verse/hook/verse/hook when it comes to the intro and the outro. I always look at those two particular joints as the tone setters and the grand finale. The intro is always the tone setter and the outro is the grand finale. Just like the intro “Straightjacket Rap” which features a dope ass verse from the producer The Black Depths, I wanted to set a tone and make a statement. That statement was just to continue to let motherfuckers know that I really rap. I really do this and I don’t care who you mention, who you’re naming, whatever name you can muster and spit out your mouth, I can hold my own against that individual. I don’t give a fuck who it is – past, present, future, legend, whatever.
That’s not no disrespect, it’s just that I’m not going to sit here and sell myself short knowing the time and effort I put into my craft. You know how people say they put in their 10,000 hours? I put in my 20,000 hours. I have more than twenty years in as far as rapping, developing my craft and honing my skills. I won’t allow anybody to sell me short and tell me how dope I am and how nice I am and leave it at that. This shit is an art. It’s a craft and I take it seriously. The Most Exalted was basically the final nail in the coffin. If you weren’t convinced on the previous tracks 1 through 12, number 13 definitely drove the point home.
TRHH: You also are a part of an album called “The Dirt Up Here: A Filthē Album.” That label seems to be on a hot streak. What’s it like being a part of that collective?
IAMGAWD: It’s dope. Shout out the whole squad, Decay, Sean Doe, SLLime, Defcee, SolarFive, Tone Liv. Psalm One is actually gearing up to drop something on Filthē, so shout out Psalm One. It will be produced entirely by Custom Made, who also produced by second project in its entirety, The Eternal Reflection. Shout out to them. It’s dope. I love what we’re doing. Everybody is different. Nobody sounds like nobody else on the label. It’s kind of like a throwback to the 90s where everybody strived to be different. Nobody wanted to sound like the next individual, but still individuals meshed well and complemented each other. I feel like that’s what we do over there at Filthē.
Everybody over here just has a real passion for the craft. It’s no cookie cutter shit over here. It’s all grassroots from the ground up. We’re all pretty much older. I don’t think there is anyone over here not 30-plus. We’re all a little older and we understand as adults what we’re after, what we’re here for, and what we want to create. When you’re dealing with like-minded individuals with a certain level of maturity it just makes shit that much easier. We’re super-dope over here. We’re super-talented, so it’s easy. This is coming from full grown adults with many of us having children and other responsibilities. Imagine if we were really making money off this shit and had all our time to dedicate to it. With the quality we’re putting out now just imagine when we get to that point to where we can just focus on that.
I’m ecstatic with what we’ve got going on over here. I’m happy I jumped down with the squad and I’m happy Decay saw enough potential and was interested enough in what me and Custom had going on with The Eternal Reflection to extend that invitation to be a part of Filthē. For everybody reading, if you haven’t already, definitely grab that Filthē Analects Record Company compilation album “The Dirt Up Here: A Filthē Album.” It was a Bandcamp exclusive, but it is now streaming on all platforms. Got some guest appearances by Ang13, Mickey Factz, the homie GRIFFEN, Homeboy Sandman, Oliv Blu, we got a couple heavy hitters on here, so definitely check that out.
TRHH: Tell me about No Mediocre Recordings.
IAMGAWD: Shout out Decay again on that because I was really picking his brain about his experience with the whole LLC thing and establishing Filthē Analects Record Company. He was basically giving me some insight to it and it took me a minute to actually even do it. I was kind of intimidated by the process and I’m thinking it’s going to be some long drawn out process of trying to register an LLC or applying for one. In all actuality all the months I waited were in vain, because when I finally got around to it I was done in like fifteen minutes. It’s a super-quick process – super-easy.
No Mediocre Records is basically my label. I’m the sole owner and operator of it. I’m not looking to sign any artists right now. I’m fresh and new in this shit and just getting my feet wet, so I don’t even have the capacity or the time to have anyone else’s career in my hands other than my own. I’m still under the “learn as I go” act so, I definitely don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s trajectory right now. Definitely in the future that’s something that I look forward to – helping and continuing to further the legacy of Chicago by putting out dope shit. Beyond it just being a record label it’s a lifestyle. I stand on that – no mediocre.
I talk a lot about working a job. No disrespect to nobody. I don’t mean having a job is a symbol of mediocrity. If you have a job and you love what you’re doing and you get up every day and you’re happy to go do what you do, cool. As long as you’re content. I’m not speaking for people who are happy if they choose to get up and go punch a clock every day. For me personally speaking, that existence is mediocre. I feel like I was put here to do way more than just punch a clock and help somebody else make billions while I don’t even see a fraction of that. That’s definitely something I’m looking forward to be able to remove myself from, through music. Besides that, just have a mediocre existence.
I don’t feel like we’re put on this earth to just fucking work and pay bills. It’s so much more to life and existence than just that. I understand responsibilities – you gotta live, you gotta survive, I understand all that. But come on, man. This is a big ass earth. I’m not put here just to fuckin’ work and pay bills. It’s definitely things I want to do, things I want to see, things I want to accomplish, and things that I want to attempt. No Mediocre is a lifestyle. It’s more than just a record company, but that is my attempt at trying to dabble into the business side of this. I’ve always been an artist. I’ve always been a rapper, an emcee, I just want to try my hand at the business end of things and really establish myself at that end as well.
TRHH: You’re performing on August 13 at the Music in the Woods Festival just outside of Chicago. What does it mean to you to perform at that event?
IAMGAWD: It’s actually my first time. I’m honored and humbled that Chi-Native Entertainment reached out to me to have me as one of the featured performers. It’s some heavy-hitters on that bill. I’m ecstatic, anxious, can’t wait. It’s my first performance of the year for 2022. It’s just another opportunity to introduce somebody to IAMGAWD and who I am – the artist, the music. I’m ready. I feel like that stage is my home away from home. It’s something that I take just as serious as the music. It’s all a part of the craft and the art.
Performing is not something that I take lightly. I don’t show up unprepared, I don’t show up half-assing the rhymes, not knowing my words, or rapping over whole songs. I take that professionally. I get my tracks ready, I got a hook in it, some ad-libs, I make sure it’s mixed, it sounds right, and it’s leveled out. I’m coming to give that real emcee energy. I’m looking to enjoy myself on that stage and also enjoy the festivities while I’m there. So, shout out AO Music Records, Chi-Native Entertainment, and everybody scheduled to perform.
TRHH: “To Live and Die in the Chi” is a song that resonated with me. You mention how there is a lack of structure and hope and stop the violence campaigns don’t work. What do you think can be done to stop the violence in Chicago if those types of things aren’t fruitful?
IAMGAWD: It’s no one answer. I’m going to generalize and try to go into specifics as well. It’s definitely going to have to be some resources reinstated back into these communities. That’s on a more governmental front. As we’ve seen in Chicago specifically, a lot of schools have been closed down. A lot of things have been taken from these communities. I feel like I’m the last generation of rec centers. I don’t even know if there are rec centers around in inner-city neighborhoods. Recreational centers kept a lot of us out of trouble – out of dumb shit. Speaking for the black people that are inhabiting these communities, it’s no more black community, it’s just a community of black people. Shit, grandma’s are what? 30-40 years old?
TRHH: [Laughs] You said that the last time we spoke. There is no community. Parents are younger, parents are single…
IAMGAWD: It’s no structure. It’s children raising children. I could understand why things are the way they are now versus how they were when I was coming up. It was still violence and bullshit, it’s not like it wasn’t. It wasn’t nowhere near as anarchic in the streets as it was when I was coming up. And I came up in an era that was still loosely structured as far as the gang situation. It still had some structure to it, but it was very loose. It wasn’t as tightly structured as it was in the 80s, early 90s, or even the mid-90s. We’re so far removed. It’s going to take a lot for us to get back close to that. The parents are younger, the grandparents are younger, much more immature. The whole structure and value of family is totally different from what it was. Family don’t mean what it used to mean.
I also feel like I was first generation “don’t touch my child.” The generation before me the whole block would beat your ass if they caught you getting out of line and then take you back to your parents and you got it again. Whereas with my generation that’s when I started hearing “Don’t touch my child. I discipline my child.” I get it. It’s a double-edged sword. That was a big thing in the community. Like they say, it takes a village. It takes a village to raise a child. It’s a lot, man. There is no one right answer to that, but it’s going to take a lot on a lot of different fronts.
Us as the inhabitants of these communities, we’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up and a lot of things to change. But on a governmental front we can’t do it all ourselves. It’s a lot that they’ve taken from us, a lot that they’re doing to keep us where we’re at. That is what it is. It’s crazy, just to think from when I was a shorty and just look at shit now. We’re just so far removed from all the things that made us a community. It’s going to be a journey trying to get that shit back in order. It can be done, but I don’t think I’ll see it in my lifetime.
TRHH: That’s sad, That’s very sad. A lot of the things you were saying sound like moral things to me – family structure and young people having babies. We have more churches and liquor stores than anything in our communities, which is a weird dichotomy. We have a lot of churches in our community. Why do you think the church isn’t as impactful as it used to be?
IAMGAWD: Not saying that church is dead, but I think the church died with our grandparents.
TRHH: But there are still churches.
IAMGAWD: I mean as far as the value of it. Let me rephrase that, the value of the church died with our grandparents. Like I said, it’s no more big mama. That stern older lady that cooked every Sunday, gave you the tightest hug you could possibly ever have, that drug you to church every Sunday and every holiday, but still would go upside your head. That really don’t exist no more on a very large scale. The grandparents are really the ones who made sure we recognized and understood the value of church. Some of the parents, too. Those parents are the ones that are now the grandparents. I feel like they are few and far between. The value of the church died with big mama and granddad. Because if you look at church now, look at the age demographic now. I understand that you do have youth choir and youth pastors, but again those are few and far between. That’s not every family.
Again, with the parents being so young they’re definitely not in church. They’re out in the streets doing whatever it is they feel like they should be doing. I don’t think the church holds a lot of weight in the black community anymore. With some people, yeah, of course. It’s not all the way gone, but it’s nowhere near as important as what it used to be. I can remember going to church every Easter, certain Sundays, and it wasn’t even a question. I don’t see that holding anywhere near the value that it once held. That’s another thing, you can say whether you believe in religion or not, because I’m not really religious. Still, it was a form of structure and moral checks and balances, so to speak. Whether you believe in it or not now, it kept some of us out trouble. Unfortunately, another thing that’s been devalued in the black community.
TRHH: Who is the Murder Castle album made for?
IAMGAWD: The Murder Castle is made for the hardcore Hip-Hop head. The person who champions bars and dope beats. The person who champions elite wordplay, attention to detail as far as the craft, the hardcore Hip-Hop fanatic who appreciates a sharp pen and a menacing soundscape. The hardcore Hip-Hop fan who grew up in that grimy 90s era and enjoyed the likes of Mobb Deep, the M.O.P’s, the Nas’, the Jay-Z’s the Biggies, the DMX’s, the 2Pac’s, the Big Pun’s. Murder Castle is for the hardcore true Hip-Hop head. The people who haven’t turned their back on the culture as they continue to grow and mature.