INNERVIEW 018: The Most High EP w/ Shun Gawd
PHOTOS BY DERIAN (@HOUPICSPHOTOS)
”Struggle and survive, man. When you struggle and survive you need someone to follow. So, I figured, why not give them GOD." - God, In Too Deep
Since Hip Hop’s inception it’s provided a vehicle for many entrepreneurs, catalysts and artists to pave their own way through expression and influence of their art while putting on for their city/region. Sometimes, simultaneously highlighting the changing Hip Hop landscapes.
2022 was a reminder of the various sounds, regions and mediums of Hip Hop artists. When we speak of independence and independence of the “non-mainstream/”yet” to be mainstream/potentially mainstream” or just pure underground artists... an often held paradigm of independence is how you’re selling your art (?) Have you curated enough content to garner a crowd that engages and supports your elevation and evolution? Do you have a pivot? Pump fake? Hesitation — how do you create space in your lane to score?
In September, I had the opportunity to get an innerview of Houston/Memphis artist Shun Gawd’s pivotal moves that brought him closer to what he envisions for his craft and mastering of lanes. The innerview gives further insight about his name, artistic diet, his recent EP, The Most High, Hip Hop legends/influences, streetwear brand work and more.
This innerview has been condensed and edited for clarity purposes. Jameka: So, who is Shun? And what does your name represent?
Shun Gawd: Shun is really me. My real name Marshawn. When I was coming up, I was interested in how Kendrick Lamar said he changed his name from K. Dot and he rebranded to Kendrick Lamar with the Kendrick Lamar EP just because he wanted to kind of give himself. So, I kind of followed that path, which is like, I had wanted it to be Marshawn, but I just kept it as $hun. Then alter ego of $hun Gawd came in.
J: Tell me more about the alter ego, because I thought your name was Shun Gawd.
S: It kinda is. The reason that I probably haven't just fully switched it over is because my name on Apple Music, and all my music is already under the Shun tag. But the alter ego of Shun Gawd came into play when I first started. I was trying to figure out something catchy because people have these different things, like good Fridays and stuff like that. So, that's why I came up with Shundays, and I'm going to drop on Sundays. Within the music, I was always, like, kinda speaking on certain topics, kind of giving free game and shit like that. So, I started saying, I'm preaching or dropping a sermon so that's where the Shun Gawd came in and it was just like, when I'm on the track, I'm kind of Shun Gawd type shit. The whole thing kinda played in and came about.
What can you say about what has led you to where you're at right now. I came on board when you dropped that project last year, Reign Man & the Glove. So, in between these two projects where have you been mentally?
Really just kinda just mapping everything out. Trying to see where I want to take it next with the music wise and just trying to see certain topics that I want to speak on and stuff like that. But, in between the space is really just trying to keep building, whether that's with music or whether that's with anything, Really, just keep evolving and keep building Shun Gawd as a brand. Do you follow me on Instagram?
So, I do the streetwear stuff too. For me to get, like, different brand deals. So, just kind of trying to expand that. And with this new project, we're trying to go into the merch. Really, just mapping out how I can really just continue to do this independently and create different streams of income for myself around what I'm already doing.
Yeah, because I saw ol' boy that took your pics, too, houpics. I saw that y’all be putting out ads with Puma.
I do different brand work for Puma, so they'll send me different sneakers. Whatever sneakers they’re trying to promote at the time. We negotiate a price and we'll get the content knocked out for them. And you probably seen a recap of when they invited me out to one of their events that they threw in Houston.
How did you get involved with that? How did that come about?
Oh, man. That's the question everybody asks. To be honest, it's really just me taking my image more seriously. Honestly, I was posting more on Instagram. Like high quality content towards the streetwear community and as I was doing that, different brands just started to reach out to me. What I really think is, when I'm marketing, I'm really interacting with a lot of people when I dive into a community. A lot of these people that work for Puma or that work for Culture Kings, Fashion Nova, Hat Club… these different people are within these communities. So, as I'm doing my marketing, they're stumbling across my profile and then they just look at it like, “oh, you got high quality ass content, kinda fly. How about we reach out to him?” And that's honestly how it happens.
Yeah alignment and I started the whole streetwear thing just as something as when I'm laying dormant with the music and I feel like those two run parallel anyway. Because if you like hip hop music, I’m pretty sure you like sneaker culture, you like streetwear culture. It's all the same to me. So, I started to do that just while I'm plotting out this music, I need something that will still have me in front of people's eyes or audience eyes.
Something that allows you to keep building. That's a cool situation you have worked out there.
I appreciate it, appreciate it. A lot of hard work.
I can only imagine, because you got to be able to market and do that type of work for yourself. You gotta really have a solid vision and a creative vision at that.
Facts, and the product has to be A1.
That's what I've been telling people too. Not to really toot my own horn or anything like that but when you comin’ across people on the internet… I feel like for people, period, when you tell them, “oh, yeah, I do music,” it's like one of those things like, “oh, you make music, too.” Everybody make music. So, I try to keep the product as A1 as possible. When a person comes upon it, that's the least negative thing they can say about it. Like, to the point where the only thing you can say about it is, “ahh, it’s dope but it's not really my type of music.” You can't really say it's trash. You can't really say the engineering is bad. You can't say the mix is bad because everything is full circle. I try to keep it A1. So, when I come across these people, when the quality is A1, at the end of the day, the one thing they left to say is, “that shit fire bro, keep going.” or “I'm going to tap in with you soon.”
It's real strategic and I feel like it's really authentic, too, because a lot of it is just me. When it's authentic, people feel it even more.
Learning how to strategize that type of shit. Where did you come up with it?
One of my younger homies back in the day he put me on how to target market, kinda. Once he did that, that kinda, like, lit up a light bulb in me and it was just like, oh, damn. So, if you're telling me to do this, then I can take it a little deeper, and I just kinda start layering. Once that light bulb went off in me, then it kind of became second nature, you know what I'm saying? Because it was just about dropping dope shit. I feel like I just got dope ideas that people fuck with.
It’s very quality. As far as the project, The Most High, where did the title come from? What were you trying to accomplish with this EP?
The name and everything came about when I was trying to figure out how I wanted to theme it. I kinda like theming my projects. I like it being a little layered with the concept. Really, I was watching In Too Deep, a lot. That was one of my go to movies. I think it was a couple of months ago when they had it on Netflix and they just recently took it off.
You know, with LL Cool J and his name was God on there, and I'm like, “yo, this is dope as fuck.” If I actually use clips from this where it's kind of like they hinting’ at God. I’m Shun Gawd, I drop on Shundays, I drop gospels, I drop sermons. The Most High, with me smokin’ on the cover, everyone know I love smokin’ weed.
The Most High, I just started layering it. I kinda got that from Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole. Where it's kind of like you really give the audience layers. But they don't ever speak on it. Even though I just spoke on it. They just let the audience come up with their own conclusion. It's just like, it could be what they were thinking or it could be completely left. But the audience is connecting dots and they're making it their own. That's really where I was going with it.
Do you consider yourself religious? Do you have a belief in a God?
I definitely believe in God. I wouldn't say I'm religious though. I feel like I kinda got an understanding. I kinda look at it as there's multiple ways to the source. So, I don't look down on any religion. I feel like they all have truth in them. I feel like they all are pretty teaching you to live a great, wonderful life but there just certain nuances within them that people hold onto and try to condemn another religion. Like, I don't do that. I grew up Christian, but I don't say I follow a specific religion. I like to listen to all different perspectives.
I feel that that makes sense. So, on one of your tracks, “Champagne,” you made this statement that you got to be malleable to be valuable. What exactly does that mean to you?
In this world, you gotta be able to bend without breaking. You gotta really be able to adjust on the fly. You gotta be ready for whatever comes towards you. One of the main things I've learned in this past year is just living in the moment. Stop trying to be. I don’t always have to be so strategic. But, with living in the moment comes quick adjustments, speed bumps that's going to come your way. So, you gotta be malleable to be valuable out here. Bend without breaking.
Have you had moments in this last year where you’ve had to be malleable?
Oh yeah, man… I had a couple. I had some investments go bad, you know, relationship problems and a whole bunch of shit. These past couple years being kicked out of the crib. Just trying to find my foot, stepping back, trying to rework my plan while keeping the goal the same, you know what I'm saying? Life just throw them different obstacles at ya. Random shit, my rims got stole off my car a couple weeks ago. You know, it be all kinda shit.
Always something, fr. How do you persevere through those moments?
One, having a safety net. Staying prepared for those rainy days and just continuing to push forward. At some point you gotta take some of the advice that some of the great people or wise people will tell you. One of the main things people tell you is you can't really worry too much about what you can't control. So, if I can't control it, I get pissed over it for a little bit. But, after awhile I probably smoke joint and I just be like, man, fuck that shit. What am I going to do to fix it? How am I going to get out of this situation? Because, me harping on it ain't going to help me. Not one bit.
And that shit just end up causing hella anxiety.
Exactly, exactly. God always came through for me. I know he's going to come through. I just got to keep pushing and doing what I'm doing.
It’s aligning beautiful. I know you mentioned you were watching In Too Deep in reference to theme for the project. What other things did you intake? Books, movies, food, views, places of inspiration.
I was in New York a lot. That's where we got a lot of the content, too. I was in New York towards the end of last year for a little stint out of show in the beginning of this year and just connecting with different people out there, just catching the vibes of the big city. Travel always is an inspiration, and other than that, it's really just inspiration from different artists that I've listened to, that I'm inspired by and stuff like that. Who are those artists who inspire you?
Ain't no cliché.
Yeah, I know. I tell people all the time. I get like, man, I'm going to name these artists and they are probably the biggest artists right now. But what y’all gotta realize is I've been on before they got to who they are now. So, three kings, of course, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Drake. Anybody that's really Dreamville; JID, EARTHGANG, all of the greats. TDE. Cozz, REASON. Mick Jenkins, I actually got a track in the bag with him that’s gonna be on my next project. Super dope joint. The guy that that takes my pictures, houpics he actually makes beats too and he actually made the beat.
I'm looking forward to that fasho.
Yeah, we’re probably going to plan to get that out probably within the next few months after The Most High has kinda run dry a little bit to get it back on.
But yeah, those artists… and I got a couple of my homies that actually rap that inspire me and stuff like that.
So, like the three kings. What is it that when you first started listening to them back in the day, what drew you to them and what kept you a fan?
So Drake, what drew me to Drake? Initially, the first song I heard by Drake was “Brand New” and I was like, “what the fuck is this… get this out of my ear.” But, I think once I heard “Ransom,” I had to really hear him on some rap shit. His flow was smooth. It wasn't the craziest bar. Actually, in the beginning he did have some crazy bars, but it was always smooth flows. Once I started diggin’ into his stuff he had the smooth beats with Comeback Season. Once he dropped the breakout, So Far Gone, it was just like, “yo, this sound is just crazy.” I never heard an intro with, “Lust For Life,” so smooth and airy. So, for Drake, I really feel like it was his sound and then once he got later into his career, it was just like that braggadocious Drake because he’s doing so good. It's just like he can flex on whoever the fuck it is. You know what I'm saying?
J. Cole, Friday Night Lights was like the soundtrack to my senior year of high school. He spoke to a teenager I feel like at the time. When I first got on J. Cole it was my sophomore year of high school. That was when I got onto “School Daze” and The Come Up and stuff like that. I was just like, “yo, this nigga is rapping my life.” Like, what the hell is going on here? You know what I mean?
Then Kendrick, the first time I heard him I didn’t fuck with him either. The first song I heard was “ADHD” and I just didn't get it at the time. Not even just it was "wack" I was just like… what is this? I think at the time, I was heavy on Drake. It's funny because I seen that video on WorldStar back in the day when Snoop Dogg and a whole bunch of people was handing Kendrick Lamar over the crown. I was like, this shit should be going to Dom Kennedy. I was big on Dom Kennedy. I didn't even know who Kendrick was at the time. I was like, “who the fuck is Kendrick Lamar?” But I think once I heard “The Heart, Pt. 2” and I was like, that's just undeniable shit, you know what I'm saying? I can't fuck with hip hop and then say this shit right here trash. Like, nah this shit is stupid. So, that's when I got on Kendrick, he was just that raw talent. That authenticity.
I wasn’t into him either at first. I felt like he was doing too much but truthfully he was just different than what we were hearing at the time. SO different.
That's one of the ones that I say right now, (because I personally take Jay-Z as the goat,) but I'd I take that argument for Kendrick. I accept that argument. I wouldn't even debate it. He's up there, for sure.
I definitely agree and in such a short amount of time, too.
Yes, with four projects but they’re so dense. Those four projects probably worth, like, ten normal projects from these other rappers.
It's so true. So, who are your Houston legends and greats? Like, not just hip hop either. Any type of realm of art.
The greats, for sure is the two that you just heard have a big mess over. Trae, Z-Ro, Mike Jones. Little Flip, the freestyle king, just had a freestyle on... what was the name of that podcast? The white guy. I can't remember. I watch it all the time, but he killed it. He’s the freestyle king I don’t care what nobody say.
There’s a lot… Slim Thug, that was from that stint. Scarface, of course. DJ Premier, you know, people forget that he's actually from Houston. I really would love to link with him, because that would be perfect you know what I'm saying? We both from the H, but we both got an east coast sound.
It's inevitable at this point, especially because you're out there networking and shit already.
I got a link with Premier. Those are some of the Houston Legends fasho. DJ Screw, I’m being disrespectful. And it's a bunch more, man. Chamillionaire. Yeah, Houston got a lot of artists. A lot of Houston legends fasho.
I feel like Houston's right up there with L.A. and New York, to be honest. Atlanta, Houston, L.A. and New York. Legends.
How would you describe your sound?
I would say without just kind of like putting, like a normal hip hop tag on it, like boom bap and stuff like that. I would just say it's just authentic. It's not trendy. I don't really do the trends. I don't really care about what's hot right now in rap. You know what I'm saying? I really just authentically make what I love. I just really feel like from the test of time people really kinda like my ideas a little bit. I would say my sound is authentic.
When you come across, like, new supporters and listeners assume you're from the south or do they think you're from somewhere else?
No, never. They never guess that I'm from it. If it wasn't in my bio and stuff like that, they would never think that I was from the South. Probably the only thing that may be a giveaway is my accent that I may have that I don't recognize. I actually recognized it recently in a video that we're going to drop for, “Let’s Move!” I don’t recognize my accent but probably the Southern twang to my speech and stuff like that. Other than that, people always think on the East Coast when they listen to the type of music that I make. I always get that, “you rapping like this and you from Houston?”
They love it.
Yeah, and that's really because I rep Houston. I say I'm from Houston because I've been here since I was 14, but I'm originally from Memphis.
No way. That’s where I’m at.
Oh, for real?
I'm not from here, but I've been living out here for the last few years.
Yeah, that's originally where I'm from. But I wasn't there for long. So, I'm from Memphis, all my family is in Memphis, and I was in Memphis every summer. That's my nod to Drake because we kinda got that in common. Visiting my dad because my dad is out there and he used to go back and visit his dad. But originally I’m from Memphis and I moved with my mom and my stepdad. We moved to Santa Barbara, California, when I was in the second grade. Then when I was in the fifth grade, we moved to Houston, Texas. And then when I was in the 7th grade, we moved back to California. But in Long Beach, and then once I got to the 9th grade, we moved to Houston. I kinda got love, I've been everywhere.
I gravitated always towards the hip hop sound. Like I said, Jay-Z is my goat. I dig into his discography at a young age. So from that, you just get a lot of influences from the East Coast. I've always, for some reason, been infatuated with New York. Honestly, it's been since I saw this video on YouTube, the first video I've seen about Flight Club, and I was like, yo, I gotta get out there to New York. I don’t know what's going on out there but I gotta go get some kicks.
I need to take a trip out there for sure. I've been to, like, Toronto, but I haven't been to New York, you know what I'm saying?
I'm trying to get to Toronto, man.
That's the city I would fasho live in. It's a real cool city.
That's what I heard. Because my homie used to play for the D League basketball team out there and he used to love it.
It's a beautiful city, but that's pretty crazy; Long beach. Santa Barbara, of all places too, Like Santa Barbara?
Yeah, like man, that was right there was eye opening, and I loved it. That was my favorite place I've ever lived. I cried so bad when we left. It's so beautiful out there. Yeah. like, the little trail, and it used to be, like, a beach behind the trail. We used to have, like I started skateboarding out there and BMX stuff. It just felt like a kid's dream. Felt like a movie, man.
Yeah, but Memphis. That's home, home. All my family is there. I probably haven't been in, like a year and a half, but I should be coming back soon because I'm definitely planning on shooting a video out there for my next EP.
What do you hope people gain from listening to your music?
I hope people gain inspiration just through the grind, through the game that I get through the lyrics through, you know what I'm saying? My own experience, just inspiration to just keep going and do whatever you want to do. What everybody see now I really built this shit from the ground, you know what I'm saying, with me and my couple of teammates. But, just keep going and get the inspiration. You can do whatever the fuck you want to do and live your life to not later ask yourself what if? That's one of my biggest things. Really go hard like my nigga LeBron say, “leave it all out on the court and then live with the results.”
The inspiration is to give it your all.
HOUPICS PHOTOS: https://linktr.ee/houpicsphotos