Rapsody: Making Music for the Culture
When North Carolina hip-hop musician Rapsody was asked about her motivation for making music, her response was both sharp and unequivocal.
“To me, it’s about culture more so than money or anything. I make music for the people of the culture we’re in; that comes first. If you touch the people first, the rest just falls into place. That’s what it means to me, just preserving and respecting the culture.”
Rapsody’s loyalty to the people of hip-hop culture was on full display during her stellar guest verse on the track “Complexion” from Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly. The song’s hook claimed that “complexion don’t mean a thing” and both Rapsody and Kendrick gave the topic poetic justice through their rhymes. Her feature on that track is quite memorable, not only because her confident flow and clever lyricism felt right at home alongside Lamar, but also because her contribution was the sole guest rap verse on the acclaimed project.
The skilled artistry of Rapsody was subsequently noticed by more in the hip-hop community. In 2016, Rapsody became the newest member of Jay Z’s Roc Nation label. Her debut studio album, “Laila’s Wisdom”, would be released the following year and feature impressive contributions from rap legends and contemporaries alike including Busta Rhymes, Black Thought, Kencrick Lamar, and Anderson.Paak. This LP was critically acclaimed across various publications and even took home two Grammy nominations for best rap album and best rap song.
Rapsody’s newest release, “Eve”, is still concerned with the culture. On this ambitious concept album, Rapsody chooses to focus her creative endeavors on the culture of black females and pays homage to heroes of this community. In the process of doing so, Rapsody also furthers the powerful messages these figures have championed and challenges listeners to do the same. The inspiration for the album idea came in 2018 when a writer asked Rapsody if she felt she was a successor to Nina Simone and Roberta Flack. While both of these women are mentioned during the album, and the very first track is actually titled “Nina”, Rapsody took the concept much further and crafted a record with each song dedicated to one of her heroes.
Consequently, an informed listen to “Eve” can be a valuable learning experience. Some of the referrents of the song titles are obvious, as is the case with “Michelle”, “Oprah”, and “Cleo”. Others are more obscure and listeners absolutely benefit from familiarizing themselves with the life and story that figure offers. One prominent example is the album’s closing track, “Afeni”, named for Afeni Shakur, activist in the Black Panther party and mother of Tupac Shakur. The song celebrates her activism and contribution to the civil rights movement while also urging listeners not to forget the people who work tirelessly for the freedom of others.
In addition to conveying several poignant messages across the album, “Eve” is musically a joy to experience. Most of the production is handled by 9th Wonder, the North Carolina producer that signed Rapsody to his label way back in 2008. The feature list for “Eve” follows a similar pattern employed on “Laila’s Wisdom”. There is a healthy mix of past legends, industry mainstays, and burgeoning artists present. The legends include D’angelo, the GZA, and Queen Latifah who easily delivers one of the strongest verses of the project. J. Cole, JID, and Leikeli47 amongst others are also featured.
Rapsody’s tour hits Philadelphia when she plays at The Foundry on Tuesday, February 4th. Tickets are available for purchase here.