In this era of Hip-Hop, where the Hip-Hop blogosphere is brimming with articles about the shit that Chief Keef does or does not like, videos of DMX’s surprisingly accurate covers of Christmas carols, and analysis of the twitter beef between 50 Cent and French Montana, it seems almost refreshing when an artist emerges with no other motive than to make good music. No ulterior motives, no gimmicks, just good Hip-Hop.
I think that Phonte might have said it best on the Little Brother song Not Enough, rapping “When we’re on stage, the people they all front / dope beats, dope rhymes, what more do y’all want?” Sadly, it seems that the answer to this question is ‘lots.’ With the rare exceptions of dudes like Kendrick Lamar, Big Krit, or Joey Bada$$, the masses rarely seem to give people a chance until there’s a video of them on WorldStar snatching someone’s chain, or unless they have some other gimmick to attach their brand to. Juxtaposed against this subculture of ironic appreciation, the rise of rapper Rapsody, a contemporary to these aforementioned artists, seems particularly interesting.
Similar to Little Brother, Rapsody, whose love for Hip-Hop culture is anything but ironic, is a North Carolina native whose career and sound have been heavily shaped by legendary producer 9th Wonder. This love of the culture is apparent just one minute into her album The Idea of Beautiful. “I care about ‘em too much to not say nothin” Rapsody says on the song “Motivation,” an undertone of urgency in her voice. Beginning with a beautifully honest spoken word piece, the song’s lush soundscape sets the tone for the rest of the album.
True to the 9th Wonder influence, the album is filled with soulful, boom-bap beats; a callback to better times yet somehow still wholly modern. When I spoke to Rapsody on the phone earlier today, she explained “I grew up heavily influenced by that 90s era and a lot of that was boom-bap. I was a big fan of people like Mos Def, The Fugees, Little Brother, and that whole sound. I like a wide range of beats, but the soulful beats really, really do something for me. They inspire me more.
You can’t beat the soul.” When examining Rapsody’s lyrical content, these influences become rather apparent. Drawing on the lyrical dexterity of a dude like Mos Def, she often raps with the sincerity of a Big Pooh, incorporating an undercurrent of consciousness similar to that of Lauryn Hill’s. Rapsody is no slouch on the mic.
Despite being a beast lyrically, she explained to me that she’s always looking to grow and improve, stating that “Any and everybody I’m around, I try to learn something. And I try to grab and ask questions.” This is true whether she’s working in the studio with 9th Wonder, recording songs with Kendrick Lamar, or rocking the stage with Mac Miller as the opening act on his tour. When I suggested to her that perhaps these other artists are learning from her too, she humbly laughed off the idea and simply said “I hope so.”
This sense of humility is greatly evident in even the shortest of conversations with Rapsody and it is something that makes its way into her music. Overwhelmingly, this helps make the message that Rapsody is trying to convey much more poignant. Heartfelt songs like “Precious Wings,” for example, are so intimate that it is almost like Rapsody is giving a listener a peek into her personal diary. Completely comfortable being herself on the microphone, it’s remarkable how Rapsody has been able to find such a unique voice so early in her career when other artists have had to struggle for years to find a similar level of truth. She discussed the importance of this in my interview with her.
When I asked her if she’s ever felt pressure to try and keep up with some of the other incredible emcees 9th Wonder has worked with, she said “I definitely felt that pressure at first because, I mean, it’s 9th Wonder and you want to do the best you can. But now, I realized that I have to be comfortable in my own skin and I have to occupy my own lane.” She further discussed this idea when I asked her about what she does to differentiate herself from all the other music out there. She said “it’s a branding thing, to be honest. You kind of have to be patient enough to let your brand grow and reach the masses. Especially as a new artist, you might not get a lot of clicks on your music at first but if you really focus on branding yourself the right way and making good music, that’s the basis of it.” If this is indeed the case, Rapsody is definitely on the right path.
Having the right team surrounding her seems to help the process too. Whether it’s the incredibly dope group Kooley High, with whom Rapsody got her start, or the people surrounding her on her record label Jamla, it seems that all of the creative energies around Rapsody help to make her a better artist. When I asked her about her creative process, for example, she explained that “It’s always different. Some days, me and 9th might have had a conversation the day before where he told me to talk about a particular thing. Or, sometimes something in the beat will bring a certain emotion out. It might even be subconscious and I’ll just start writing.” It is this sense of closeness between her and her collaborators that probably helps to explain the cohesiveness of her album and how every song blends seamlessly into the next. There’s definitely something to say about keeping it in the family.
And now comes the part that everyone is waiting for; the gender part of the article. Because it would be impossible to acknowledge the fact that Rapsody is a woman in Hip-Hop without devoting a significant amount of thought and analysis to it. Of course, this is said in an effort to be satirical. During our interview, I asked Rapsody what she thought about this hyper-emphasis on gender in Hip-Hop and she had this to say; “I definitely think it puts us in a box. And that’s why I hate doing female panels. It’s okay to have a panel with all females on it. But then what happens is that all the questions become about being a female emcee. It’s just so limiting and it puts you in a box and it separates you so much. That’s what I hate about it and why I hate the term ‘female emcee.’ It’s used to separate you from everybody else. It’s just like ‘white rapper’ or ‘backpacker.’ It’s just another term used to separate and divide.” The thoughtfulness of this answer was something that struck me greatly. A wise answer from a rapper who is wise beyond her years, and miles ahead of her peers.
If inertia is any indication, Rapsody’s career trajectory seems to be indicating a future filled with many more successes to come. If you are still unfamiliar with her music, I suggest you make yourself aware immediately.
Check out Rapsody on Twitter.