Chicago emcee IAMGAWD and producer Custom Made have joined forces for an album titled “The Eternal Reflection.” Formerly known as TTheGAWD, IAMGAWD provides a no-nonsense approach to rhyming over Custom Made’s sinister production, which makes for a cohesive and thought-provoking release.
The Eternal Reflection is produced entirely by Custom Made. The 12-track album features appearances by Brittney Carter, Oliv Blu, Mr. Akryte, Skooda Chose, Philmore Greene, and IAMGAWD’s son, Xavier West.
IAMGAWD spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about why he changed his rap name, why Twista is his favorite emcee from Chicago, and his new album with Custom Made, The Eternal Reflection.
TRHH: Why’d you call the album The Eternal Reflection?
IAMGAWD: Basically, the title came about after I had a talented artist by the name of 46designs commission an image for me. The image is of Robert Sandifer. Back in ’94 an 11-year old young male, Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, was slain execution style in the Roseland neighborhood. Allegedly, he was reported to be a member of the BD’s, the Black Disciples. He killed a little girl by accident doing what was said to be a gang initiation or a send-off move. He was trying it hit somebody else and he ended up killing a little girl. It made things real hot in the area, especially for the BD’s. Two brothers that were a little older than him at the time lied to him and said they were going to get him out of town and they killed him.
That image is of him and when I say “The Eternal Reflection” the way that ties in is, I never forgot that story or that image when I saw it. In ’94 I was only 8-years old. Robert was 11 at the time. I didn’t hear it at that time. I probably heard the story when I was 15 or something. The image was on the cover of Time magazine. Pac even had a full poster of the same image behind him when he did the interview from Clinton Max Correctional Facility. That story and that image has never left my mind, so, every time I hear about a shorty being murdered in Chicago due to gang violence I instantly think of Yummy. I’m basically saying the more things change the more they stay the same. The Eternal Reflection is, I see Yummy in each and every one of these shorty’s out here getting into the same shit.
TRHH: The story of Yummy should be cautionary tale, yet things just seem to be worse. Why do you believe stories like Yummy’s don’t bring about mass change in young people in the city?
IAMGAWD: That’s a good question. I can tell you offhand that I don’t have an answer for that, but if I want to speculate, it’s nothing here. You can make the case that each generation is getting worse. It’s a lot of different reasons for that. My answer to the shit and what I believe is the main cause of it is, we all know government is involved and they always have their foot on our necks and don’t plan on letting up no time soon. These environments, the hood, the ghetto, whatever you want to call it, are manufactured environments. This shit just didn’t happen to become. Black people didn’t make these environments what they were. We were basically lab rats in this experiment. We lost the value of community.
There is no more black communities, only black neighborhoods. You don’t have that elder lady who is heavy in church, that’s in everybody’s business, telling your mother every time she catches you doing something you know you’re not supposed to be doing. You don’t have that male presence that might not be your father or your uncle, but he will chastise you like he would his own son. You don’t have those neighbors who will run back and tell your parents every time you get caught out there doing something you’re not supposed to be doing. You don’t have neighbors out there that will beat your ass, take you to your crib, and then your parents will beat your ass. That’s gone. I feel like my generation was the last of the black community. In short, it might not be the reason in totality, but what I feel is a big part of it is us not having any more communities. We have black neighborhoods, we no longer have black communities.
TRHH: That’s another question, why don’t have we have anymore communities? I feel like I heard someone say it’s because we’ve assimilated into white culture. We went from being a community to being like them. Black people had to stick together in the early 1900s. At some point we just became like everybody else. We mind our business, go to work, and come home. Why do you think we no longer have communities?
IAMGAWD: I think it’s a couple of reasons. The people who were the neighborhood watch, so to speak, that would watch over the kids, they got older. As you get older you don’t have the energy for certain things. Not just that, I feel like the parents got younger. With that youth comes much more irresponsibility. The parents got younger and more irresponsible. It got to the point where it was literally babies having babies. If you’re still a child yourself there is no way you can raise a child, especially if you don’t have a sturdy and sound support system to back you up. A lot of us come from broken homes and poverty. It’s a culmination of things, but I feel like those are two of the biggest hits that us in the black community took. The elder lady who was the one who would beat your ass and take you home for you parents to whoop your ass, she passed on. The folks got older. I think people are scared, too. Most of these shorty’s got guns now and they’ll shoot you just as quick as they would one of their so-called ops. I feel like it’s a little bit of fear, certain people got a little bit too old and tired for the job and maybe lost some hope, and I feel like parents just got younger and younger, and more irresponsible.
I don’t know when the transition came about, but I remember as a shorty seeing a shift in the parents. “Don’t touch my son” or “Don’t touch my child” or “I don’t need you to help raise my child.” I can remember hearing that a lot as I got a little older. From what I hear from older folks it didn’t used to be like that. Like I said, the neighbor would whoop your ass if they caught you out of line and then take you to your parents and they’ll whoop your ass. It wasn’t really too much of that when I was coming up. It was, but my generation was the last generation of black community where the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” was really put into place. I kind of remember seeing that deteriorate. Certain people succumb to certain vices and addictions, certain people got locked up, certain people got killed, and some people moved out the hood. So, it’s a culmination of things that happened. After school programs got taken away, the neighborhood resource center got shut down, the neighborhood field house ended up not being what it used to be, gentrification, a lot of shit. You can point to a lot of different things, but I feel like those are some of the strongest points that you can make.
TRHH: You make a great point about addiction. I know a lot of people believe that welfare is a big cause of the downturn of the black community, but it’s really drugs. If you go back to the war on poverty, it was around the same time as the Vietnam War. A lot of people came back from the war and they’d seen some shit. You saw heroin explode and in the 80s you saw crack. We’re talking about the children and grandchildren of the crack epidemic today. Drugs are a huge part of all of this on a lot of levels.
IAMGAWD: Most definitely.
TRHH: The song “From Chicago with Hate” seems like a perfect theme song for the city. Why did you use that title and why do you think Chicago is viewed as the city of hate?
IAMGAWD: I don’t know if it’s viewed like that from the outside looking in. I haven’t heard that out of towners or outsiders. I feel like we use that a lot internally. Internally we call Chicago the city of hate or crabs in a bucket. That title felt fitting for a few different reasons, one of which I just mentioned. We view each other as haters internally, but at the same time I feel like Chicago has the Napoleon complex to a certain extent. I feel like it’s justified. I feel like we always have to fight for our space. When it comes to music in general, especially rap music, I feel like Chicago hasn’t planted its flag. Don’t get me wrong, we have turned out incredible talents from R&B, soul, gospel, and rap throughout the history of music. You go from Sam Cooke to Chaka Khan to Curtis Mayfield. Even in basketball Isiah Thomas, the list just goes on. We’ve given you Common, Lupe, Kanye, Twista, and Do or Die. We are black culture. Shout out to the homie Skooda Chose, he even said that in the closing bars of his verse – we are black culture.
I feel like we don’t really get the respect of a New York or an L.A. People know what we brought to the game, but I don’t feel like we’ve planted our flag. When I say “from Chicago with hate” it’s like, we hate you motherfuckers to a certain degree. It’s kind of funny because we show out of towners love, too. It’s a real confusing complex that we have in Chicago because we show motherfuckers love, we’re quick to take motherfuckers in, and it’s always somebody willing to sell our culture to an out of towner for 15 minutes of fame. We show love to the outsiders, and we show love to our own once the outsiders show them love. It’s real funny here. Besides the internal hate that we feel amongst each other, it’s kind of like a love/hate relationship with everybody outside of Chicago. We love shit and we take shit from different places, but it’s still Chicago versus everybody and Chicago over everybody. That’s probably the most thorough meaning I could give of the song. Shout out to the homies Philmore Greene and Skooda Chose, they laced it.
TRHH: It makes me think of when I went to a Wu-Tang show in maybe ’06. Rhymefest opened for them and the people booed Rhymefest. They chanted “Wu-Tang, Wu-Tang!” through his whole set.
IAMGAWD: I’m not surprised at all.
TRHH: I know Wu-Tang fans are a different bunch. I’m one of them and we’re kinda crazy. But I’m like, this dude is from here! He’s one of us! Why are y’all shitting on him? It kind of sounds like what you’re saying. We will big up the New York people but won’t show love to our own.
IAMGAWD: We gotta see somebody from outside the city show you love before we decide to show you love.
TRHH: Which is why Common and Kanye moved to New York. You’re like ten years younger than me, so you probably wouldn’t remember, but when Common moved to New York people were pissed! Like he turned his back on us.
IAMGAWD: Around what time was that? Was that before the hook-up with Kanye?
TRHH: Oh yeah, way before that. This was like ’98 or ’99.
IAMGAWD: So, what album was that? Like Water for Chocolate?
TRHH: Right before that. Like Water for Chocolate came out of his move to New York. When he moved to New York he jumped on the Roots album, he jumped on Black Star’s album, he was on the Beatnuts album, and he was on Funkmaster Flex’s mixtape. He networked.
IAMGAWD: He fit that demographic as well. He fit that lane of music. To me that only made sense because around the time of ’98 and the mid-90s you had shit like Crucial Conflict, Twista, Speedknot Mobstaz, The Legendary Traxter, CWAL Mob, Psychodrama, Triple Darkness, Snypaz, E.C. Illa, Da Brat, Infamous Syndicate – Shawnna and Teefa, you had that sound dominating Chicago. This was pre-Bump J, pre-Lupe Fiasco. Nobody had really adopted that New York flow other than Common, really. Twista had displayed it. Shout out to Twista. A lot of people sleep on his album “Resurrection” that went by the same title as Common’s album. He slowed it all the way down. Twista did it for an album and that was during the time he was going back and forth with Treach. Nobody else really made that New York slow flow their signature flow. It only made sense that Common would migrate there because he fit in. “Respiration” is one of my favorite songs of all-time. I love that song. 1-9-9-9 is one of my favorite songs. It’s so crabs in a bucket-ish here that we feel like when one makes it, it feels like we all made it. So, when it feels like you’re abandoning us to go hook up with somebody else, that’s treachery. That’s treason and we don’t take kindly to that. But, that demographic was perfect for Common to take advantage of.
TRHH: It’s useless now because of the internet. Go back to the 90s, you had to be in these places. Kanye don’t meet Jay-Z without being in New York. He had to move to New Jersey. You mentioned Shawnna, she moved to Atlanta I believe. This kind of stuff had to happen back then. Today it doesn’t. You can blow up at home. Back then you had to network with people or get on somehow.
IAMGAWD: I feel like today you still have to migrate, too. You can do much more from whatever space you’re in, I agree with that. I feel like Chicago has its own mini-industry. We don’t have a bustling entertainment industry. You have people here and people who came from here on both sides – whether it’s in front of the camera or behind the camera, or in front of the microphone or behind the microphone. But, we don’t have our own industry. If you wanna say we do, cool, but it’s not strong enough. It’s no labels here, there hasn’t been any in the past, and I don’t foresee any labels coming and building anything here anyway. Shit, just last year FGB Duck gets killed downtown, the last place where you would expect to see a murder occur.
Chicago is the epitome of keeping it too real. That’s a detriment to us. We are responsible for the current wave of rappers right now. They’re using the lingo, they’re biting the style, all the shit. Everybody’s catching their ops lacking, everybody is smoking somebody’s pack, and all this goofy ass shit. Chicago has influenced, for the larger part, the rap game as of right now. I think that’s the first time that that’s happened. You still have to go to Atlanta or New York. More so Atlanta these days because the south is running shit. You still have to migrate is my point. Yeah, you can build a buzz here, but I don’t know if you can name anybody who has built a buzz here, remained here, and had a high level of success.
TRHH: Is Lupe still here?
IAMGAWD: I can not say that, but I can say even he went to New York. He was Roc-A-Fella co-signed and all of that. Even he had to migrate a little bit. I can’t say if he is still there. I never looked at it like that. As long as you’re repping Chicago and as long as you maintain that, I feel like you’re still representing the crib. It ain’t about where you’re from, it’s where you’re at, as they like to say. I know we take pride in where we’re from, but sometimes you gotta move out the crib to get where you need to be in life.
TRHH: 100%. We’re talking about a lot of Chicago icons and “The Ghost of Cavalier Mitchell” is an homage to Twista. He’s an artist who doesn’t get the flowers that he deserves. Is he your favorite emcee from Chicago?
IAMGAWD: Super underrated. Most definitely. At one point in time I thought I was baby Twista. Even though I didn’t understand what he was saying in those songs I used to run around mumbling shit, trying to make it seem like I knew what he was saying and I would have people hanging on every word. It was at a young age. I was 12-years old and they thought I knew these things, but I didn’t know what the hell Twista was talking about, but I made sure it sounded like I did. I have a lot of favorites from the crib, but Twista is definitely the first one. I feel like I grew with Twista because I understood from a young age that Twista wasn’t where a Biggie or a 2Pac was. He was still doing it around the time when they were alive. Especially back then, the record industry made sure it was a difference between underground and mainstream. So, Big and Pac were very much mainstream. Twista didn’t get those looks. You saw Twista on a lot of down south artists songs. Later he started getting featured on east coast songs. He did collabs with Timbaland, he did collabs with Puff, he did collabs with Jay-Z, and then he finally broke through into superstardom.
It’s so deep with Twista because I feel like a lot of people feel like they grew with him. We’ve seen him from Po Pimp. It’s so real for me personally, Twista came to my field house when I was a shorty. I was dancing at this time – wasn’t no rapping. I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. We were having talent shows at my local field house. This was when he was Mr. Tung Twista. He had the big ass Queen Latifah hat, he had the Tung Twista logo with his tongue tied in a knot on a leather jacket, and he had the circular nose ring. This was before he really had any rhythm to his shit. He was just rapping fast for the sport of rapping fast just to see how fast he could do it. I remember to this day. This was before Adrenaline Rush. I didn’t know that this man would be one of my favorite rappers or the artist that he is. It’s even deeper for me because I witnessed it as a shorty. I feel like I grew up with Twista. Seeing his ascension and when he put out Kamikaze and finally had that mainstream look, shit, I felt like I made it at that young of an age. Most definitely Twista is my favorite rapper from Chicago.
TRHH: Common is my favorite and everything you’re saying about Twista is kind of how I view Common. It’s strange because I’m from the west side, Twista is from a few blocks away from me, and Common is from the south side, but I more identified with Common’s subject matter. Kanye is the link between Twista’s biggest success and Common’s biggest success. You felt like you made it, I felt like I did, too. I felt like, “FINALLY!”
I remember when Twista and Common came out in ’92 and the talk was always, “Man, when they gonna blow up?” They were always selling around 200,000-300,000 copies, which is a lot today, but for mainstream artists they were considered failures. To see Twista get a platinum album and Common get a gold album that’s almost platinum, it was amazing. Shout out to Kanye, whatever about what he’s doing now, but he was the link to that. Even when he got on and blew up I was happy because it was one of us.
The music in the city has somewhat taken a turn. You mentioned how everybody steals from Chicago, I just read about drill music in London. How the fuck did that happen?
IAMGAWD: That’s crazy to me. You gotta credit dudes like Chief Keef with that. He made such an impact in a short amount of time. He was only really popping for a short amount of time. His name is still ringing bells, don’t get me wrong, but his peak only lasted for maybe two years. He did a lot. So much so that people associate him as the face and the creator of drill music and he didn’t even create it. He was just the one that put it on the map. It was actually King Louie’s guys, PAC MAN, that coined the term “drill.” He was a rapper as well, but with his untimely passing he never broke through. King Louie is another name that kind of helped put drill out there. I feel like King Louie and Keef are the godfathers of that shit. You can put Durk in there, but Keef was the loudest and most recognizable name.
TRHH: Speaking of names, why’d you change your name from TTheGawd to IAMGAWD?
IAMGAWD: I was actually in the process of trying to trademark “TTheGawd” and during the process I found out about another artist who guys by the same name, it’s just spelled different. So, the lawyer who I had filing the paperwork for me was basically telling me that to prevent anything down the line, it would be best if I moved away from that name altogether. I had been trying to get my social media presence up and one of the hashtags that I use is #IAMGAWD with a microphone and a crown. So, I was toying with the idea that if you go on IG right now and type that in damn near every post is going to be of me, and it’s plus 100 posts. Social media presence is big these days in music and that singular hashtag really identifies me. You can pull up anything on social media and find me under it. I’m like, fuck it, to me it sounds good. Even though it’s controversial, it will make people talk.
At the end of the day, if I can’t use TTheGAWD, what’s the next best thing? I just came back from being on a hiatus. I was TTheGAWD before I left, but I left for two years. I was actually trying to quit rapping. When I came back I was a brand-new artist all over again just because I had been gone for two years. So, now I didn’t want to disappear again and people not make that connection that I’m this different rapper. So, I just try to keep it as close together and as similar as possible. I use the IAMGAWD moniker because it translates into “I am getting ahead without devolving” so, it makes even more sense. TTheGAWD was just TTheGAWD. Still meaning getting ahead without devolving, but now the whole name just makes sense. So, I’m like, fuck it, I’m gonna rock with IAMGAWD.
TRHH: You have a song that is called “Theme Music to Life’s Ill’s” where you touch on all sorts of things. You say, “look at this shit and tell me what’s so inspiring.” It’s a very pessimistic song, I’m curious, what does inspire you? There has to be something?
IAMGAWD: It’s one of my favorites. My children and wanting to give them every resource and opportunity possible to become much better men, much quicker than I became. I struggled with manhood for a long time. For a long time, I was a self-proclaimed “bitch ass nigga” thinking that I was a man. I did a lot of goofy shit to people that are still with me to this day and just in general to myself. That’s my biggest inspiration; to ensure and give them every opportunity available and be better men much quicker than I was. Also, to help plant that flag for Chicago and have our shit cemented. Not saying that I’m going to be the one to do it, but have something to do with it. To be the first person in my family to establish some sort of generational wealth. To have my name go down in history as far as this rap shit. I wanna be mentioned amongst the elites – Big, Pac, Nas, Pun, Jay, X, Twista, whoever. I wanna be regarded in that company and discussed among those names. It’s different things that inspire me. I couldn’t continue going on in general if there was no inspiration.
The song is very pessimistic because society doesn’t inspire me at all. I can say that, what doesn’t inspire me is society. I don’t like what society is right now. I don’t like the evolution that I’ve been able to witness firsthand in society. I feel like everybody makes room to accept everything except accountability. I feel like everybody wants to cancel everything except for racism. I don’t fuck with society and where it stands. I feel like everybody is way too sensitive. I feel like it’s way too many agendas being pushed. I just come from a totally different era. I might sound like an old head, but I go by what’s right and wrong in my heart. I feel like it’s a lot of wrong being done intently out here in society. It has its bright spots, but for the most part it’s a lot of weird shit going on that I want no parts of. It makes me feel bad for my children. I can just imagine the world when they’re my age. They’re probably going to look at it as normal, but I’m going to have to really go into overdrive as a parent and make sure I equip them with the necessary tools mentally and emotionally to be able to navigate whatever this shit is going to become whenever they’re my age. Because it’s wicked. It’s not getting any better. That’s some of the things that inspire me and some of the things that don’t inspire me.
TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with The Eternal Reflection?
IAMGAWD: Unfortunately, I don’t feel like this album will bring any awareness to the subject matter that I’m speaking on. Honestly, I didn’t mean for this album to be what it is. I didn’t intend for this album to be what it is. I have to say that and it’s so crazy because this is the first time in my musical journey that this has ever happened to me. I’m usually in control and I create what I set out to create. But, this project really took on a life of its own. It’s kind of like I had help from some unknown force and these songs just took shape and these ideas came together. I was planning on making something in the lane of my last project, IAMGAWD, produced by Max Julian. But it just turned into what it is. It turned into a concept album and it really was never that. I just pieced it together as I went and it became this body of work, which I’m extremely proud of.
I definitely feel like this is my best body of work to date. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like it’s going to change anything in the streets. I just hope it’s another example or another notch in my belt to my artistry. I am a true artist. I am a true emcee. I’m much more of a throwback artist than you might deem an artist today, and that’s on purpose. I can only carry on the tradition that I’m accustomed to and that I learned coming up. My mission with this rap shit is to carry on tradition and never let the actual culture and the spirit of the emcee die. I plan to carry that shit on until I decide to hang up the mic forever. At the end of the day, I hope this shit is another testament to my future greatness, to strengthen my case of going down in history as an elite emcee, an elite storyteller, an elite overall artist, and just to be another beacon of light to come out of Chicago.