Rapsody Explains Channeling Lauryn Hill, Competing With Kendrick Lamar On "Rock The Bells"
Exclusive: The Kooley High member says she based "The Idea Of Beautiful" imagining what a solo album of rapping would sound like by Lauryn Hill.
When any young Hip Hop artist or even fan sees someone similar to himself or herself paling around with the likes of 9th Wonder, Phonte and legends alike, jealousy is a description that comes to mind. But sometimes just befriending Hip Hop greats doesn’t always tell the whole story.
Rapsody’s tale is one that has become a reality in Hip Hop and has converted a culture within a culture that used to stand for something much more. Sure Rapsody has her accolades; she’s been able to feature some of Hip Hop’s biggest names from old school legends to hot newcomers. She’s had one of the greatest producers in the genre’s history looking over her shoulder. Her emceeing talent has caught the recognition of everybody killing to hear the echoes of MC Lyte, Rah Digga or even Lauryn Hill. Even Rap herself says many people, male or female would kill to be in her position. But before linking with 9th and well before her much anticipated debut LP, The Idea Of Beautiful, Rapsody had to go through situations that have become all too familiar with females who want to be a part of this industry– Choices that men, for the most part don’t have to make.
In an exclusive interview with HipHopDX, Rapsody details some of the situations that she’s had to go through. She also explains how females in Hip Hop have become “characters” and the extra work that she’s had to put in just to stand out.
HipHopDX: First off, you’re coming out with your album, your first official LP. You’ve been heavy on the mixtape cycle. What does it mean to finally put this one out there and what does that feel like?
Rapsody: It’s indescribable for me especially like to be at this point. All my life this has been my dream and what I’ve always wanted to do and you know you always dream about putting out your first album. You can do the mixtapes but what really counts and what people put all the weight on is what your official album is going to sound like. It’s been a real fun journey and I’m really excited. I think a lot of people are anticipating it, what it’s going to sound like. It’s a real good time for me. I think about when [Jay-Z] dropped his first album, Reasonable Doubt and when Nas dropped Illmatic. To me it’s like a turning point in my career so this is what I’ve been working towards, that first album. This day is really the beginning of my career so that’s how I look at it.
DX: You mention Illmatic and Reasonable Doubt, obviously classics. A lot of times now, artists put “LP” on the end of the title or call it an album just so it gets more hype and doesn’t really come full circle like an album does. Is this going to be different from what we’ve seen from you in terms of how you put this together?
Rapsody: I think from the other projects and I’ve found that out myself like when people say “mixtape,” it’s not what we think about when we we’re younger and growing up, there was a deejay over it and just a bunch of different tracks 'cause a lot of my, I wouldn’t even call them mixtapes, I’d call them "street albums" 'cause they’re kind of set up like that. I ask my self, “How is this going to be different from all of that?” I think that all of them and I think Thank H.E.R. Now is probably the closest because of the quality. With me, I think it’s growth more than anything. Growth and the ability of finding my sound that’ll make this one different from the other ones. People ask me, “How is this going to be different?” And I sit there and think, “I don’t really know but if anything - maybe bigger beats.” But I like the beats on all the other projects. So I think what’ll separate it most for me is growth and just really trying to hone in on song making 'cause other projects you can do different things but I’m really trying to be a better song maker and give you more of me versus just rapping for the lyrics, skill and wordplay of it, but really tell a story and I think that’s what it is with this one like it tells a story and there are a lot of layers in it from the cover to just the different meanings behind The Idea of Being Beautiful. It’s just really a whole story and a whole project, there’s a lot behind it.
Rapsody Discusses Using Lauryn Hill's Rapping For Inspiration
DX: Right, you touched on the different smaller avenues you tried. I always felt that Return of the B-Girl was that “get to know Rapsody” tape. Thank H.E.R. Now was when you started to pull out the big guns but were still new to this solo thing. For Everything you kind of tried to develop more musically. In each, to me you were testing waters as an emcee in what was feeling right to you. Do you feel that you’ve now found your sound, what you’re comfortable with and do you feel comfortable now with what you’re doing?
Rapsody: Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel because that’s what it was with the other ones, we were trying something different and when it got time to do this one, it took a long time for me to really get started 'cause I really did want to find my sound instead of just doing a bunch of different things, just getting whatever dope songs I could put together. I really wanted to have a sound and with the cover. 9th [Wonder] went to Africa, he had a show with Phonte and he was over there and a video came on and it’s the girl that’s featured three times on the album and that kind of shaped the whole sound for my record. Direction-wise, I’m a big Lauryn Hill fan and I don’t think I’m [a fan of] Lauryn Hill by any means and I’m not trying to be, but I’m heavily influenced just by what she represents and the type of music she puts out so we wanted the feeling of it, not necessarily the sound but the feeling of it to be like if Lauryn made an album, a Rap album, what would that album be like after The Fugees and with [The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill] like if she rapped the whole thing and that was kind of the feeling. I wanted to go for 'cause that’s what I love and that’s what I think my sound is. So that’s kind of what we tried to do with this and like you said, really trying to find my sound and less experimenting so this is the direction and we just gonna build from here.
DX: “The idea of beautiful.” You could interpret that title in many different ways. I remember you told me about a year ago that you used to play basketball and it seems to me, when a female emcee steps on the scene she has to either take the pretty girl route with limited actual Hip Hop delegated to the commercial level or the tomboy hardcore emcee route. You seem to be both but definitely take the tomboy route when it comes to music. Does “The Idea of Beautiful” factor into what fans and listeners think what is beautiful and are you trying to say there are other ideas of what beauty actually is?
Rapsody: It’s a little bit of both 'cause you could do so much with it, that’s why I like the title. I looked at it like, “What is your idea of beautiful?” But I’m also sharing what my idea of beautiful is whether it’s the cover with these two little girls with no hair, they’re black and they’re dark-skinned because I think beauty comes in many forms. That’s the beauty of Hip Hop, you can do so much and everybody be different and I think mainstream, they only give you 10% of what Hip Hop is. There’s many other elements and levels to it, that’s what the main part of it was as far as Hip Hop, you only saw mainstream, you only see a little bit but it’s so beautiful and it gets a bad rap for that 10% that you see. Then there’s the physical aspect of it. What is your idea of beautiful because there’s an idea. There’s a certain weight, a certain sense of skin tone, your hair has to be a certain texture and it’s just playing off all of those things so that’s what it is for me. I think the most beautiful thing is people get to be themselves and they don’t have to hide anything, they shouldn’t have to wake up in the mirror and not be happy about what they’re doing with their life or the music they’re making or whatever they’re doing so that’s kind of the idea about it. With me, like you said I used to play basketball so I kind of walk the middle. I like girly things but I have a younger brother that was my best friend and all my cousins were boys so that’s just who I am. It’s not a front on me or anything, I like basketball but I like to wear dresses too so that’s just the idea of being beautiful itself.
DX: I talked to Median a while back and when you listen to his music, the sound, to me at least is really that emcee, New York sound and anything but something really southern. 9th obviously a North Carolinian and someone who provides most of your beats, how much does regional representation mean to you? I remember your song “So Be It” with Big K.R.I.T. and you saw flashes there but how much does southern music influence your creative process?
Rapsody: I think it definitely does. The thing about North Carolina is that it’s a Southern state but we don’t always think of it as the Deep South like when you have Atlanta, Mississippi, Louisiana so when people ask me (about) North Carolina I just think middle east coast like Virginia, [Washington] D.C., North Carolina and as far as my sound goes, I’ve always looked at it as a melting pot because we’re kind of situated in the middle, a lot of us grew up heavily, heavily influenced on the Northeast, New York, Philly, Chicago movement but we’re also close to Atlanta so a lot of Outkast fans. You can come through here and you’ll have cats that roll in the big cars, the big old cars with the big rims that’s slappin Outkast but you can also have someone who was raised here and they’ll be talking like they’re from New York. [Laughs] So it’s just like that crazy melting pot and I think that’s what comes through in the music where I’m able to both kind of have music that has that New York, gritty feel but I can also do a record with Big K.R.I.T. about the country and it comes out natural because it clicks because we are like that melting pot or that meeting ground for both sides so that’s just how I figure the music in and it definitely has an influence.
DX: Obviously you being a female emcee, I mentioned before a lot of times the choices females have to make that maybe weren’t around 10 or more years ago. Back then to be an emcee, female or not, for the most part you had to be dope on the mic. A lot of people, especially these days, even females don’t think women can rap as well as guys or aren’t taken as seriously. Do you feel that women are maybe nudged away from being an emcee to being a sex symbol?
Rapsody: Oh yeah without a doubt, the scales are very tipped in that area. It’s kind of like they’re trying to make, nowadays what I see is they’re trying to make female rappers like a character, all of them are characters. I don’t wanna bring anybody up 'cause I don’t wanna turn you away but it’s really like we’re supposed to be characters or sex symbols whether it’s the Barbie doll or something else. There’s nothing wrong with that but when you try to do it for every female emcee that you push like, who’s that? I remember earlier before I signed with [Jamla Records], when I was first signing like really serious and stuff, I had went to see a manager, I had just got off work and I worked at Foot Action so I had on some working clothes and I walked in and he didn’t ask to hear any music. He just looked at me up and down, well he heard one song and then he looked me up and down and he said, “We just got to put you in a skirt with some heels.” And I was like, “No. Flat out, no.” And I think that’s what it is especially with the videos and TV and what you look like, having to do with your music nowadays. Even with male rappers, worse with females but even with males you kind of have to have this whole package. You have to dress a certain way. Like Kendrick [Lamar], he can rap his ass off but Kendrick likes to wear button-ups now and the slick shoes, it’s kind of like you have to have a whole brand with it but, like you said with the females, the brand has to be sexy and I’ve definitely had to struggle with it and I think that’s why it’s taking me a lot longer to feel the progress that I wanna feel. I had to drop three mixtapes and an EP to even make this much noise where men, they could drop one mixtape and they’re on. Like Joey BadA$$ dropped one mixtape, and he’s on so it’s a struggle but at the end of the day you play the cards that you’re dealt. So I just make the best of the situation and just stick true to myself because at the end of the day 9th always told me good music will move itself and if you keep pushing it, it might be hard but if you eventually stick with it, you’ll get there and that’s what I’ve always tried to focus on.
Rapsody Explains Competing With Her Peers, Lyrically
DX: You’re a part of the Jamla Army. I know, back at the beginning you were just excited to just be rubbing elbows with 9th Wonder, Phonte, etc, and now you are not only a part of the team but someone they admire too. Has that sunk in to where you want to compete and become a leader of that camp and not just geeked to be there?
Rapsody: Oh definitely. It’s good, healthy competition. Growing up, like you said thinking about working with 9th and meeting Phonte especially for a North Carolina artist, they were huge for us. We don’t have a lot of people to look up to that made it where they were so they were huge for us. To be honest, I still haven’t lost the awe. When I’m in the studio watching 9th make a beat or we’ll be on the road with Phonte and I’ve done I don’t know how many shows with him and been in his house and kicked it and it’ll just hit me like, “How in the hell did I get here?” 9th makes beats a million times and it’ll just hit me like I’m really blessed to be in this situation because a lot of people want to be where I am and they can’t be so I definitely haven’t lost the awe of it but it pushes me. When I get a Phonte feature, I try to write the best verse I can and be like, “Man what is he gonna do?” Like you put him on a pedestal but at the same time you do want to compete. I wanna rap, I want him to call me and be like, “Yo that verse you spit was nuts.” It’s not like I think I’m better than him but it’s definitely a push and a drive. It’s the same thing with Kendrick, when Kendrick came and we did the “Rock The Bells” joint. Kendrick is known for destroying features so it’s like I can’t let him destroy me and make me look bad. If he beats me, he beats me but I want people to say she hung with him, she stood her ground on the record and that’s just good healthy competition and that’s why I like working with other artists so much cause they push me to be better and I definitely still have that drive when I get a 9th beat. Early on when I first signed with 9th, every time I got a 9th beat, I would think, “Oh my God, I have to kill this joint.” This isn’t just going in making songs, this is a 9th beat, I cannot fuck it up. [Laughs] I’ve lost that stress part a little bit but I always wanna do the best I can because like you said, we are who we are.
DX: I know Jay-Z and Lauryn Hill are your two favorites but who do you try to maybe emulate and not biting styles but who do you kind of compare yourself to as an emcee?
Rapsody: That’s a good question…to be honest, it’s Jay, man. [Laughs] I study his music so much. We don’t sound anything alike but I study a lot like how he says his words and the setup and where he breathes and I really try to study that. As far as how we structure the songs, that’s a lot of 9th and showing me really how to produce. There are beat-makers but producers come in and put drops here and move things here, put the hook here and double the hook there song structure-wise, that’s more 9th. I’m still learning and playing with different things. But just the music of it and just the sound I represent it’s just a lot of [Jay-Z] and Lauryn mostly.
DX: So with your career progression, going from 9th's girl or that girl who toured with Mac Miller back on The Most Dope Tour to now, you’ve come a long way but yet this is only your first LP. Is the path you’ve wanted to take from the start and now do you see your future really coming together?
Rapsody: I didn’t know how I would get there like growing up and being a fan of other artists, before you really get in and know what this music is and how it works you have this idea, “Aw, I’m gonna make this music, I’m gonna drop one maybe two mixtapes, this label’s gonna call and they’re gonna give me all this money,” but it’s not like that. [Laughs] It doesn’t work like that at all so if anything I am more than happy at the path and how it’s unfolding and turning out because at the end of the day above anything I just wanted to make music for a living cause I love it and I’d get paid for it to tour the world and to be able to do it on my own terms and make the music I want to make and still be able to work with all these artists that I grew up loving and the peers in the game that I admire and I respect and I am a fan of too, I’m very happy. Even though it took me a little longer than most people, I enjoy the journey and the experience and I learned so much from it and I think that time was good for me because it really helped me grow. I had time to really sit and marinate and just grow and take it all in and really find out who I am as an artist cause I think when you come in really young, you don’t know who you really are as an individual. You kind of have to sit and grow and figure your way out and I think it’s perfect timing. I’m experiencing life and it shows in my music. It was just like, going back to Jay, when he did Reasonable Doubt and he did all these other records but you really saw Jay come into Jay around Blueprint and [The] Black Album 'cause he kind of found his way and matured and really mastered the song-making part of it, it was on a different level. So that’s what I’m happy about with this journey. I didn’t go through a major label, I stayed independent and just really grind and learn the business and just really grew as an artist so I’m very happy with it, very happy.