It’s difficult to describe Rapsody, born Marianna Evans, and her growing importance in hip hop, without providing some context as to where hip hop finds itself at the end of 2017. According to Nielsen Music, 2017 marked the first time that the combined genre of R&B and hip hop were the most consumed genre in the country since Nielsen started measuring consumption in 1991. 2017 also saw Cardi B become the first female rapper since 1998—and only the second female rapper to do so on her own— to reach Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Hip hop in 2017 has grown in importance, reached new audiences, and broached new subjects once considered taboo. It’s no surprise the heavyweights of hip hop, Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z, are singing the praises of the immensely talented North Carolina MC—and 2017 Grammy nominee for Best Rap Album (Laila’s Wisdom) and Best Rap Song “Sassy”—Rapsody.
While her talent is unquestioned—she was the only feature artist on Kendrick Lamar’s seminal 2015 To Pimp a Butterfly—Rapsody’s greater goal in hip hop is just as impressive: creating balance in how female rappers are portrayed.
”I just want to create balance, to show what a female rapper is in hip hop. It’s not just one idea or one look or one sound or one subject. We are all multi-faceted, we all have different styles, we’re all talented, and we can all coexist together. So what I want to do is to help create that balance, and to show that you can’t just take female hip hop and make it this one thing.”
Rapsody speaks with an unadulterated passion and unfettered rawness that makes you take notice. Songs like “Ridin,” and “Jesus Coming” off of Laila’s Wisdom or “Thunder” and “Beautiful Music” off of 2012’s Idea of Beautiful are all driven by emotional lyricism with not one word wasted. Blessed with sincerity, humility, and empathy, Rapsody’s ability to make, as her friend and fellow rapper GQ puts it “music for Monday through Thursday,” resonates more than ever in a period where hip hop audiences are more diverse than ever. Despite her recent success, Rapsody’s name is seldom dropped when best female rappers are discussed. And that’s fine. Chances are she’s already her favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.
Rapsody performs at New York’s SOB’s December 1, Washington, D.C.’s Songbyrd December 2 and Chicago’s Reggie’s December 10. Laila’s Wisdom is out now.
Brightest Young Things: You’ve had an amazing year culminating with two recent Grammy nominations—Best Rap Album of the Year for 2017’s Laila’s Wisdom and Best Rap Song for “Sassy”—and a lot of recognition in hip hop for your skill and lyricism. But you’ve really been producing quality work since at least 2012’s The Idea of Beautiful.
Rapsody: It’s been crazy lately [laugh].
Brightest Young Things: When you think about your live show performance, what do you want your audience to take away from the show?
Rapsody: I think the most important thing is to leave people inspired to do something, to realize their purpose in life. I want people to show love to each other. What I love about performing live, and especially in smaller intimate venues, is the real connection you have with the fans that you can’t get in a studio or a big arena. It allows me to have real moments with my fans. I just want the night to be filled with good energy, love, and for people to leave the show happy.
Brightest Young Things: In your music, you talk about a lot of topics that are traditionally unspoken of in hip hop, such as depression and angst. These are topics that you usually don’t find in a lot of hip hop. Why do you audiences are receptive to these types of topics?
Rapsody: Man, I think it’s because it’s honest. When can you make something that’s honest, people are going to connect with it. My homeboy GQ always told me that he wanted to make music for Monday through Thursday because we live more than Friday and Saturday; we can turn up and have fun but people have real lives, you’re not partying 24/7. Some days you’re depressed, some days you’re happy, some days you’re broken hearted. People need music for therapy, to heal them or speak for them when they can’t describe how they’re feeling. One of the things that 9th [Wonder] told me as we were making [Laila’s Wisdom] was “tell your story” because I’m not only telling my story, but also a story that someone in this world can relate to. I think that’s why it resonates, because it’s real and honest.
Brightest Young Things: Are there any ideas or topics that you didn’t explore on Laila’s Wisdom but want to in future projects?
Rapsody: Definitely. Even in the making of Laila’s Wisdom there were a lot of topics that we touched on that didn’t necessarily make the album. Every day you live life you experience something new in a different way, and it makes you think about life in a different way. I don’t think there won’t ever be a time that I don’t have something to talk about.
Brightest Young Things: In a previous interview, you spoke of the creative process you have with 9th Wonder and that you’re free to experiment with him and, in terms of production, you’re able to go with whatever makes you happy. What are some production concepts or ideas that you’d like to explore with 9th Wonder in your future work?
Rapsody: Sonically, there are a few different lanes that I want to tap into. I don’t want to give that away too much [laugh] just because we’re about to go work on the next album. We’re definitely always growing and expanding and trying new things and testing ourselves. I want people to experience what we do in their own way.
Brightest Young Things: In terms of how you’ve evolved sonically and lyrically, I’ve read that two of your biggest influences are Lauryn Hill and Queen Latifah. But I’m really interested in the influence that MC Lyte had on you because I don’t think she receives enough credit in hip hop. How did she drive you to get where you are right now?
Rapsody: For me, she was the first female that I saw rapping. I was mad young, so even before I took in the music just the image of her connected with me; it told me that I could do this and that I could compete with the best of the best. She was able to tell raw stories and I fell in love with that, and I saw that it was possible. When I was young, she and Queen Latifah were my favorite and I told myself that when I started rapping I wanted to do for little girls what they did for me. She [MC Lyte] definitely doesn’t get enough credit for what she’s done for the culture, for women, and for rappers in general.
Brightest Young Things: What about Queen Latifah?
Rapsody: Not only was Queen an ill MC, but she was a boss! To be the head of Flavor Unit [Entertainment], and to run a management company that had OutKast early in their career and Naughty by Nature, that was a woman behind that. It just again goes to show how important women are to this culture and how much they’ve given to this culture. I think both MC Lyte and Queen Latifah deserve more credit than they get.
Brightest Young Things: Do you think female rappers are judged differently, especially when it comes to competing lyrically with each other?
Rapsody: It depends on who you ask; I think a lot of people will appreciate it for what it is, which is the quality of the lyrics and the bars. When it comes to that, I think people in the hip hop culture really just care about who has the bars. I’m sure there are people, who see it differently outside of the culture, but most people are concerned with who’s a better rapper and that’s that.
Brightest Young Things: So the last question I wanted to ask you was about something someone wrote in a review of Laila’s Wisdom, where they compared you to Big K.R.I.T. and other Southern rappers. There was a line in that review where the author wrote “Rapsody’s not a star right now, and the rap climate isn’t exactly hospitable to her becoming one anytime soon.” What do you think about that? Do you think the rap climate is ready for you?
Rapsody: I remember that article! And that line stuck out to me too! When I read that I was like: “Oh really? Wow. That’s interesting.” At the end of the day I think the people are ready for it, and the people want it. The real problem is the media, and if the media is ready for it. Is the media ready to acknowledge the music and not let it be about popularity, whether they’re talented or not? That’s my real question. People want dope music, and there is room for everybody. I think the people want that balance where you can have a Migos or a Kendrick [Lamar] or a J. Cole but are the media ready for it?