WW Interview: IAME
It’s the thought that counts, and Portland MC IAME is always thinking.
BY CASEY JARMAN
CJARMAN AT WWEEK DOT COM | Thursday, July 23
[HIP-HOP] Rap made its way into the suburbs a long time ago, and one can now find Todds and Trishas blasting The Chronic from Daddy’s Ford Explorer in any given burg. It’s a reality 25-year-old Ryan McMahon saw up close and personal while growing up between Lake Oswego and Tigard. And though he remembers learning all the words to Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise” as a tweener, hip-hop became much more to him than a soundtrack for cruising.
“It’s funny, because for a while I thought that was how to be cool,” he admits. “To have shit. But hip-hop was something that opened my mind to different people’s living situations.” As soon as he landed his driver’s license, he was out of the ‘burbs and into Portland, investigating the city’s decidedly un-bling hip-hop scene. But McMahon, who had shown an interest in writing from a young age, didn’t just want to listen. “It definitely wasn’t my destiny to be a fucking singer,” he says, his rigid brow softening as he laughs. “Hip-hop was something I could actually do.”
That’s where McMahon stops and IAME begins. In 2005 he co-founded local hip-hop outfit Sandpeople, but it was against the raw, metallic beats of his 2006 solo debut, Noise Complaints, that the MC really cut his teeth. It’s also where he found his voice: His passionate, thoughtful and hopelessly verbose musings on religion, politics and hip-hop itself poured so freely that Noise Complaints wound up running 19 tracks and 73 minutes.
His follow-up solo effort, I Am My Enemy, is constricted in size but not in scope. The beats, rhymes and delivery have grown simultaneously more complex and refined as IAME has surrounded himself with talented MCs from Sandpeople and his other crew, Northwest supergroup Oldominion. “I’m a little older, maybe wiser, maybe more cynical and bitter,” he jokes. “Systematic” might be a better term. As the MC examines his place within the music industry and his community on I Am My Enemy, he answers the listener’s questions before they’re even asked.
That tendency is most fascinating on “Unlikely Candidate,” wherein IAME makes a tricky case for acceptance in his adopted Northeast Portland home. “Now it shouldn’t really matter what race or gender I am/ In the hood I am not the same white man that’s gentrifyin’,” he explains. The next lyric is a blunt “why?” To answer, IAME spends 3 1/2 minutes dissecting the complicated racial history of North and Northeast Portland, contrasting it with his own unique journey. By the end, as if overwhelmed by his own second-guessing, he throws up his hands a bit. “But it ain’t where you from, it’s where you at, and fuck if this ain’t hood/ I’ve been different since day one, proof of an existing alien.”
And IAME is different. In person, he’s both an introverted suburbanite with the residual politeness of a military upbringing and a stone-y radical-in-bloom. In a genre where self-confidence is mandatory and the loudest mouth usually conquers all, he refuses to let his own beliefs remain unchallenged—even if that means challenging himself. “I think I’ve always had a natural ability to see outside of myself,” he says matter-of-factly. I Am My Enemy proves that to be an understatement: IAME sees outside of himself and straight through you.