Rapsody Aims to Be Legendary While Bringing Balance to Hip-Hop
Pedestrians walking down a New York City street on a humid September day during lunch hour are typically in their own zone, but when Rapsody is strolling along the same path in Midtown Manhattan, her neon-green hoop earrings, purple hoodie, candy-colored nails and bright yellow Dr. Martens are enough to grab a passerby's attention without her even having to spit a bar.
"Rapsody? I just saw you on The Breakfast Club!" a young man in construction gear says to the North Carolina rapper as she walks past him on the street right before he's about to enter Chipotle. After exchanging small talk for a few minutes—she's all smiles and laughs like she's speaking to an old friend—the fan daps up Rap before she heads on her way. The moment is indicative of Rapsody's around-the-way personality, not only in-person, but in her music as well. "I want to bring another side of the story and talk about being a girl from North Carolina who's like the girl next door, who is a tomboy that loves to be fly and comfortable and rock sneakers, that's lyrical and loves to tell stories, makes music that's introspective, but also makes music that's fun. Just to bring balance," she tells XXL.
That balance is best showcased on her new album, Eve. Her third studio LP, which serves as the follow-up to her Grammy Award-nominated album, Laila's Wisdom, features the growth of a confident woman who knows her lyrical skills and presence in all facets are more than enough in a world dictating standards in every direction. Eve finds Rapsody, 36, honoring 16 prolific Black women for the titles of each song. Tupac Shakur's mother, Afeni Shakur, poet Maya Angelou and singer Aaliyah are just some of the women Rap pays homage to on Eve.
Actress and The View host Whoopi Goldberg also inspired a track called "Whoopi," produced by Khrysis, which features Rapsody firing off bars about the opps testing her gangsta. "Go off like Cardi, don't talk 'bout my baby/I ain't no Blood but I might go brazy," she raps.
"I also made the album and named [the song titles] after different Black women because one, I want people to know that there's so many sides of me that you may not have realized or may not show all the time and I didn't want to be boxed in and I didn't want other Black women to feel boxed in," Rapsody shares. "Whether it's the images that we are constantly shown of what we supposed to be, what is beauty defined for us. You can't define us, you can't box us in, you can't define what beauty is for us, for Black women because we come in all different styles and moods and energies and colors and shapes and it's all dope and it's beautiful and that's what the world looks like at large. Women are all different but we are beautiful and are respected and we have a place in it."
Now that Eve is out for mass consumption, Rapsody is preparing to hit the road on tour alongside Big K.R.I.T. and Domani. The Roc Nation signee, who's been going hard in the game since 2005, is elated to bring her lyrics to a live audience to experience how her songs hit supporters in real time. While she's receiving accolades for her skills—she recently became an Inspire Change Advocate for the 2019 NFL season—and winning in her own right this year, Rapsody is also championing the many women in hip-hop who are also doing their thing as of late. Leikeli47 (she's featured on the Eve track "Oprah"), Tierra Whack, Dreezy and Kamaiyah are just a few of the rising female rappers on Rapsody's radar.
"It's just a really good time for hip-hop and especially women in it," she says. "Again, as we flourish, the culture flourishes because we bring something that the guys can't always bring on their own. You need our input, you need our creativity, you need our ability to be dope and bring these bars. We don't care. Women are going to give it to ya all the time. And I'm going to say, women are barring a lot of men right now. It's just dope and it's a really fun and I'm excited about where we are in the culture and just to see women doing what they are doing."
As Rapsody continues her discussion, seated inside XXL's office just miles away from the birthplace of hip-hop in The Bronx, she shines a light on her North Carolina roots more than 500 miles away. Home to the likes of J. Cole, 9th Wonder (she's also signed to the producer's Jamla Records) and Petey Pablo, the M.E.C.C.A.—"Middle East Coast Carolina Always"—has birthed some of rap's most ingenious and resilient artists. Now, newer artists from N.C. such as DaBaby and YBN Cordae, who also hails from Maryland, are being recognized on a more mainstream level.
"I'm a North Carolina MC, so I gotta talk about North Carolina," Rapsody affirms. "We have always known that we have talent and that we were dope, but the industry at large didn't see it and respect it. Shame on you. Just from seeing it in the past, like Dres from Black Sheep is from North Carolina, everybody knows Petey Pablo is from North Carolina, 9th Wonder, Little Brother, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, they all came through North Carolina. So we have always known that there's talent there.
"But to have this time where we are bursting through the seams on a mainstream level where you have a J. Cole, where you have YBN Cordae, who is breaking through. Yes, Maryland we are claiming him. Raleigh, 9-1-9, he's ours. I'm sorry. DaBaby from Charlotte, who is going nuts. What the Da Baby is doing right now reminds me of when 50 Cent came out—his energy and how just excited the business. DaBaby is killing it right now.
"There's so many producers who I can't even remember their names who are having an amazing time this year. There's Wells Fargo, there's Lute who is also signed to Dreamville. There's King Mez, who's signed with Dr. Dre, but who did the video for J. Cole's "Middle Child." Myself, I'm having an amazing year. We are catching a really good stride. But I know there's so many who are right behind us and on the cusp.
"So North Carolina, for hip-hop, is really like a melting pot of everything. We never had a [musical] identity of our own like an Atlanta, like a Houston, like a L.A., West Coast, like a Northeast, like a Chicago. We took everything that we were inspired by and I think that's what's dope. That we can give you a little bit of everything. We can give you lyrical stuff over trap music. We can give you boom-bap but it has a southern drawl to it. Y'all don't even understand. I'm telling you, we are dope right now. We are going to be dope for a long time. It is what it is."
Watch Rapsody speak on her contributions to the culture of hip-hop, the making of her Eve album and the legendary status she aims to achieve in her exclusive XXL video interview above.
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