Rapsody: Beauty and the Beast

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Photo courtesy of Rapsody

Photo courtesy of Rapsody

The first lady of Jamla Records, Rapsody has been on a tear. After blessing 2013 with the She Got Game mixtape, she stole the show on the Jamla is the Squad compilation with her standout tracks ‘Illuminaughty’ and ‘Betty Shabazz’.

The North Carolina native kept that momentum going with the release of her new EP, Beauty and the Beast. Produced entirely by The Soul Council, the 10-track project ventures to musical places that Rapsody never previously explored. The always classy Rapsody invites fans in to see her beauty, as well as to see her in beast mode.

Rapsody raises the bar lyrically and stylistically on Beauty and the Beast, which is not surprising given her constant evolution and the consistency in her catalog. Her work ethic and talent are the reasons why 9th Wonder proclaimed Rapsody the leader of Jamla Records.

“We need a leader,” 9th Wonder said of Rapsody on The Combat Jack podcast. “She represents the culture and she rhymes her ass off.”

‘Nuff said.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Rapsody about the ups and downs of being a recording artist, her frustrations with being boxed in as a female emcee, and her new EP, Beauty and the Beast.

TRHH: While listening to the new EP it sounded to me like you were feeling a little loose and at times serious. What was your mindset like when recording this project?

Rapsody: With this one it’s probably the most free I’ve felt when I was doing a project. I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove. I wasn’t worrying about trying to make any lists or get people to understand that I can rap. This project was one where I felt totally free like, “I’m just going to do whatever I feel like and whatever feels right.” I think that’s the difference and why you say I was loose. Some days I might be reading up on the Mike Brown case or the John Crawford case and I got something on my mind so I sit and write about it. That’s why some songs are a little more serious than the other ones. Other days I just catch a feeling and don’t overthink it. However it feels, that’s what comes out. I just wanted to put something out that was dope, was me, tell more stories, and talk about more things that were important to me instead of trying to prove something.

TRHH: Not feeling like you have to prove something, does that come from being more confident in your rhymes?

Rapsody: Yeah, more confident and just coming to the realization that all that time trying to prove yourself or worrying about the gatekeepers, who aren’t always in it for the Hip-Hop culture but make the decision on whose hot and who makes this list — just realizing that, that really doesn’t matter. You have your own lane and your lane is wide open. You just gotta do whatever feels right. You can do it in your own way without having to go the path that everybody else does. Cater to your fans and just make great music. I think me just being comfortable with that is the difference in me feeling like I don’t have anything else to prove. This is my seventh project if I’m not “this” to you by now then it’s whatever at this point. I think it’s just not really caring anymore.

TRHH: The song ‘Drama’ sounded different from what we’re used to hearing from you. How’d that song come together?

Rapsody: We were in the studio and Problem and Bad Lucc came down to the studio for a week to hang out. Khrysis made the beat. I had the beat for almost 8 months or so, just figuring out what I wanted to do with it. I’ll get a bunch of beats for a project and I’ll sit on them until I catch a feeling from it. On this one I wanted to experiment and try to do something different. Just switch up my sound some because I felt like trying something new. Problem got in the booth and he did the hook, “go ahead, go ahead” and I just went in and filled in the rest. I recorded it twice. The first time I got in the booth I just had fun with it. When 9th listened to it he said, “This doesn’t sound like a Rapsody track. It sounds like how everybody else would rhyme over it.” He was right so I rewrote it and did it again just to make it me, but at the same time I still got to experiment with a new sound and a new beat, something that was fun and something that was party-like for me. A lot of my songs have a lot of feeling in them. They’re really laid-back and very soulful, so I’ve wanted to do something like that for a long time.

TRHH: I saw something where 9th Wonder said you were a beat hoarder…

Rapsody: [Laughs] Yeah that’s true.

TRHH: What’s your writing process like? Why do you hoard beats and at what point do you start working on ‘em?

Rapsody: Part of the reason I hoard beats is because we have a production team of seven producers and they’re all equally phenomenal. Everybody’s crazy amazing. I’m always in the studio. I stay in the studio more than I go to my house and sleep. So when I’m around and everybody is making these beats it’s hard for me to pass up on a beat. It’s like, “Yo, let me get that, let me get this,” and after a while I look at my playlist and I’ve got all these freakin’ beats that I want to touch but time doesn’t always allow me to get to them like I want to. I just keep them. I’m not selfish with them. If I put out a project I won’t use all of them. Let’s say GQ or Halo is behind me and they’re in the studio one day I’ll say, “If you want to go through this batch of beats I’ve got, here you go,” that’s how it goes [laughs].

My process, it depends how I feel during the day. I have a bunch of beats but I can’t necessarily sit down and write to a beat. I have to feel it. The feeling has to match. I go through all the beats that I have and whatever feeling I’m looking for that day. I’ll find the beat that matches that and we’ll go from there. Some days I’ll have a bunch of beats and nothing really fits the emotion I’m having or the story I want to tell or the angle I want to do, so I’ll go online and I’ll find somebody’s instrumental and I’ll write to that. 9th or Eric G will make a beat to whatever I write and will switch it out. That’s kind of how my writing process is. Whatever I’m trying to bring out in the lyrics I have to have something that matches that.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of the new EP?

Rapsody: It’s nothing too deep. The people came up with the title. Somewhere after She Got Game and Jamla is the Squad dropped we were putting out videos for ‘Thank You Very Much’, Betty Shabazz’, ‘Roses’ and people would tweet, “Yo, you’re a beast!” or “Beauty and the Beast!” We would see several of the same tweets like that. 9th was like, “Yo, that’s a dope title,” and I liked it too. He said, “What do you think about naming your EP that?” I said, “Cool, I’m with it.” The original name of the EP was supposed to be Betty Shabazz, but we felt like Beauty and the Beast made more of a statement and it fit better. It’s just talking about how you can be feminine and a woman but you can still be a beast on the mic. It’s just having those two world’s exist at the same time, that’s the idea behind the title in a nutshell.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on the EP?

Rapsody: No, I don’t really. I love all of them for different reasons. With every project I do it’s hard for me to pick like one favorite. There are standouts. I like ‘Drama’ a lot because it’s one of the more fun songs that I’ve ever done. I like ‘The Man’ just because I know a lot of people can relate to it. It’s an honest story for a lot of people. I like ‘God Forgive Me’ and ‘Godzilla’ – that was another one that was really fun and me stepping outside of the box and experimenting a little bit. That’s like my top 4 out of the 10 [laughs].

TRHH: The song ‘The Man’ kind of takes a look at how young men deal with having absentee fathers. What inspired you to write that song? It’s different because it’s from a male’s perspective.

Rapsody: I grew up in a two parent home, but I have friends and I know a lot of people who had to grow up early and be the man of the house. They didn’t get to enjoy their childhood because they had younger siblings to take care of and make sure things were straight, or they were raised by a woman. It’s something that I don’t ignore. I see it daily. I always see it in my life and it’s something I felt like needed to be addressed, whether it was from a male or female perspective somebody needed to talk about it.

What really pushed the idea forward was the beat. Eric G gave me the beat and the sample says, “The man.” The first time I just got in the booth and 9th wanted to hear me on it so I rapped three different verses that I had in my phone. 9th was like, “That’s crazy, I love it!” We came up with a hook and it was dope but I really wanted to do something with that “man” thing. I felt like I could so something and flip it. It took me a while. I’d sit and vibe to it and it just clicked. What made it click was I have friend named LeVelle Moton and he’s the head coach for North Carolina Central’s basketball team. He recently put out a book where he talks about growing up and his dad wasn’t there. Me reading that, reading a story similar to that, and riding around listening to that beat just made it all click. That’s what I wanted to talk about, a young boy who has to grow up early and be the man of his house because that’s an honest story. I thought a lot of people would appreciate it, so I tried it.

TRHH: When I saw you last fall in Chicago and we did that whole press thing where they drug us all down to that room and the dude asked you what female emcees you were checking for…

Rapsody: [Laughs].

TRHH: You remember that?

Rapsody: Yeah, I remember that.

TRHH: [Laughs] You said you always get the wack “female emcee” questions. Talk about why those types of things annoy you. What bothers you about that?

Rapsody: I do. Those are questions that put you in a box. It’s crazy that the majority of most interviews I know at least half of the questions they’re going to ask. I’m never usually wrong. “How does it feel to be a female emcee?” “How does it feel being the only female on your label?” “Who are the other female emcees you’re checking for?” “Is there anything you have to face as a female that was hard or different?” It’s always the same questions. I hate that you can’t see more about a female’s artists life. Why can’t we can’t have a wider range of questions like other artists who aren’t female? It’s just real general, basic questions that are asked over and over again. I think it’s easy. Those are just easy questions. Once I’ve done one interview if you do research you know the answer. I get tired of answering the same question over, and over, and over again. Across the board whether it’s me, Jean Grae, Noname Gypsy, Ill Camille, or Nitty Scott our answers don’t differ too much in that aspect. Let’s get a little more creative with the questions. I sit in a room with these guys and they’re getting all these dope questions and the first question I get asked I know it’s going to be something about being a female. It’s disappointing to me at times.

TRHH: I interviewed Persia a few years ago and afterwards she tweeted, “Shout out to Sherron. He’s the only person that didn’t ask me about Nicki Minaj.” I’m like, really? I would never think to ask you or her about Nicki Minaj. Are journalists trying to get a negative quote out of you or something?

Rapsody: Word! I think a lot of times that is what it is. They want women to be catty against each other. There is this mentality that there can only be one female emcee. There can only be one white rapper. That’s the mentality I see. They ask you these questions like, “I know you’re gunning for her head – you want her spot.” It’s never expected that we can coexist at the same time and we can all have a different lane. They don’t expect us to support each other. They don’t expect there to be a camaraderie between females and that’s the sad part. You know what drives media, social media, and television – it’s conflict. If they can get any little bit of conflict from your answer that’s going to be the headline for the whole interview: “Rapsody goes at Nicki Minaj” or “Persia something, something Nicki Minaj”. That’s the driving force nowadays, conflict.

TRHH: What’s the best and worst part of being an artist?

Rapsody: The best thing is just doing something you love. Having a career off something you’re passionate about, having the freedom to do that, and making music that touches people. All the hardships you go through is worth it when you can go to a show or meet someone in the street that listens to your music and they’re like, “Yo, I play this song all the time when I’m going through this,” or “Your song helped me through my marriage,” or “I grew up in a single parent home raised by my mom and I love ‘The Man’.” It makes me emotional. That’s what music is for, connecting with people. That’s what I love most about it. And just having the ability to create is great to me.

The not-so great thing is the music business. The business side of it will give you a headache. It will drive you nuts. That’s the thing I don’t like about it, the business part. Putting yourself out for the world to judge sometimes can be really hard. People don’t look at you as a person like them. They put you on a pedestal and you’re judged for everything you do. You can’t be normal. You just can’t be someone that enjoys making music. You have to be somebody totally different that they judge and pick at. I can’t imagine what it’s like being Jay-Z and Beyonce. Their child is in the media every day because her hair is like this, or whatever. To deal with that is nuts, but that’s what comes with it.

TRHH: What’s Beauty and the Beast’s importance in Rapsody’s catalog?

Rapsody: I just think for my journey, where I am skill-wise, where I am in my career, and where the culture is Beauty and the Beast hit at the right time. Coming off the momentum of She Got Game, there is a resurgence of females making headway again in Hip-Hop. It’s the rise of the indies, it’s like the perfect storm. Beauty and the Beast is a project that helps start the conversation that females can rap just as well as men. You can’t call us “female emcees”. Give us a respectful title, “emcee” like you would anybody else. You can’t box us in. It feels good to read people’s comments like, “Yo, she’s not a female emcee, she’s an emcee,” or “She can rap just as good as any of your favorite artists out,” or “She’s in my top 5 out of everybody.” Just to break those barriers, that’s what I think is the great thing about Beauty and the Beast, the time that it dropped, and everything surrounding it. That’s what I’m glad to see. I just want to do my part for the culture and help other artists that are female.

Purchase: Rapsody – Beauty and the Beast

About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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